So, Pinterest settled a huge discrimination lawsuit this week. Francoise Brougher, its former chief operating officer, received $22.5M. It’s big. But what’s interesting is that the women who initially brought the discrimination to light received virtually nothing.
“Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks went public in June with allegations of racial and gender discrimination, two months before Brougher filed suit,” read one Fast Company article.
They are black. Brougher is white. That, in addition to their titles and responsibilities, is the only significant difference. Aside from the race aspect, the nature of the charges filed in their respective claims are more or less the same. Brougher has even said on the record that Ozoma and Banks public actions gave her the courage to file suit.
I remember the story. Pinterest treated them terribly. But why was Brougher awarded so much money, when Ozoma and Banks received so little?
That’s easy. An attack on a black woman’s dignity, punishment for her mistreatment, for minimizing her value in the workplace, and ignoring or gas lighting her efforts to right an unfair leveling system, are simply not as costly on the world stage.
Our contributions are easily accepted, even enthusiastically welcomed, but as professionals — sometimes as people — we are easily dismissed. The idea that we should be paid for the level of our contribution, or even paid what the white peers who work alongside us receive, is often melt with confusion, dissembling, and outright refusal.
This is why so many black women are abandoning corporate America and striking out on their own in the business world. And who can blame them?
It’s par for the course for Black women to appear on the front line when it comes to raising awareness for important issues, issues that impact large groups of people, not just ourselves. We fight diligently, going through all the right formal channels as Ozoma and Banks did, as well as taking to social media in an attempt to gain some reciprocity, only to have someone else reap the benefit. We are left with accolades for our courage and thanks from those who do actually benefit from our work and our struggle.
The legal system failed these women, who each received less than a years’ worth of severance. That’s basically nothing when compared to $20+M. And Brougher added insult to injury because apparently it didn’t occur to her to involve the women in her win — beyond thanking them for paving the way, of course.
“I always have been supportive of Ifeoma and Aerica,” she said. “The issues they’ve brought up are very important. It always has been about accountability and creating changes and I do think that $2.5 million joint investment demonstrates that both Pinterest and I are both committed to improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.”
The $2.5M donation she’s referring to was part of her settlement and is earmarked for nonprofits that support women and underrepresented minorities in tech. That’s nice and all, but if you unpack that, it could mean a chunk of cash goes here, and a scrap goes there. So that some people benefit from Pinterest’s slap on the wrist in some small way, but what about Ozoma and Banks?
“Sara Mauskopf, the CEO and cofounder of childcare platform Winnie, wrote on Twitter that Brougher and Pinterest’s donation to nonprofits is nothing more than “diversity theater”—a term that refers to the way that companies or people publicize actions designed to make it appear they care about diversity, while doing little or nothing to actually achieve inclusion and equity.”
I have to agree. It’s disgusting. No, it’s heartbreaking. The ramifications of actions like these go far beyond, “it’s so not fair.” This is about money, lifestyle, and how a corrupt system is allowed to continue to operate.
It’s about worth. It’s about white privilege. It’s about being shut out of the acquisition of generational wealth as Ozoma explained. It’s about systemic racism, and those are just the obvious things.
“This was Pinterest’s way of making crystal clear how little Black women are actually valued and it was their way of solving the ‘gender piece’ without so much as acknowledging the race piece,” Ozoma said.
Pretty much. What do you think? Were Ozoma and Banks treated fairly? Should Brougher and Pinterest have done more for them?