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‘The new plantation’: How (and why) tech’s corporate giants haven’t successfully diversified their workforces

‘The new plantation’: How (and why) tech’s corporate giants haven’t successfully diversified their workforces


‘The new plantation’: How (and why) tech’s corporate giants haven’t successfully diversified their workforces

Charley Moore, founder and CEO of Rocket LawyerThe martyrdom of George Floyd served as a catalyst last year to drive probably the greatest amount of energy and action around diversity and inclusion that I have seen since the anti-apartheid movement.Pressure on the industry from shareholders and civil rights activists has never been higher. But the real spark was lit by employees.Timnit Gebru, an artificial intelligence researcher and diversity advocate, publicly challenged her ouster from Google. Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, two Black women in public policy positions at social media company Pinterest, went public with charges of racial discrimination. “No one knows this experience better than those who are in it,” said Ozoma, who after leaving Pinterest helped draft a bill in California that would allow workers to speak out about on-the-job discrimination, harassment and abuse without violating nondisclosure agreements and has worked at three out of the five Big Tech companies. “You are not going to have a more ardent advocate for changing policy than someone who has heard the double talk and seen the marketing while experiencing being underpaid, underpromoted, underhired and underappreciated,” she said.Ifeoma OzomaYou are not going to have a more ardent advocate for changing policy than someone who has heard the double talk and seen the marketing while experiencing being underpaid, underpromoted, underhired and underappreciated.As protests over Floyd’s murder engulfed the nation last year, a group of Black Apple employees and their allies also spoke up.CEO Tim Cook had just announced a $100 million racial justice fund to challenge “systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity.”Frustrated over what they saw as a lack of career advancement opportunities for Black staffers and the company’s mishandling of racist incidents, the employees called on Apple to tear down those same barriers inside the company.“As an industry leader, this company has a responsibility to be at the forefront of creating a workspace that functions properly for all its employees,” they wrote in an email to Cook.The Apple employees made a series of demands. They sought measurable goals and a timeline to boost diversity, internal training on microaggressions, an annual diversity summit, and the appointment of a top diversity executive, among other actions.Apple CEO Tim CookJOSH EDELSON, AFP via Getty ImagesAccording to the emails obtained by USA TODAY, Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and people, answered the employees by saying that “change would not happen overnight” but that “Apple must do more to support our Black colleagues.”At Apple, 80% of executives are white and the top ranks include just one Black woman and two Hispanic men, according to 2018 federal data, the most recent the company has released. Only Amazon has a higher percentage of white executives.Disparities loom among Apple managers, too. Black men account for 1.6% and Black women 1.3% of management while Hispanic men make up less than 5% of managers and Hispanic women 2%.Among professionals at the company, the pattern is similar, though one figure stands out. The company employs just 177 Black women out of 30,745 workers in professional roles. That’s barely one-half of 1%.Diversity at Apple is more plentiful in lower-level positions, with Hispanic workers holding 15% of those jobs and Black men and women 10%.Apple told USA TODAY it’s working on multiple fronts to make its leadership ranks and workforce more inclusive. Diversity measures are considered in annual reviews for every company leader. In the past year, Apple has filled 43% of open leadership roles in the U.S. with executives whose representation in tech has historically been low. Apple defines such workers as women, Black, Hispanic or Latino, multiracial or Indigenous peoples.Out of 123 executives in 2018, 27 people, or 22%, met that definition. Nearly all (19) were white women. The other executives were 80 white and 16 Asian men. In addition to firsthand accounts pouring out of tech companies, employees are taking their companies to court. A discrimination lawsuit filed by a current employee and complaints from job applicants triggered a systemic probe by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission into the hiring practices at Facebook.In May, Pearl Thomas, a Black woman who worked in human resources, sued Amazon for racial discrimination. Hers is the fifth lawsuit in recent months from current and former employees, all women of color, alleging discrimination. The allegations range from being called the n-word to the existence of systemic racism at the company, with workers from underrepresented groups being promoted at lower rates and let go at higher rates.“We are conducting thorough investigations for each of these unrelated cases, as we do with any reported incidents,” Amazon said in a statement. “We have found no evidence to support the allegations.Kathryn Finney, a technology industry veteran and a diversity advocate, is skeptical that this moment will swell into a movement.In 1921, Finney’s great-grandparents’ house and restaurant were burned to the ground by an anti-Black mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kathryn FinneySavannah Brock, for USA TODAYLike most, her family never received a payout from their insurance company, which blamed them for the race massacre.Finney, who is building an incubator and venture fund focused on Black innovation called the Genius Guild and throughout her career has tracked patterns of exclusion in the tech industry, sees parallels between the Black experience then and now.“That was a prime example of corporate America failing Black folks,” she said. “How do you fix that? A year of a little bit of money isn’t going to change what needs to be changed.”Have a tip? Reach Jessica Guynn at or on Twitter @jguynn, Jayme Fraser at or on Twitter @jaymekfraser, Craig Harris at or 602-509-3613 or on Twitter @CraigHarrisUSAT and Dian Zhang at or on Twitter @dian_zhang_Every year, companies send the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a one-page form called an EEO-1, counting workers by race, ethnicity and gender in 10 occupation categories. The U.S. Census Bureau also produces a summary of the American workforce that uses the same industry, occupation, race and ethnicity definitions as the EEO-1. USA TODAY compared how well represented Black and Hispanic people were at these companies versus the overall labor force. For some stories, we zoomed in on Census statistics for an industry associated with companies for which we had data: five companies in tech, six banks and seven food or retail corporations. We also reviewed corporation websites for racial and gender identities of board members, confirming with company officials as needed. Explore our database of EEO-1 employment records.Stories like this are possible because of our subscribers like you. Your support will allow us to continue to produce quality journalism.Stay up to date by signing up for one of our newsletters.Sign upPublished
4:13 pm UTC Jul. 14, 2021
1:06 pm UTC Jul. 16, 2021

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