Former Pinterest employees say they faced racial discrimination and were underpaid

Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, both black women, publicly accuse Pinterest.

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Queenie Wong
4 min read

Pinterest is facing racial discrimination allegations by its former employees.

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Two former Pinterest employees, both black women, said Monday they experienced racial discrimination and faced retaliation after raising concerns about unfair pay in the workplace, actions that conflict with the image-sharing company's public vow to help its black workers.

The former employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, worked on public policy and social impact at the company before leaving Pinterest in late May. Ozoma said in a tweet that Pinterest's public statement on June 2 expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement is a "joke."

"As a Black woman, seeing @Pinterest's middle of the night 'Black employees matter' statement made me scratch my head after I just fought for over a full year to be paid and leveled fairly," Ozoma said in a public tweet

Pinterest said that it looked into the concerns raised by its former employees.

"We took these issues seriously and conducted a thorough investigation when they were raised, and we're confident both employees were treated fairly. We want each and every one of our employees at Pinterest to feel welcomed, valued, and respected," a Pinterest spokeswoman said in a statement. The company also vowed to improve diversity and inclusion and "do better" in areas where the company falls short. 

The allegations against Pinterest come as other tech companies express their support for racial justice amid protests over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white police officer pinned his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes. Despite vows to help black people, the actions of tech companies have sometimes conflicted with their words.

Tech companies have long struggled to diversify their workforce, which is dominated by white and Asian male workers. In 2019, roughly 4% of Pinterest's workforce was black, and that percentage was even lower for those in leadership roles, according to the company's diversity report. Social networks, in particular, have been under fire for not doing enough to combat hate speech. 

While black employees have publicly spoken up against their former employers, it's still rare because tech workers sign legal agreements that can make it risky to speak up. In 2018, former Facebook manager Mark Luckie said in a public memo that the social network was failing its black workers and users. 

"If anything comes out of this, I want people to understand that this isn't just a trend. This isn't us just getting stuff off of our chest. This is a huge risk we're taking because we believe the company needs to be held responsible," Ozoma said in an interview. 

This isn't the first time Pinterest has heard their complaints, she said. The former employees filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment last year, Ozoma said. The agency didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The tweets by both former employees went viral, and civil rights advocacy group Color of Change called on the company to apologize to the workers and fairly compensate them. "The retaliation these women experienced underscores the risk Black workers in Silicon Valley endure every day for speaking out against racism and discrimination," Color Of Change Campaign Director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike said in a statement. 

Ozoma also said she dealt with having to publicly support the company's public policy efforts while grappling with workplace issues. While she was being praised by colleagues for her work at Pinterest, Ozoma said many of her co-workers had no idea what she was dealing with inside the company. 

"Not to be able to talk about what was also happening -- that was pretty damaging," she said.

Last year, Ozoma suggested that Pinterest stop promoting wedding venues and content that romanticize former slave plantations. The company implemented the idea, but Ozoma said she received a bad performance review from her manager because she didn't include the pros of promoting plantation-themed weddings.

Ozoma also said a separate white male coworker doxxed her, posting her cell phone number, name and photo on "violently racist/misogynistic parts of the internet." Pinterest fired that employee for leaking documents but didn't move fast enough to help her take down personal information posted by a co-worker, she said. 

Ozoma and Banks said they were also underpaid. They didn't specify by how much, but Ozoma said they were doing work at a higher pay level than how their job was classified. 

Banks also alleges in a series of public tweets that her manager, who wasn't identified, made "disparaging comments" about her ethnicity and another worker's Jewish heritage related to the issue of pay. When she reported the comments to the human resources department, Banks said the company said the manager didn't violate its code of conduct because he had no "ill intent."

She also alleged that her manager criticized her recommendation for the company to reverse a decision to cut contractor pay during the holidays. Her partnerships with black organizations and companies was scrutinized by Pinterest, she said. The "racist and sexist workplace" took a toll on her mental health, Banks tweeted, but her experience isn't an isolated one. 

"I find that what I experienced is all too familiar. In fact, it is a rite of passage. In reading statements affirming #BlackLivesMatter & seeing Black works suddenly highlighted by mostly white corporations, I find that my silence stunts my healing and misleads my community," Banks said in a tweet.