Technology

Ifeoma Ozoma has revealed a guide to assist whistleblowers in tech

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Former Google, Facebook, and Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma released a free resource guide and new California law that same week.

Ifeoma Ozoma

Whistleblowers are getting louder and louder in Silicon Valley. Most notable is former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who testified before Congress this week after revealing documents showing that the company is aware of the harm its products are causing.

Also this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Silenced No More Act, which prohibits employers from using a nondisclosure agreement to silence complaints about discrimination.

For Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee who has spent a lot of energy lately creating a safe space for tech whistleblowers, the timing was accidental. In 2020, Ozoma and another black ex-Pinterest employee went public on allegations of discrimination and retaliation while at the social media company.

On Wednesday, Ozoma released a free online resource guide for technical workers considering filing workplace complaints. It’s called “The Tech Worker Handbook,” and Ozoma says it is designed to help those in need of basic information to share their stories of wrongdoing and prepare for next steps.

“It’s really depressing to get involved,” Ozoma, 29, said in an interview. “When you look at all of the expenses you must plan for when you decide to leave a company, it is such a big decision to make for yourself and your family. I think we are doing this individual no favor . ” if we do not provide support or resources. Basically it says, ‘Throw yourself into the lion’s den and good luck.’ “

The Ozoma guide received over 30,000 website views in its first day and was lauded by many in the industry. Ozoma owns the domain and oversees the site. She tapped dozens of technicians and organizations to contribute to this guide.

She told CNBC that since the guide was published, she has received hundreds of inquiries from workers asking how they should get involved and whether they should speak out about their company. Ellen Pao, a tech investor and former Reddit CEO who sued Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination in 2012, praised Ozoma’s work.

“I think it’s incredibly important to set people’s expectations,” said Pao. “Your company will follow you, as we saw in the PR smear against Frances,” she said, referring to Facebook’s efforts to discredit Haugen during and after her testimony.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, says during the hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transport Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security titled Children’s Online Safety-Facebook Whistleblower on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at the Russell- Building out.

Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Ozoma said their goal is not to convince people to whistle, but rather to show them their options. The guide provides pages of resources for advice on media, legal action, and safety precautions.

An assessment gives workers several questions to consider before commenting. Ozoma warns of the potential loss of income and health that could result from being fired or leaving a position. She said she had to pay $ 900 a month for health insurance when she left Pinterest.

DMs won’t make it

Ozoma said that her employees ask for advice every week, often via text message, but having worked in the technology industry, she knows that software is a necessary part of the equation.

“I’m excited to be responding to people’s DMs for the rest of my life, but this really isn’t a scalable way for technicians to find out what they need to protect themselves,” she said.

Erika Cheung is another of the better known whistleblowers in Silicon Valley. She is one of the former Theranos employees who came forward claiming the blood testing company gave erroneous results.

Ozoma and Cheung discussed the various costs to workers months ago, commenting on their workplace conditions and the need for more resources. Ozoma added Cheung’s voice to the instructions.

“They face retaliation and a lot of difficulty navigating the legal system, but what kept me going was knowing that the company was wrong and harming people by hiding a specific flaw in their product,” Cheung said in the manual. “I turned to this anchor when I was faced with particularly difficult circumstances.”

Surrounded by local, state, and national officials, California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach, the site of the most recent offshore oil spill, on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.

Mark Rightmire | MediaNews Group | Orange County Register via Getty Images

Both the Silenced No More Act and its manual came about after more than a year of lobbying and organization, said Ozoma. Ozoma co-sponsored the bill and helped garner the support of thousands of people in the tech industry.

She said she used skills gained while working in various public roles for Google, Facebook and Pinterest.

“I’ve learned to work with policy makers, I’ve learned to lobby and interact with the press, which was a big part of it,” she said. “It was an interesting way to apply that knowledge, but now for employees and not just for my employers.”

Ozoma said she worked with former colleagues from each of her previous employers. That sometimes meant training people who didn’t have the same experience.

“Most people in the tech industry have no idea how laws work,” said Ozoma. “It was a tedious process to hold meetings with senatorial offices through Zoom and ask supporters to join in on long phone calls to audibly say they supported the bill.”

“Too much for a person to bare”

One person in Oomasa’s corner is Ariella Steinhorn, founder and CEO of Lioness, an organization that helps workers tell their stories of misconduct allegations. Lioness published an essay by 21 former and current Blue Origin employees in September describing a toxic work culture at the space company led by Jeff Bezos.

“We support and admire Ifeoma’s much-needed work in this area,” said Steinhorn.

Steinhorn added that she had seen an influx of tech industry workers asking how to externally share their stories of failed internal attempts.

“Something like this is definitely necessary,” she said of Ozoma’s travel guide. “Usually there is such a discrepancy between reality and a company’s image and it is too much for a person to bare.”

Ozoma now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she moved in 2020. While she won’t see the immediate results of her work on the California bill, she urges that company executives and shareholders include the language of the law in their NDAs.

David Barrett, CEO of expense management software start-up Expensify, told Protocol that he has agreed to include a sentence in NDAs, saying, “Nothing in this agreement prevents you from receiving information about illegal activities in the workplace such as harassment or not Discuss or disclose discrimination or any other conduct that you have reason to believe is illegal. “

Ozoma said she hopes California law 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 law inspired her to reach out to Washington state lawmakers. She said they seem receptive to possibly meeting the bill.

Glassson filed a lawsuit against Google in July 2020 after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into the pregnancy discrimination complaint. Your trial is scheduled for January.

Glasson’s complaint resulted in law that the Washington State Senate passed, extending the statute of limitations for filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint from six months to one year.

She said that Ozoma’s guide gave potential whistleblowers “a sense of community”.

“I still hear from so many workers who experience wrongdoing and are scared because they don’t know what to do,” said Glasson.

SEE: Facebook has to change, according to a whistleblower

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