Tracy Chou launches Block Party to combat online harassment and abuse

Block Party, an anti-harassment startup that aims to help folks feel safer on social media founded by Tracy Chou, launched today. Currently only available for Twitter, Block Party helps people filter out the content they don’t want to see and into what Block Party calls the Lockout Folder. That’s where all of the filtered-out content lives in the event you want to review it later.

“We think it’s important to still acknowledge that these people exist,” Chou told me.

If you pretend like it doesn’t exist, you might miss out on useful information or genuine connections.

“There’s a lot of good stuff that would get lost there,” she said. “There is a reason we use public platforms like Twitter.”

On the more negative side, she said, you still may need to check periodically to see if there’s someone threatening your physical safety.

Helpers play a big part of the Block Party experience. You can grant a trusted helper access to your Lockout Folder to let you know if there’s anything useful in there, or to simply block the trolls.

“It’s a lot easier for someone else to help you process it and flag something that is a concern,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to share that burden. The current design of most of these platforms is to put the burden of dealing with it solely on the person who’s being abused.”

The Lockout Folder also serves as a record-keeping tool in the event you need to present evidence of your harassment to a company, a lawyer or someone else.

Image Credits: Screenshot/Block Party

“It’s really about trying to make people’s lives easier,” Chou said. “It’s just so painful to have to see the abuse again when you’re filing the report.”

Block Party emerged from Chou’s own experiences working at platform companies like Facebook and Quora, as well as her experience as an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech. At Quora, the block button was one of the first things she built after being harassed on the platform, Chou told me.

“There’s that perspective of having been on the inside and seeing how product and engineering teams work,” Chou said. “But also being a DEI activist and seeing how lack of representation on teams has impacted product decisions for the worst.”

Although Block Party is only available for Twitter users, the goal is to add other platforms and help folks address harassers that target them across multiple platforms. Block Party is currently free but plans to introduce subscription tiers. Still, Chou said she envisions the free version always existing.

To date, Block Party has raised a little less than $1.5 million in funding. Its lead pre-seed round was led by Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures. Other investors include Alexia Bonatsos, Ellen Pao, Alex Stamos and others.

 

Fired GitHub employee who warned coworkers about Nazis is seeking legal counsel

On the day a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, a worried GitHub employee warned his co-workers in the D.C. area to be safe.

After making a comment in Slack saying, “stay safe homies, Nazis are about,” a fellow employee took offense, saying that type of rhetoric wasn’t good for work, the former employee told me. Two days later, he was fired, with a human relations representative citing a “pattern of behavior that is not conducive to company policy” as the rationale for his termination, he told me.

In an interview with TechCrunch, the now-former employee said he was genuinely concerned about his co-workers in the area, in addition to his Jewish family members. 

TechCrunch agreed to keep the identity of the terminated employee confidential due to fears of his and his family’s safety.

As Business Insider first reported, his firing led to employees circulating an internal letter asking GitHub to denounce white supremacy and Nazis. The employees also wanted answers about his firing. That led to GitHub CEO Nat Friedman telling employees the company would investigate the termination of the employee.

Now, the terminated employee says he is currently seeking counsel to ensure his family is protected, as well as figure out if he can receive damages or some other form of reconciliation. The fired employee said GitHub has reached out to him for help in the internal investigation, but is waiting to engage with the company until he has legal representation in place.

Still, he said he is not optimistic about the investigation. 

“I am 90% sure it’s not genuine,” the terminated employee said of Friedman’s response. “This type of stuff had been said before. It happened with the ICE stuff where the company said let’s have discussions but then if you mention ICE, you get fired. I used to believe in this company, but now I don’t.”

Similar to what some employees are asking, the terminated employee sees this as an opportunity for GitHub to take a stance on white supremacy.

He said, “I feel like this could be an opportunity for GitHub to really do a purge and say ‘Do we want white supremacists at this company and how do we get Black leaders into executive management?’

The latter is something he said he’s been asking for since he joined GitHUb. But as he kept talking about the lack of diversity at the leadership level, he said he found his job at risk.

“When I kept talking about it, I got threatened being fired in October,” he said. “Both my managers had to come completely to my defense and beg them not to fire me when I pointed out how the sales team maybe has just two people of color.”

In a blanket statement to TechCrunch about the contents of this article, a GitHub spokesperson said:

We take all complaints of this nature very seriously. We are actively investigating the situation.

Upon his termination, the former employee said the company gave him two paychecks and sent him on his way. He said he would be open to some form of reconciliation, whether in the form of damages, healthcare coverage or something else. While he’s not looking for his job back, he says he would like to see more worker power at GitHub. 

“If I had a magic wand, I’d love for the employees at GitHub to be able to have a union and represent people from marginalized communities,” he said.

 

Glassdoor: Best tech companies to work for in 2021

Glassdoor just released its annual ranking of the best companies to work for in 2021. We broke out the top 10 tech companies from the list of large businesses (1,000+ employees) as well as from the small to medium-sized business list.

For the large business list, the rankings are based on employee feedback from companies with more than 1,000 employees. Through Glassdoor, employees rate companies based on things like their CEO, career opportunities, compensation and benefits, culture and values, and work-life balance. To be considered for the large list, each employer needed at least 75 ratings across each of the workplace attributes. For the SMB list, companies needed at least 75 ratings to be considered.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 tech companies to work for in the U.S., according to Glassdoor. In parentheses, you’ll find each company’s overall ranking on the list of the 100 best companies along with the average employee rating.

Best tech companies to work for in 2021

  1. NVIDIA (#2, 4.5)
  2. HubSpot (#4, 4.5)
  3. Google  (#6, 4.5)
  4. Microsoft (#9, 4.5)
  5. Facebook (#11, 4.4)
  6. LinkedIn (#13,4.4)
  7. DocuSign (#15, 4.4)
  8. KnowBe4 (#16, 4.4)
  9. Salesforce (#17, 4.4)
  10.  RingCentral (#18, 4.4)

Now, here are the top 10 tech startups to work for in 2021, according to Glassdoor’s list of small- to medium-sized businesses.

Best tech startups to work for in 2021

  1. Ike (#3, 4.9)
  2. Harness  (#6, 4.9)
  3. Lendio (#8, 4.9)
  4. Jobot (#9, 4.9)
  5. Lower (#10, 4.9)
  6. Orchard (#16, 4.8)
  7. SimplrFlex (#17, 4.8)
  8. Flockjay (#21, 4.8)
  9. Wonolo (#24, 4.8)
  10.  Thrasio (#27, 4.8)

*We excluded Asana from this list, which ranked at #14, since it’s a public company. We also excluded Ping Identity from this list due to the fact that it has nearly 1,000 employees and is arguably beyond the startup phase of operations.

Gig workers, SEIU file lawsuit alleging Prop 22 is unconstitutional

A group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union filed a lawsuit today alleging Proposition 22 violates California’s constitution. The goal of the suit is to overturn Prop 22, which classifies gig workers as independent contractors in California.

The suit, filed in California’s Supreme Court, argues Prop 22 makes it harder for the state’s legislature to create and enforce a workers’ compensation system for gig workers. It also argues Prop 22 violates the rule that limits ballot measures to a single issue, as well as unconstitutionally defines what would count as an amendment to the measure. As it stands today, Prop 22 requires a seven-eights legislative supermajority in order to amend the measure.

“Every day, rideshare drivers like me struggle to make ends meet because companies like Uber and Lyft prioritize corporate profits over our wellbeing,” Saori Okawa, a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “With Prop 22, they’re not just ignoring our health and safety — they’re discarding our state’s constitution. I’m joining this lawsuit because I know it’s up to the people we elect to make our laws, not wealthy  executives who profit from our labor. I’m confident the court will see Prop 22 for the corporate power grab that it is, and that Prop 22 will live in infamy along with unconstitutional ballot measures like Prop 8 and Prop 187.”

This suit is the latest in a long battle between gig workers and tech companies. Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft have their eyes on pursuing Prop 22-like legislation elsewhere. Given Uber and Lyft’s anti-gig-workers-as-employees stance, it came as no surprise when Uber and Lyft separately said they would pursue similar legislation in other parts of the country and the world.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash were not immediately available for comment.

Facebook hires a VP of civil rights

Facebook has hired Roy Austin to become its first-ever VP of Civil Rights and Deputy General Counsel to create a new civil rights organization within the company, Facebook announced today. Austin is set to start on January 19 and will be based in Washington, DC.

Austin most recently served as a civil rights lawyer at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP. Prior to that, Austin co-authored a report on big data and civil rights and worked with President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“I am excited to join Facebook at this moment when there is a national and global awakening happening around civil rights,” Austin said in a statement.

Roy Austin, Facebook’s new VP of Civil Rights

“Technology plays a role in nearly every part of our lives, and it’s important that it be used to overcome the historic discrimination and hate which so many underrepresented groups have faced, rather than to exacerbate it. I could not pass up the opportunity to join a company whose products are used by so many and which impacts the civil rights and liberties of billions of people, in order to help steer a better way forward.”

It’s not clear what the goals or responsibilities of the civil rights organization within Facebook will be, but we’ve reached out to Facebook for more information. In the meantime, here’s what Facebook’s Chief General Counsel Jennifer Newstead said on the company blog.

I am delighted to welcome Roy to Facebook as our VP of Civil Rights. Roy has proved throughout his career that he is a passionate and principled advocate for civil rights — whether it is in the courtroom or the White House. I know he will bring the same wisdom, integrity and dedication to Facebook. It’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified to help us strengthen and advance civil rights on our platform and in our company.

In July, former ACLU director Laura W. Murphy released the results of the multiyear investigation and civil rights audit of Facebook. The report highlights some progress, such as Facebook changing its policy on discriminatory housing and employment ads, expanding its voter suppression policies and having more frequent meetings with civil rights leaders. But the auditors still raised a number of concerns, many of which pertained to the 2020 U.S. election and President Trump.

In light of a pro-Trump mob storming the U.S. Capitol last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg blocked Trump from both Facebook and Instagram at least through the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Human Capital: What’s next for Dr. Timnit Gebru

Congrats on surviving this wild first week of 2021. Outside all-things political, a few labor developments happened that are worth noting. Also, shortly before the mob of Trump supporters wreaked havoc on the U.S. Capitol, I caught up with Dr. Timnit Gebru, the prominent AI ethics researcher who said she was fired from Google last month for speaking out about diversity issues. Our full conversation will be available to listen to next Saturday on the newest episode of TC Mixtape, but I’ve included some snippets for y’all below.

Sign up here to get Human Capital delivered straight to your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT. 

Google, Alphabet workers unionize

A group of more than 200 Google and Alphabet workers announced the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union. With the help of Communication Workers of America Union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), the union will be open to both employees and contractors.

Of the roughly 227 workers who had signed on to support the union as of earlier this week, they all committed to set aside 1% of their yearly compensation to go toward union dues. Those dues will be used to help compensate folks for lost wages in the event of a strike. The bulk of the workers who have signed on are mostly based in offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Cambridge.

To be clear, though, the Alphabet Workers Union is a bit untraditional. The current union consists of just 227 workers out of Alphabet’s 132,121 people. For the Alphabet union, the intent is not necessarily to be able to bargain with Alphabet-owned companies but to be able to work collectively toward common goals.

Labor department issues filing ruling re: gig workers

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule pertaining to gig workers. The rule, which goes into effect March 8, 2021, makes it easier for gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart to legally classify workers as independent contractors throughout the country. 

However, it remains to be seen if this rule will fully manifest under the new leadership of President-Elect Joe Biden, who is set to be inaugurated on Jan 20, 2021. According to the Wall Street Journal, Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki previously pointed to the labor rule as an example of regulation Biden could stop or delay on his inauguration day. 

Independent Drivers Guild Chicago forms

Rideshare drivers in Chicago recently teamed up with Independent Drivers Guild to launch a local branch of the drivers’ rights organization. IDG, which is affiliated with the Machinists Union, has historically advocated for the rights of rideshare drivers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“IDG beat the odds to win higher pay and benefits for drivers in New York City and working together, we know we can do the same here in Chicago,” Steven Everett, a Chicago rideshare driver-organizer, said in a statement.

What’s next for Dr. Timnit Gebru

Many of you are likely familiar with Dr. Timnit Gebru, but the TL;DR is that she recently left Google after speaking out about diversity issues in artificial intelligence. Google says Gebru resigned and it merely accepted her resignation, while Gebru says Google fired her. 

I caught up with Dr. Gebru on Wednesday to chat about what’s next for her, as well as some recent developments in tech’s labor struggles.

On the Alphabet Workers Union:

This is a combination of a lot of peoples work and frustration. And i think this is the only way because this is a way to give workers power, and so that they can be at the negotiating table, because right now, they don’t have power.

[…] One thing I really appreciate about this union is that it’s all workers. It’s not just, you know, full time workers, it’s temp workers and full-time workers, which is extremely important because the tech industry is right now running on the backs of these contract workers who have zero security.”

[…] What I worry about though, is that [Google has] been extremely aggressive with trying to union  bust and trying to stop these kinds of organizing — any type of organizing and now that it’s become something real, I think  they’re going to intensify their efforts, like a lot more in trying to stop this organizing from happening. And there are many well-known tactics to do this, right. This kind of like propaganda and kind of dividing and conquering and all that. So that’s my worry. And I think everybody needs to stay vigilant to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

On fighting for severance:

“I don’t know if I’m going to, you know, explain to you exactly what I’m thinking right now about that,” she said, adding that “I definitely have lawyers.”

Obviously, what they did to me was wrong and I definitely want to, you know, take some sort of action but what that is is not necessarily crystal clear.

On working at a tech company again

Prior to joining Google, Dr. Gebru held roles at Apple and Microsoft. While, she still plans to work in the field of artificial intelligence ethics and work with Black in AI, Dr. Gebru said “it’s very hard for me to imagine joining a corporation right now.”

I’m just sick of these institutions because you spend so much of your energy, fighting for simple things, just simple things that people don’t have any incentive to change.

[…] I want to spend more time thinking about how we can have our own institutions rather than just you know, fighting these people over and over again. That’s my current thinking.

Envisioning a firm or a non-profit that does what the ethical AI team at Google was doing under her leadership, but that’s not affiliated with any corporation.

“We want to create technology that would also work for us, rather than just playing catch up,” she said. “So I think that’s the idea of Black in AI.”

NHTSA determines sudden acceleration complaints in Tesla vehicles were due to driver error

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined the reports of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) involving four different Tesla models were due to user error.

The NHTSA first began investing the claims last January, shortly after Brian Sparks requested the agency recall all Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles made during or after 2013. In its review, the NHTSA analyzed the 232 SUA complaints Sparks provided to the agency, as well as 14 other complaints and all available crash data.

The NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation has now determined that all of the crashes involving SUA that Sparks cited were caused by the driver. Therefore, the NHTSA is denying Sparks’ petition to formally review 662,109 vehicles and potentially recall them.

“There is no evidence of any fault in the accelerator pedal assemblies, motor control systems, or brake systems that has contributed to any of the cited incidents,” the report states. “There is no evidence of a design factor contributing to increased likelihood of pedal misapplication. The theory provided of a potential electronic cause of SUA in the subject vehicles is based upon inaccurate assumptions about system design and log data.”

Tesla had previously denied the claims, calling the petition “completely false” and outing Sparks as a Tesla short-seller.

“We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed,” the company said last January. “In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.”

The NHTSA’s investigation confirmed Tesla’s own findings. TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla and will update this story if we hear back.

Google, Alphabet employees seek to form a union

A group of more than 200 Google and Alphabet workers have announced their efforts to form a union. With the help of Communication Workers of America Union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), the Alphabet Workers Union seeks to be open to both employees and contractors.

Of the roughly 227 workers who have so far signed on to support the union, they have all committed to set aside 1% of the yearly compensation to go toward union dues. The bulk of the workers who have signed on are mostly based in offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Cambridge.

“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” Dylan Baker, a software engineer at Google, said in a statement. “We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”

Efforts to unionize at Google and Alphabet come following the creation of unions at tech companies Kickstarter and Glitch early last year. Additionally, workers at HCL Technologies workers who contract for Google in Pittsburgh and tech company cafeteria workers in the Bay Area formed unions last year.

“You have an industry of workers — the new generation of workers and the industry, especially tech and games, has been growing exponentially with young people,” CODE-CWA union organizer Wes McEnany previously told TechCrunch about why we’re seeing more tech companies organize. “Some of them make a lot of money and are working at companies that do really bad things. I think they’re at a position socially where they’re like enough is enough.”

Google has been at the center of a plethora of labor issues over the past few years. Between the the Google walkout, the reported retaliation against organizers of the walkout and the recent departure of Dr. Timnit Gebru, it should come as no surprise that folks at the company decided to make their organizing efforts more official.

In a press release, workers also pointed to how more than half of the people who work at Alphabet companies are contract workers and therefore lack many benefits. Additionally, workers take issue with hefty payout packages to executives accused of harassment, as well as with some of the company’s government contracts, such a s the one around military drone targeting.

Meanwhile, just last month, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Google alleging the company violated parts of the National Labor Relations Act by surveilling employees, and generally interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB also alleges Google discouraged “its employees from forming, joining, assisting a union or engaging in other protected, concerted activities,” the complaint stated.

Those are just some of the reasons why workers want to unionize and gain the legal right to collectively bargain over workplace conditions. Still, there is a lot that needs to happen before Alphabet Workers Union fully comes into fruition. As of right now, the 227 or so workers still need to get other Google and Alphabet workers on board in order to reach a strong majority of people in favor the union. As of September 30, 2020, Alphabet employed 132,121 people. The next step is then seeking recognition from Alphabet.

That last part can be difficult. Case in point: Kickstarter. When workers asked for voluntary recognition from Kickstarter in 2019, the company’s leadership refused to do so, despite workers having majority support. Instead, Kickstarter leadership forced workers to have a formal election with the National Labor Relations Board. It all worked out for Kickstarter workers in the end but it took about ten months from going public with its efforts to being recognized as the Kickstarter Union. Once official, Alphabet Workers Union will be part of CWA Local 1400.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” Nicki Anselmo, a program manager at Google, said in a statement. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”

Human Capital: The biggest labor stories of 2020

Hellllooooo, 2021! Welcome back to Human Capital, a weekly newsletter that details the latest in the realms of labor, and diversity and inclusion.

Not a ton happened this week so I figured I’d use the time to look back on some of the more notable labor stories of 2020.

Sign up below to receive Human Capital in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT. 

Gig workers vs. Uber, Lyft, Instacart et al.

California’s Proposition 22, backed by gig companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, passed to ensure gig workers are classified as independent contractors. It was an important proposition that resulted in the yes side contributing north of $200 million to its efforts. But the fight isn’t over, which you can read about here

Amazon’s stumbles

Amazon faced a number of labor disputes throughout the year — many of them involving its warehouse workers and surveillance

An example: Christian Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse worker, was fired from Amazon in March after organizing a walkout at one of the company’s fulfillment centers in Staten Island. As a result, New York’s attorney general is investigating if Amazon violated federal worker safety laws and New York state’s whistleblower protections laws by firing Smalls.

Smalls’ termination helped galvanize other warehouse workers who later formed an international organization to demand change inside Amazon’s warehouses. Organizers pointed to worker retaliation as one of the driving factors for the formation of Amazon Workers International. Meanwhile, Amazon executives reportedly discussed discrediting Smalls and making him the face of the organizing movement.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told TechCrunch the company did not fire Smalls for organizing a protest. Instead, Amazon said it fired him for “putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of employment.”

In November, Smalls filed a lawsuit against Amazon alleging the company failed to provide PPE to its workers.

Tech workers unionize 

Kickstarter and Glitch became two of the first tech companies to unionize. Kickstarter workers voted to unionize in February. A month later, workers at Glitch voted to unionize.

In September, at least ten tech companies were actively looking to form unions, Grace Reckers, the lead northeast union organizer of OPEIU, told TechCrunch at the time.

“Employees are seeing that they don’t actually have control of how the products they make are being used,” she said. “Even though most of the messaging in Silicon Valley is about creating a better world for us, making our lives easier and innovating, it also moves under the philosophy of move fast and break things.”

Disclosure: My partner works at Glitch and serves on the union’s bargaining committee.

Pinterest finds itself under heavy scrutiny 

Two former Pinterest employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, spoke out about racial and gender discrimination at the company. Shortly after, Pinterest’s former COO Francoise Brougher sued the company alleging gender discrimination. Pinterest settled the suit for $22.5 million.

But Ozoma and Banks described to me a double standard in their experiences compared to Brougher’s. While Brougher received a $20 million payout, Ozoma and Banks received less than one year’s worth of severance.

“This follows the time-honored tradition in America where Black women come forward, blazing a trail, revealing injustice and white women coming in and reaping all the benefits of that,” Banks told me.

Dr. Timnit Gebru’s departure from Google makes waves

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 07: Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Dr. Timnit Gebru, a top AI researcher, said she was fired from Google for sending an email to her direct reports discussing how she was disappointed in her organization’s approach to DEI as well as the approval process around her research paper. Gebru sent that email after Google did not grant her permission to attach her and her colleagues’ names to an AI ethics paper about language models. Gebru had previously sent her superiors an email, detailing that if they would not meet her specific conditions she would prepare to leave. Google proceeded to tell her it accepted her resignation and cut off her access to her work email. 

In December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said it would review the events leading up to Gebru’s departure. In Pichai’s memo, he said the company needs to “accept responsibility for the fact that a prominent Black, female leader with immense talent left Google unhappily.” He also noted how it’s had a “ripple effect” through underrepresented communities at Google.

Alexis Ohanian makes room for Black people at the table

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the company’s board of directors, insisting that Reddit replace him with a Black person. Reddit took Ohanian’s advice and appointed Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

Troubles at coworking space The Wing

WASHINGTON,DC-APR9: Audrey Gelman, the founder of The Wing, a women’s only co-working space and organization, April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Wing started in NYC and DC is their first location outside of New York. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Wing blew up following allegations of racism and other forms of discrimination. Its CEO, Audrey Gelman, resigned as a result and later apologized for not taking any action

In a note sent to former employees, Gelman apologized for not taking action to combat mistreatment of women of color at The Wing. She also acknowledged that her drive for success and scaling quickly “came at the expense of a healthy and sustainable culture that matched our projected values, and workplace practices that made our team feel valued and respected.”

That meant, Gelman said, The Wing “had not subverted the historical oppression and racist roots of the hospitality industry; we had dressed it up as a kindler [sic], gentler version.”

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is on the horizon

TC Sessions: Justice is hitting your virtual screens this March. You’ll be able to hear from folks like Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, Gig Workers Collective’s Vanessa Bain, Christian Smalls and others.

Tickets are available here for $5.

Human Capital: Ex-Pinterest employees who alleged discrimination say ‘no progress has been made’

This was quite the week for Pinterest and not in a good way. While the company settled the gender discrimination lawsuit brought forth by its former COO, the hefty $22.5 million settlement highlighted some of the tech industry’s inequities. 

Meanwhile, Airbnb outlined some new goals around diversity and inclusion, despite having not produced a diversity report since last year, when it disclosed its 2018 data. 

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT.

Pinterest settles gender discrimination lawsuit for $22.5 million

Pinterest announced it had settled the gender discrimination lawsuit brought forth by former COO Francoise Brougher. In August, Brougher sued Pinterest, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.

As part of the settlement, Pinterest will pay $20 million to Brougher and her attorneys, and both Pinterest and Brougher will commit $2.5 million toward “Advancing women and underrepresented communities” in the tech industry, the company wrote in a filing.

On Black women laying “the groundwork for someone else to swoop in and collect ‘progress’”

Before Brougher filed suit against Pinterest, former Pinterest employees Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks publicly alleged racial and gender discrimination while working at the company. I spoke with Ozoma and Banks about the settlement and how it compared to their outcomes. 

On a call with TechCrunch earlier this week, Ozoma and Banks described a double standard in their experiences compared to Brougher’s. While Brougher received a $20 million payout, Ozoma and Banks received less than one year’s worth of severance. Here are some pertinent words they shared on the settlement:

Banks:

This follows the time-honored tradition in America where Black women come forward, blazing a trail, revealing injustice and white women coming in and reaping all the benefits of that.

Ozoma:

So we, like in many, many, many other cases, Black women put ourselves on the line, shared absolutely everything that happened to us, then laid the groundwork for someone else to swoop in and collect ‘progress. No progress has been made here because no rights have been made with people who harm has been done to.

Pinterest agrees to adopt DEI recommendations

Pinterest committed to adopting the recommendations from its special committee of the board of directors. The committee formed earlier this year in June, shortly after two former employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, went public with their allegations of racial and gender discrimination while working at Pinterest. 

Here are a few of those recommendations:

  • mandatory unconscious bias training for every employee, including managers and executives
  • offer additional trainings on inclusivity and unconscious bias
  • include “diverse employees” in interview panels with job candidates
  • reward employees for their efforts to support and promote DEI
  • publish a diversity report twice a year for at least two years; after two years, publish the report annually
  • establish criteria for promotion eligibility
  • enhance Pinterest’s harassment and discrimination policy
  • create a centralized workplace investigations team to ensure consistent and fair outcomes

Gig workers are ready for battle as we enter the new year

Over on Extra Crunch, I did a deep dive into what’s next for gig workers and companies in light of the passage of Prop 22. 

The gist is that Prop 22 does not mark the end of the battle of the status of gig workers. Companies are looking to pursue similar legislation in other places while gig workers are gearing up for another battle.

Moving forward, it’s hard to predict where companies like Uber and Lyft will go next, Brian Chen of the National Employment Law Project said, but it’s likely they’ll want to go to big markets.

“Places where they know there’s been on-the-ground workers organizing and activists they’d finally like to stomp out, and where enforcement has been strong against the company,” he told TechCrunch.

Chen pointed to New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon and Michigan. Wherever these companies bring the battle next, Chen says NELP will be heavily involved in fighting back. As will workers.

“We already know companies are doing this proactively, so we need to be doing this proactively as well,” Bain told me. “I think there is a lot we are going to be up against. It depends on some of the people who are appointed in labor positions and what their actual principles and values are, but I’m a little more optimistic. Things that were not possible to do under Trump will just be really difficult to do under Biden, but not impossible.”

You can read the full, 2,318-word story here.

Gig Workers Rising to launch app to help workers understand their rights under Prop 22

Gig Workers Rising is gearing up to release an app to help gig workers understand their new rights and benefits under Prop 22. 

“[…] workers know that gig companies have a history of making and breaking promises to workers,” the site states. “These corporations depend on you not knowing your rights and being unable to advocate for the benefits you are owed.”

Earlier in the week, Lyft outlined the benefits that are now available to drivers. 

Airbnb sets new DEI goals

Airbnb, which recently went public and became a $100 billion company, recently set two goals to try to improve diversity at the home-sharing and experiences company because it “is nowhere near satisfied with the status quo,” the company wrote in a blog post.

By the end of 2025, Airbnb is aiming for 20% of its U.S. workforce to be underrepresented minorities, which includes folks who self-identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Currently, underrepresented minorities make up just 12% of the company’s employee base.

The second goal is to increase the representation of women to 50% by the end of 2025. 

Intel’s diversity report breaks out underrepresented women data for first time

Some highlights from the report:

 

  • Representation of Hispanic employees increased from 10% to 10.5% year over year
  • Representation of underrepresented minorities in the exec level decreased to 8.4% from 8.8%
  • Underrepresented women in exec roles increased from 1.8% to 2.4%

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice 2021 tickets on sale

Lastly, tickets are now available for TC Sessions: Justice 2021. Don’t worry, it’ll be an entirely virtual event and tickets are just $5 a pop. 

The event is taking place from your living room on March 3, 2021. Already, we’ve lined up speakers like Backstage Capital founder and Managing Partner Arlan Hamilton, Kickstarter Union co-organizer Clarissa Redwine and Ethel’s Club/Somewhere Good founder and CEO Naj Austin. 

More to come!