“So…we’re cool, right?”
This is what one manager, who has been at Facebook since before it went IPO in 2012, said to a colleague of ours after the Medium post Facebook Empowers Racism Against Its Employees of Color unintentionally went viral. Similar sentiments were raised by managers, many of whom are white with tenure, with diverse teams across its Menlo Park, Seattle, New York City, and London offices.
What was initially meant to be an exercise in sharing our challenging experiences turned into a dialogue across many different media channels. The Daily Beast. USA Today. The Guardian. CNBC. The New York Post. The Root. And many more. Forbes noted:
[T]he incidents represent microaggressions that may not have been taken seriously because by their nature they seem more benign on the surface, especially to the majority populations. The 2019 State of Inclusion survey by Deloitte found that the vast majority of bias that is witnessed or experienced in the workplace today is more subtle and covert versus the more blatant discrimination that was seen in the past. It seems the more elusive the discrimination becomes, the more difficult it is to eradicate.
Within Facebook, we were pleased to see Lori Goler, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mark Zuckerberg all express disdain at the behaviors we had experienced. We were saddened by the dozens of people we both knew and didn’t know share on Workplace their own experiences, their frustrations with the lack of action by HR, the dismissiveness presented by other people managers, and the general disappointment with what we had experienced.
We then saw further dialogue occur. Across many different business units, leaders were posting missives around being disgusted and appalled by the experiences we faced, promising an open ear and ready action if we were to face bias and discrimination again. People began to become more open with sharing what had happened, even if they neglected to share with whom the behavior took place. One manager reached out to one of the co-authors who left because of the behavior outlined in the original piece and said “I am sorry we failed you.” The sentiment in private echoed the public statement by a Facebook spokesperson who apologized for what was clearly appalling behavior.
Others around the industry shared their thoughts. Dantley Davis, who leads design at Twitter, addressed the systemic issues at Facebook in a post of his own, sharing what he had witnessed and how he could help those who do not feel they belong at Facebook. Many others, both current and former Facebook managers, privately stated their desire to do more, to be better allies, to be a voice to those who have had trouble finding their own. Another brave woman has shared her own story about what she experienced at Facebook.
We were seen. We were heard. And on Monday, November 11, we felt things were changing.
As a company, it felt like — for a shared moment in time — everyone looked in the mirror and said “we could do better and we should be better.” Facebook, once about moving fast/breaking things and having omitted the latter part of the phrase, embraced a stance of fast action. Zuck promised to speak about this during Q&A that Thursday, and each day leading to that moment felt like decades.
On Tuesday, November 12, several managers convened privately to figure out which of their direct reports, current and former, were authors of the piece. Rather than reflect on their behaviors, they took to scouring social media, engaging with posts, and doing their best to identify who might be part of the cabal of authors who dared to air dirty laundry to the public.
Some managers, in an attempt to save face and reputation, began asking their directs how they felt about their manager and if they were still in their good graces. Within one org, whose Pulse scores numbered in the single digits, there was to be no discussion of the article. As they are in the middle of a major shift in positions, where individual contributors (ICs) are given the choice between staying in a new position they were not trained to be in or receive a severance package, any talk about controversial elements would mean potential termination.
“We’re cool, right?”
On Blind, along with general racist dissent against the authors of the original piece, memes of racist caricatures, comments saying blacks should know their place, and missives of “they deserved it” ran wild before being deleted. There was also general debate around if the behaviors exhibited in the article were actually racist, or if the anonymous authors were just seeking publicity.
(Note: We have been contacted by different law firms and media outlets. We have not gone public with our identities.)
Wednesday, November 13, one day before Q&A. The good managers are continuing to engage in dialogue. Great leaders are taking a stand and saying that the behavior is unacceptable, holding office hours for those wanting a safe space to vent, and creating psychological safety for people who have experienced microaggressions during their tenure at Facebook. Supportive ICs are leaning on each other to find ways to ensure they do not allow the behavior of poor managers and bad actors to reflect the complex dynamics of the company. One white IC, unaware or unmoved by the recent media coverage, went a different direction, instructing a colleague of color before a presentation they both worked on to “not say anything unless I call upon you” — doubling down on the negative behaviors addressed last week.
It is now Thursday, November 14, and Zuck had spoken. At the weekly Q&A, Facebook’s founder and CEO displayed genuine empathy, concern, and authentic disappointment that this is not the company he wanted to build.
We were seen. We were heard. There was hope. We were moving fast again. Or so we thought.
Zuck, in a sudden about face that may have been tinged with good intent, said the behaviors were mostly due to new, inexperienced managers who did not know how to manage conflict well, completely (if unintentionally) dismissing the actions and behaviors of those with tenure, who have weaponized their positional power to invoke a lack of accountability in how they make others feel.
The mirror cracked.
Friday, November 15. A manager, who a co-author had shared experiences about in the previous story, was emboldened by the Q&A and, knowing there would now be no repercussions, lashed out at her direct report during a team meeting, doing her best to make the employee feel small.
Facebook empowered racism against its employees of color. And then it empowered bad managers to act against ICs with no accountability. Managers, no matter how inept or how low their ratings may be, are now considered more valuable than experienced, talented ICs who have and will go to other organizations where they feel more valued than they do at Facebook. There was to be no mandate of bias or belonging training for managers. There was to be no reevaluation or review in qualifications for people managers. There was to be no analysis of the effectiveness of Manager Essentials or Managing Inclusion. What’s the point in saying we’ll do better if we are dismissing managers from being held accountable?
It made us think of Qin Chen, who just two months ago died by suicide as a result of the hostile management culture. And Yi Yen, who was fired for speaking of the incident. And Mark Luckie, who had not only spoken publicly about Facebook’s black people problem but then had his post unceremoniously removed before being restored again. And the countless others who have been failed internally by the platform that was supposed to bring people around the world together.
We were seen. We were heard. There was hope. But it was brief. Zuck spoke to thousands of employees about how deeply he felt about the trials and tribulations underrepresented groups of designers, engineers, people partners and program managers experienced, and then put the onus on managers who don’t care anyway. As if he were to think it would be enough to make us feel better. As if we were meant to accept the behaviors as due to misguidedness rather than misconduct. As if he leaned in to our ear, gave us a pat on our back, and said…
We’re cool, right?
Monday, November 18. Things are back to normal. We are prepping for the holiday season. Finalizing our H2 projects. Giving uncomfortable smiles to people who didn’t say much to us in the past, and knowing nods to each other as we pass by the posters that read “It’s Okay Not To Be Okay” and “Black Lives Matter.” On the chalkboard in MPK21, there was a partial quote — now erased — from Martin Luther King, Jr. This quote is not as well known as others, but resonates just as true today as it did fifty years ago.
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives here can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Those of us who chose to stay at Facebook remain because of the promise it held to bring the world closer together. Those who left continue to create impact in ways that will hopefully influence everyone to believe they — and others — can truly belong in any place, at any time. We are all caught in this mutual network we call life, and can either work to build communities of respect, integrity, and shared accountability, or thrive only in service of the one that looks at us in the mirror — with one eye closed, and the other unfamiliar with what is reflecting back.