- Ifoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest and Google employee, has just published a resource guide for tech workers who are considering going public with complaints about their employer.
- Also this week, the bill it helped limit non-disclosure agreements was signed into law in California.
- Ozoma told Businesshala that she is using the skills she learned at various tech companies to equip employees facing malpractice.
Whistleblowers are getting louder in Silicon Valley. The most notable is ex-Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who testified before Congress this week, revealing documents that showed the company was aware of the harms of its products.
Also this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom Put signature on Silenced No More Act, which prohibits employers from using nondisclosure agreements to muzzle complaints about discrimination.
The timing was accidental for Ifoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee who has been spending most of her energy as of late trying to create a safe space for tech whistleblowers. In 2020, Ozoma and another Black former Pinterest employee went public with claims of discrimination and retaliation during their time at the social media company.
On Wednesday, Ozoma launched a free online resource guide For technical workers who are considering making a complaint at the workplace. It’s called “The Tech Worker Handbook,” and Ozoma says it’s meant to help people who need basic information to share their misconduct stories and prepare for what lies ahead.
“It’s really frustrating when you’re in,” Ozoma, 29, said in an interview. “When you look at all the expenses you need to plan for when you decide you’re potentially going to leave a company, it’s a huge decision for you and your family. Me. We seem to be doing individuals a harm if we are not providing any kind of help or resources. It’s basically saying ‘throw yourself in the lion’s den and good luck.'”
Ozoma’s guide garnered over 30,000 website views on its first day and received praise from many across the industry. Ozoma owns the domain and is maintaining the site. She has tapped dozens of tech workers and organizations to help contribute to the guide.
She told Businesshala that since launching Guide, she’s received hundreds of inquiries from workers asking how to get involved and whether they should speak up about their company. Ellen Pao, a tech investor and former CEO of Reddit who sued venture firm Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination in 2012, praised Ozoma’s work.
“I think it’s incredibly important to set people’s expectations,” Pao said. “Your company is going to follow you, as we saw with the PR smear against Frances,” she said, referring to Facebook’s attempts to discredit Hogen during and after her testimony.
Ozoma said his goal is not to persuade people to whistle, but to show them their options. The guide provides pages of resources for advice on media, legal actions, and safety precautions.
An assessment gives workers a number of questions to consider before speaking. Ozoma warns about the potential loss of income and health care that could result from being fired or quitting. She said she had to pay $900 a month for health insurance when she left Pinterest.
Ozoma said employees contact her for advice every week, often by text, but having worked in the tech industry, she knows software is a necessary part of the equation.
“I’m happy to answer people’s DMs for the rest of their lives, but it’s not really a scalable way for tech workers to figure out what they need to protect themselves,” she said.
Erica Cheung is one of the most famous whistleblowers in Silicon Valley. He is among former Theranos employees who have come forward accusing the blood testing company of producing faulty results.
Ozoma and Cheung spoke months ago about the various costs to workers who speak to their workplace conditions and the need for more resources. Ozoma incorporated Cheung’s voice into the guide.
Cheung said in the handbook, “You will face retaliation and a lot of difficulties navigating the legal system, but the thing that made me aware was knowing that the company was wrong and that people were trying to make a difference in their product.” was causing harm by hiding a definite flaw.” “I turned to that anchor when I was facing particularly difficult situations.”
Ozoma said both the Silenced No More Act and its handbook came after more than a year of lobbying and organizing. Ozoma co-sponsored the bill and helped gather support from thousands in the tech industry.
She said she used the skills she acquired while working in various public policy roles for Google, Facebook and Pinterest.
“I learned how to work with policymakers, I learned how to lobby and engage with the press, which has been a huge part of it,” she said. “It’s been an interesting way to apply these learnings, but now not just for my employers but for the workers.”
Ozoma said he has worked with former colleagues at each of his previous employers. Sometimes, this meant educating people who didn’t have the same experience.
“Most people in the tech industry have no idea how legislations work,” Ozoma said. “It has been a painstaking process on Zoom to hold meetings with the senators’ offices and sit on hour-long calls to give supporters a chance to support the bill.”
There’s a person in Ozoma’s corner Ariella Steinhorn, founder and CEO of Lioness, an organization that helps workers tell stories of their misconduct allegations. Lioness is published. Essay in September by 21 former and current employees of Blue Origin, who described a toxic work culture at the space company led by Jeff Bezos.
“We are in awe of the support of Ifoma’s much-needed work in this area,” Steinhorn said.
Steinhorn said he has seen an influx of workers from the tech industry who are inquiring about how to share their stories externally after unsuccessful internal attempts.
“There’s definitely a need for something like this,” she said of Ozoma’s guidebook. “Usually there is such a mismatch between the reality and the image of the company and it is too much for a person to expose himself.”
Ozoma is now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she relocated in 2020. Although she won’t get to experience the immediate consequences of her work on the California bill, she is pushing for company executives and shareholders to incorporate language from the law. their NDA.
According to David Barrett, CEO of expense management software start-up Expensify Etiquette that it agreed to include a sentence in the NDA, “Nothing in this Agreement prohibits you from disclosing or disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace, such as harassment or discrimination or any other conduct, about which You have reason to believe it is unlawful.”
Ozoma said he expects the California bill to take similar action in other states, especially as distributed workforces become the norm.
Chelsea Gleason, who worked at Google for five years, told Businesshala that Ozoma’s attempt at the bill prompted her to approach lawmakers in Washington state. She said they are receptive to potentially matching the bill.
Gleason filed a lawsuit against Google in July 2020, after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched an investigation into a complaint of discrimination in pregnancy. His hearing is set for January.
Gleason’s complaint led to a bill that passed the Washington State Senate, increasing the statute of limitations for filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint from six months to one year.
She said Ozoma’s guide gives potential informants a “sense of community.”
“I continue to hear from many workers who are facing abuse and are terrified because they don’t know what to do,” Gleason said.
Watch: Facebook must change after whistleblower testimony