Former Google, Facebook and Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma launched a free resource guide and new California law the same week.
Whistleblowers are getting louder in Silicon Valley. Most notable is former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who testified before Congress this week after revealing documents showing the company was aware of damage to its products.
Also this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom sign the Silenced No More Act, which prohibits employers from using a nondisclosure agreement to silence complaints of discrimination.
The timing was fortuitous for Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee, who recently spent much of her energy trying to create a safe space for tech whistleblowers. In 2020, Ozoma and another former black Pinterest employee went public with allegations of discrimination and retaliation during their time at the social media company.
On Wednesday, Ozoma launched a resource guide for tech workers who are considering filing workplace complaints. It’s called âThe Tech Worker Handbook,â and Ozoma says it’s meant to help those who need basic information on how to share their stories of misconduct and prepare for what’s to come.
âIt’s really depressing when you get down to it,â Ozoma, 29, said in an interview. âWhen you look at all the expenses you have to plan for when deciding that you are potentially going to leave a business, this is such an important decision for you and your family to make. I think we are doing individuals a disservice. if we do not provide any kind of support or resources. It’s basically about saying “jump in the lion’s den and good luck.”
The Ozoma Guide reached over 30,000 website visits on day one and received praise from many in the industry. Ozoma owns the domain and oversees the site. She called on dozens of technicians and organizations to contribute to the guide.
She told CNBC that since the guide’s launch, she had received hundreds of inquiries from workers, asking how to get involved and if they should talk about their business. Ellen Pao, a tech investor and former CEO of Reddit who sued venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination in 2012, praised Ozoma’s work.
âI think it’s extremely important to define people’s expectations,â Pao said. âYour company is going to come after you as we saw with the public relations slander against Frances,â she said, referring to Facebook’s efforts to discredit Haugen during and after her testimony.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, testified at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee hearing on consumer protection, product safety and data security titled Children’s Online Safety-Facebook Whistleblower, at Russell Building on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Ozoma said his goal was not to convince people to whistle but to show them their options. The guide offers resource pages for tips on media, legal action, and safety precautions.
An assessment gives workers several questions to consider before speaking out. Ozoma warns of the potential loss of income and health care that could result from a layoff or departure. She said she had to pay $ 900 per month for health insurance when she left Pinterest.
DMs ain’t gonna cut it
Ozoma said employees reach out to her weekly for advice, often by text message, but having worked in the tech industry, she knows software is a necessary part of the equation.
âI’m happy to respond to people’s DMs for the rest of my life, but it’s really not a scalable way for techs to find out what they need to protect themselves,â she said.
Erika Cheung is another of Silicon Valley’s best-known whistleblowers. She is one of the elders Theranos employees who came forward alleging the blood testing company was producing false results.
Ozoma and Cheung talked months ago about the various costs for workers who talk about their working conditions and the need for more resources. Ozoma included Cheung’s voice in the guide.
âYou will face retaliation and many difficulties navigating the legal system, but what kept me going was knowing that the company was wrong and was causing people harm by hiding a certain flaw in their product, âCheung said in the manual. “It was to this anchor that I turned when I faced particularly difficult circumstances.”
Surrounded by local, state and national officials, California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach, site of the recent oil spill, on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. waters.
Mark Rightmire | MediaNews Group | Orange County Register via Getty Images
The Silenced No More Act and its manual came about after more than a year of lobbying and organizing, Ozoma said. Ozoma co-sponsored the bill and helped garner the support of thousands of people in the tech industry.
She said she used the skills she learned while working in various public policy roles for Google, Facebook and Pinterest.
âI learned to work with policy makers, I learned to lobby and engage in dialogue with the press, which has been a big part of that,â she said. “It has been an interesting way to apply these learnings, but now for the workers and not just for my employers.”
Ozoma said she worked with former colleagues from each of her former employers. Sometimes that meant educating people who didn’t have the same experience.
âMost people in the tech industry have no idea how legislation works,â Ozoma said. âIt has been a painstaking process holding meetings with senators’ offices on Zoom and asking supporters to participate in hour-long calls for the chance to audibly say they support the bill. “
Someone in the corner of Ozoma is Ariella Steinhorn, founder and CEO of Lioness, an organization that helps workers tell their stories of alleged misconduct. Lioness posted a trial in September by 21 former and current Blue Origin employees who described a toxic work culture in the space company led by Jeff Bezos.
âWe support and admire Ifeoma’s indispensable work in this space,â said Steinhorn.
Steinhorn added that she had seen an influx of tech industry workers wondering how to share their stories outside after failed internal attempts.
âThere is definitely a need for something like this,â she said of the Ozoma guide. “There is usually such a disconnect between reality and the image of a company and it is too much for a person to lay bare.”
Ozoma now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she moved in 2020. Although she cannot know the immediate results of her work on the California bill, she is pushing for corporate executives and shareholders include the language of the law in their NDAs.
David Barrett, CEO of expense management software startup Expensify, said Protocol that he agreed to include a sentence in the nondisclosure agreements, saying “Nothing in this agreement prevents you from discussing or disclosing information about illegal acts in the workplace, such as harassment or discrimination or any other behavior that you have reason to believe is illegal. “
Ozoma said she hopes the California bill will trigger similar action in other states, especially as distributed labor becomes the norm.
Chelsey Glasson, who worked at Google for five years, told CNBC that Ozoma’s efforts on the bill prompted her to approach lawmakers in Washington state. She said they seemed receptive to the idea of ââpotentially matching the bill.
Glasson filed a complaint against Google in July 2020, after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into the pregnancy discrimination complaint. His trial is scheduled for January.
Glasson’s complaint led to a bill that was passed by the Washington State Senate, extending the statute of limitations for filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint from six months to one year.
She said the Ozoma guide gives potential whistleblowers “a sense of community.”
âI continue to hear from so many workers who are victims of misconduct and terrified because they don’t know what to do,â Glasson said.
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