Racial discrimination in the tech industry

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.


On June 15, Ozoma went public with her story in a Twitter thread after seeing Pinterest’s statement in response to the protests sweeping the country, which expresses the company’s “solidarity” with the Black Lives Matter movement as well as its “commitment to taking action.” She was swiftly followed by her colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks, another Black woman who was recruited as a public policy and social impact manager at Pinterest. Banks ended up deciding the division of labor on the three-person team, and her role was leading U.S. federal policy. But she was also hired at a lower level than the work she says she was doing. Both women quit their jobs on the same day in May.

“Once I saw the chart, after I was hired, I was concerned that I was not leveled appropriately and was willing to dismiss those concerns if I were promoted,” Banks says. “My manager avoided answering my questions about promotion for weeks, thus denying me the opportunity to address my concerns . . . Consistently I went through all proper internal channels on all my complaints and was met with denial and dismissal. It was time to go external.”

Like Ozoma, Banks filed a complaint with the DFEH in January 2020, alleging pay discrimination based on sex and race as well as retaliation for reporting the discrimination. She received the right to sue in February 2020. Both complaints, which Fast Company has reviewed, allege that Ozoma and Banks were doing substantially similar work to their manager, a white man, but were both paid at lower levels.

“We found out he was at the highest level even though we were splitting the work equally in two, and then in three when Aerica started,” Ozoma says. “We were leading the most substantive work that most materially benefited the company.”

…. During the most intense racial reckoning this country has faced in decades, dozens of tech companies have stepped forward with statements of support. But given the gaping lack of diversity in tech and the racism and bias problems inherent to many tech products, critics have seen these gestures as little more than platitudes. For both Ozoma and Banks, Pinterest’s statement was a slap in the face after the duo had faced not only pay disparity, but other internal difficulties. Banks says that after she raised issues of pay and reported a colleague’s disparaging remarks about her ethnicity to HR, she faced retaliation. When she recommended that the company not cut pay for contractors over a holiday, Banks says she was stripped of her responsibilities.

When Ozoma was doxxed by another Pinterest employee, she turned to former colleagues at Facebook and Google, who helped her manage the onslaught of racist and sexist messages that she received after her colleague posted her personal information across the internet’s darkest corners. She says she received little help from the company during the first week after the doxxing, and by the time Pinterest decided to step in, much of the cleanup work had been done.

None of this stopped Ozoma from leading some of Pinterest’s most publicized policy changes, including taking down all vaccine misinformation and ending the promotion of slave plantations as attractive wedding venues. The vaccine decision helped shape Pinterest’s image as a leader in handling misinformation online, resulting in articles in publications like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, NPR, and Fast Company, for which she served as the company’s public spokesperson. Banks opened the company’s Washington, D.C., outpost and served as Pinterest’s representative with the federal government, including the FBI and members of Congress, according to her DFEH complaint, along with shaping the company’s regulatory strategy and the company’s position on public policy matters.