Ifoma Ozoma whistled on Pinterest. Now she protects the whistle blower.
Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed a bill to expand protections for people speaking out about discrimination in the workplace.
A new website came out to advise tech workers about coming forward about abuse by their employers.
And Apple responded to a shareholder motion that asked it to assess how it used confidentiality agreements in cases of employee harassment and discrimination.
Uneven growth had one thing—or, rather, an individual—in common: Ephioma ozoma.
Over the past year, Ms. Ozoma, 29, a former employee of Pinterest, Facebook and Google, has emerged as a central figure among tech whistleblowers. The Yale-educated daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she has supported and advised tech workers who need help speaking up, pushed for more legal protections for those workers, and urged tech companies and their shareholders through their whistle-blower policies. requested to change.
She helped inspire and pass new California law, the Silenced No More Act, which prohibits companies from using nondisclosure agreements to suppress workers speaking out against discrimination in any form. Ms Ozoma also released a website, The Tech Worker Handbook, which provides information on whether workers should whistle.
“It’s really sad to me that within the tech industry we still have such a lack of accountability that individuals have to do it,” Ms Ozoma said in an interview.
Her efforts – which have alienated at least one colleague along the way – are increasingly in the limelight as troubled tech workers take more action against their employers. Last month, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, revealed that she had leaked thousands of internal documents about the social network’s loss. (Facebook has since renamed itself Meta.) Apple also recently faced employee unrest, with many workers expressing concerns about verbal abuse, sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination.
Ms Ozoma is now focusing directly on prompting tech companies to stop using non-disclosure agreements to prevent employees from speaking out about workplace discrimination. She has also met with activists and organizations who want to pass legislation similar to the Silenced No More Act elsewhere. And he is constantly in touch with other activist tech workers, including those who have organized against Google and Apple.
Much of Ms. Ozoma’s work stems from experience. In June 2020, she and a colleague, Erika Shimizu Banks, publicly accused her former employer, virtual pinboard creator Pinterest, of racism and sexism. Pinterest initially denied the allegations but later apologized for its workplace culture. Its employees staged a walkout, and a former executive sued the company over gender discrimination.
“It’s remarkable how Ifoma took some very traumatic experiences, developed solutions for them and then created a movement to make those solutions a reality,” said John Tye, founder of Whistleblower Aid. He and Ms Ozoma recently appeared in a webinar to educate people about whistleblower rights.
Meredith Whitaker, a former Google employee who helped organize the 2018 walkout on the company’s sexual harassment policy, added Ms Ozoma: “She’s stuck around and trying to help others whistle more safely work done.”
Ms. Ozoma, who grew up in Anchorage and Raleigh, NC, became an activist after a five-year career in the tech industry. A political science major, she moved to Washington, DC in 2015 to join Google in government relations. He then worked at Facebook in Silicon Valley on international policy.
In 2018, Pinterest recruited Ms. Ozoma to its public policy team. There, she helped get Ms. Banks on board. Ms Ozoma said she led the policy decisions, including ending the promotion of anti-vaccination information and content related to plantation weddings on Pinterest.
Yet Ms Ozoma and Ms Banks said they faced unequal pay, racist comments and retaliation for complaining on Pinterest. He left the company in May 2020. A month later, during the Black Lives Matter protests, Pinterest posted a statement supporting its black employees.
Ms Ozoma and Ms Banks said Pinterest’s hypocrisy prompted them to speak up. they on twitter revealed his experiences As for the black women in the company, Ms Ozoma declared that Pinterest’s statement was “a joke”.
Pinterest said in a statement that it has taken steps to increase diversity.
By speaking up, Ms. Ozoma and Ms. Banks took the risk. That’s because he broke the non-disclosure agreements he had with Pinterest when he left the company. The California law, which only provided partial protection, did not cover people speaking out about racial discrimination.
His attorney, Peter Rukin, said he had an idea: What if state law was expanded to ban non-disclosure agreements to prevent people from speaking out on any workplace discrimination? Ms. Ozoma and Ms. Banks soon began working on a bill with California state senator, Connie Leva, a Democrat. It was introduced in February.
“I am very proud of these women coming forward,” Ms. Levya said.
Along the way, Ms. Ozoma and Ms. Banks make out. Ms. Banks said she no longer speaks with Ms. Ozoma because Ms. Ozoma recruited her to Pinterest without disclosing the discrimination there and then kicked her out of working on the Silenced No More Act.
“Ifioma took me out of the initiative through gaslighting and bullying,” Ms. Banks said.
Ms Ozoma said she did not exclude Ms Banks from the event. She said Ms Banks “felt small” as news coverage focused on Ms Ozoma’s role.
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Since leaving Pinterest, Ms. Ozoma has moved to Santa Fe, NM, where she lives with a flock of chickens she calls the Golden Girls. She also runs Earthseed, a tech equity consulting firm.
Through Earthseed, Ms. Ozoma continues her whistleblowing work. She is collaborating with non-profit OpenMIC and consulting firm Whistle Stop Capital to prevent tech companies from using non-disclosure agreements to prevent workers from coming forward on discrimination.
In September, Ms. Ozoma, WhistleStop Capital and OpenMIC, along with social impact investor Nia Impact Capital, filed a shareholder motion in Apple. The resolution asked the company to assess the risks associated with the use of a concealment clause for employees who have experienced harassment and discrimination.
Last month, Apple said in a letter that it would not act on the proposal, arguing that the company “does not limit the ability of employees and contractors to speak freely about harassment, discrimination and other unlawful acts in the workplace.” Is.” It declined to comment beyond the letter.
Ms. Ozoma also supports and counsels other technical workers. The Tech Worker Handbook website was designed to help with that part. The website contains information on how to navigate non-disclosure agreements and how to guard against corporate surveillance or physical threats. At the top of the site is a slogan: “Preparation is Power.” Since it went online on October 6, the site has had more than 53,000 visitors, Ms. Ozoma said.
“I send this to people who are thinking about what to do next,” said Ashley Gojovic, a former Apple activist employee who has relied on Ms Ozoma for support. When people think of whistleblowing, he said, “their mind won’t go to personal, digital, security stuff, places of all the legal implications, how do you get that story out, the effects on friends and family, your mental health effects.”
Last month, Ms. Ozoma also got a call from another Apple worker, Cher Scarlett, who left the company this month. (Ms. Scarlett declined to give her real name for security reasons; she is legally changing her name to Cher Scarlett.) She asked Ms. Ozoma how legislation like the Silenced No More Act was passed in her home state, Washington. to be done.
Ms Scarlett said Ms Ozoma described the steps she has taken, including working closely with a lawmaker who could write a bill.
Along with another tech worker, Ms Scarlett then approached Washington state senator and Democrat Karen Keizer. Ms Keizer now plans to sponsor a bill to expand whistle-blower protections when the legislative session begins in January, her office said.
“This is why a network of women like whistleblowers and Ifoma is so important,” said Ms. Scarlett.
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