“At the same time, when they harm people in marginalized communities, they clean up their reputations within the same companies,” Ozoma said.
In this kind of environment, it’s hard to survive, explains Oscar Veneszee Jr., a Navy veteran and recruiter at Facebook. He says that in his experience, people of color at technology companies feel pressured to let themselves be overseen over their own abuse in the service of the company.
“If you’re talking about fraudulent syndrome, yes. I’m a cheater, ”he says. Because I show up every day [as] someone else. And the better I can become someone else, the better I will thrive at this company. ”
Last June, Veneszee and two other black employees lodged a complaint with the EEOC claiming that the social network does not offer black workers the same opportunity to advance. He says he regularly received praise from managers, but was never formally judged better than ‘met expectations’ and was never promoted.
“There may be Black Lives Matter posters on the walls of Facebook, but black workers do not see the phrase that reflects how they are treated on Facebook’s workplace,” their complaint reads. The case is pending.
“We focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, promoting racial justice and holding ourselves accountable,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. Since last summer, the company has added diversity and inclusion goals to senior leaders’ performance appraisals and changed how employees report discrimination, micro-violations and policy violations, among other things.
“I think the American company is scared,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, Veneszee’s lawyer. “We see really black professionals who have done everything right to advance themselves in their careers and their training, but they see that they are standing against a fire block ceiling.”
Romer-Friedman said he sees more black workers, including technology professionals, taking legal action to discriminate. “They’re tired of being second-class citizens in the workplace,” he says.
The dynamic re-emerged in December when Timnit Gebru, a well-known artificial intelligence researcher, left Google; she says she was fired. Gebru studied the ethical implications of AI and also contributed to diversity efforts at Google. Shortly before leaving the company, she wrote an open letter to an internal list server for women in Google’s AI team, in which she expressed her frustrations and confirmed the concerns of Banks, Ozoma and Veneszee.
“Your life gets worse when you plead for under-representatives,” the letter reads.
An empty feeling
Diversity theater creates a sense of dissonance: workers have to represent the company in public while being privately victimized by it; they must identify shortcomings but are punished for responding to them. In the letter from Gebru a number of criticisms were expressed. Since her departure, calls at Google have grown for structural change and the pursuit of a new approach to diversity and duration that is led by workers and that lasts longer.
Raksha Muthukumar has been working at Google as a software engineer for two years. She quickly joined the peculiarly proud ERG and mentor high school students on the Google campus. But she says the experience made her feel a little empty. ‘
Many coloreds in technology want to do progressive work around marginalized groups. But the companies decide what are the acceptable and unacceptable ways to do it. For Muthukumar, the letter from Gebru reflects her own frustration at ‘trying to do good, but being trapped by the boundaries of the corporation’.
In the wake of the Floyd protests, Muthukumar says, Google leadership encouraged employees to share their experiences and resources on ways to help. But when Muthukumar distributed GoFundMe links, she was reprimanded by HR. One of the GoFundMe links contained derogatory messages about the police, and a colleague complained. The incident confused her: how can anyone deal with the reality of racism and the Floyd murder but ignore the social frustration towards law enforcement?
Muthukumar says it feels like there is an invisible line between acceptable and unacceptable ways to link her work with activist efforts, and the company has decided when to cross it. She later joined hundreds of other Googlers to form the Alphabet Workers Union.