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Human Capital: The gig economy in a post-Prop 22 world

Welcome back to Human Capital and congrats on making it through one of the hardest weeks of the longest year.

Now that the Associated Press has called the election in favor of Joe Biden, it should be good news for DEI practitioners, who expressed some worry they’d be out of a job if Trump was allowed to continue on his path of destruction.

Meanwhile, over in California, the Uber and Lyft -backed gig worker ballot measure, Prop 22, passed. We’ll get into what that all means and the implications moving forward.

Human Capital is a weekly newsletter that lands in subscribers’ inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT. Sign up here to receive it.

Gig workers will continue being independent contractors in CA

As y’all may have seen by now, the Uber and Lyft-backed gig worker measure, Proposition 22, passed in California

The current count is 58.4% in favor of Prop 22 and 41.6% in opposition. Below, you can see how mostly counties in Northern California along the coast drove the opposition. 

That means gig workers will continue to be classified as independent contractors in the state. It also essentially makes these gig companies exempt from AB-5, the gig worker bill that went into law at the beginning of the year. Lastly, it means we can expect these gig companies, which spent $205 million on the ballot measure, to seek similar legislation in other states.

“To get Prop 22 passed, gig companies — which have yet to turn a profit — spent a historic $205 million on their campaign, effectively creating a political template for future anti-democratic, corporate law-making,” Meredith Whittaker, co-founder of AI Now Institute and Veena Dubal, professor of law at the University of California, Hastings, wrote.

On Uber’s earnings call this week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company would “more loudly advocate for laws like Prop 22” throughout the U.S. and worldwide.

Meanwhile, labor groups are already planning their next steps forward. Partnerships for Working Families, for example, is considering potentially lobbying the hopeful Biden administration’s Department of Labor for better federal laws for worker classification, according to Cal Matters. Other options entail suing for issues around worker’s compensation requirements or the ⅞ supermajority needed to amend Prop 22.

Below are statements issued over the past couple of days from interested parties.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to drivers: “With this vote, drivers and delivery people will get what so many of you have been asking for: access to benefits and protections, while maintaining the flexibility and independence you want and deserve.

The future of independent work is more secure because so many drivers like you spoke up and made your voice heard—and voters across the state listened.”

Lyft Chief Policy Officer Anthony Foxx: “California voters have spoken, and they stood with more than a million drivers who clearly said they want independence plus benefits. Prop 22 is now the first law in the nation requiring health, disability and earnings benefits for gig workers. Lyft stands ready to work with all interested parties, including drivers, labor unions and policymakers, to build a stronger safety net for gig workers in the U.S.”

DoorDash CEO Tony Xu: Passing Prop 22 is a big win for Dashers, merchants, customers, and communities. Californians sided with drivers, recognizing the importance of flexible work and the critical need to extend new benefits and protections to drivers like Dashers

Gig Workers Rising: “Billionaire corporations just hijacked the ballot measure system in California by spending millions to mislead voters. The victory of Prop 22, the most expensive ballot measure in U.S. history, is a loss for our democracy that could open the door to other attempts by corporations to write their own laws.” 

Gig Workers Collective: “Our organizing has always been untraditional since we aren’t classified as employees and don’t have the legal protections to organize or unionize, but we still found a way to build worker power and fight back. We’re disappointed in tonight’s outcome, especially because this campaign’s success is based on lies and fear-mongering. Companies shouldn’t be able to buy elections. But we’re still dedicated to our cause and ready to continue our fight.” 

DEI professionals hope for a Biden administration

Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee said on Twitter that for many DEI professionals, “the results of the election will impact how we do our jobs and may even impact if we have jobs in the long term.”

Now that Biden is the presumptive president, the change in the administration will likely mean a change in the executive order banning types of diversity training for federal contractors.

Late last month, three civil rights groups filed a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s execute order. That suit came after Microsoft disclosed that the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs contacted the company regarding its racial justice and diversity commitments made in June.

Shine app founder talks mental health for Black people and people of color

Shine app co-founders Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey

On this week’s episode of Mixtape, we spoke with Shine app founder Marah Lidey about mental health. We spoke about the psychological and physiological manifestations of racism, the adverse effects of 2020 and how Black death isn’t new, but it’s finally getting global attention.

“Nothing necessarily new is happening with Black people dying in the streets,” Lidey said. “[Black people] all know that. But when all of your friends and co-workers become aware in this very new way and want to understand and want to share and want to ask you questions and you’re watching this play out at this national level and you’re bombarded at the global level, right I mean, this is in our DNA. Our cells were in the cells of those people who were enslaved.”’

You can check out the full conversation here.

Yelp adds a new director to its board

Yelp announced the addition of Tony Wells, chief brand officer at USAA, to its board of directors. Wells also just so now happens to be Yelp’s only Black director on the board.

“Tony is the fifth Board member we’ve welcomed to Yelp over the last couple of years, as we further diversify and refresh the Board’s collective expertise in relevant verticals in order to best serve the company and our shareholders as we embark on our next chapter,” Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said in a statement. “We welcome Tony’s creativity and perspective, and we are thrilled to have him join our Board.”

Human Capital: Uber Eats hit with claims of ‘reverse racism’

With less than one week left until the election, DoorDash made a late contribution of $3.75 million to try to ensure California’s gig worker ballot measure Prop 22 passes. Meanwhile, Coinbase is looking for a head of diversity and inclusion and Uber was hit with claims of reverse racism.

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital, a weekly newsletter where we unpack all-things labor and D&I. To receive this in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT, be sure to sign up here.

Let’s jump in.

Employees at surveillance startup Verkada reportedly used tech to harass co-workers

Oof. Just when we thought we were safe from surveillance, we’ve found yet another reason not to trust people with facial recognition tech. Just to be clear, the first part of that was sarcasm. Anyway, Vice reported earlier this week that some Verkada employees used the startup’s tech to take photos of their female colleagues and then made sexually explicit jokes.

When other employees reported the incident to human resources, Verkada CEO Filip Kaliszan simply gave the offenders a choice of leaving the company or having their share of stock reduced. After the Vice story went out, however, Verkada fired the three employees in question.

Coinbase is looking for a head of D&I

Coinbase is on the hunt for a director of belonging, inclusion and diversity. It’s worth noting Coinbase previously had a head of D&I, Tariq Meyers, but he began focusing on an employee support task force role as a result of COVID-19 in April, according to his LinkedIn page. Meyers later left the company in August, which was before Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong took a stance about not speaking out about social issues.

That stance led to 5% of Coinbase’s employees opting to take a severance package to leave the company. Two of those employees were Coinbase Global Head of Marketing, John Russ and Coinbase VP Dan Yoo.

“We believe that it’s possible to be 100% committed to an inclusive workplace that values diversity where everyone is safe and belongs (and as part of that, working to root out and eliminate any intolerance or bias that exists at the company), and simultaneously maintain laser focus on our mission,” the job posting states. “To this end, we have made a public stance that Coinbase won’t issue external statements on topics beyond the scope of our mission of building a more open financial system and expanding economic freedom, while also redoubling our commitment to making the company an amazing place to work for all employees, regardless of background.”

Precursor VC promotes Sydney Thomas to Principal

Image Credits: Precursor Ventures

Sydney Thomas, who started her career at Precursor Ventures as an intern, was promoted to Principal. That means she’s able to deploy capital to startups on behalf of the fund.

“This is a promotion that has been earned through hard work, aptitude and a clear demonstration that Sydney embodies all of the values we hold dear here at Precursor,” the firm wrote in a blog post. “She has already made a number of investments on behalf of the firm and will continue to do so going forward.”

Indian engineers allege caste bias in tech industry

The Washington Post’s Nitasha Tiku shed some light on caste-based discrimination in the tech ecosystem. Specifically, 30 female Indian engineers who are part of the Dalit caste and work for companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Cisco, say they have faced caste bias. As Tiku explains, those in the Dalit caste are part of the lowest rank castes within India’s social hierarchy.

PayPal puts money into Black and Latinx-led VC funds

PayPal is investing $50 million in a handful of early-stage funds led by Black and Latinx venture capitalists. The investment is part of PayPal’s $530 million commitment to support Black-owned businesses.

The funds receiving money include Chingona Ventures, Fearless Fund, Harlem Capital, Precursor Ventures, Slauson & Co, VamosVenturs, Zeal Capital Partners and another undisclosed fund.

Reddit elevates its VP of people and culture

Nellie Peshkov, formerly Reddit’s VP of People and Culture, is now Chief People Officer. Her appointment to the C-suite is part of the much-needed, growing trend of tech companies elevating employees focused on diversity and inclusion to the highest leadership ranks.

Uber Eats hit with claims of “reverse racism”

Uber said it has received more than 8,500 demands for arbitration as a result of it ditching delivery fees for Black-owned restaurants via Uber Eats.

Uber Eats made this change in June, following racial justice protests around the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Uber Eats said it wanted to make it easier for customers to support Black-owned businesses in the U.S. and Canada. To qualify, the restaurant must be a small or medium-sized business and, therefore, not part of a franchise. In contrast, delivery fees are still in place for other restaurants.

In one of these claims, viewed by TechCrunch, a customer says Uber Eats violates the Unruh civil Rights Act by “charging discriminatory delivery fees based on race (of the business owner).” That claim seeks $12,000 as well as a permanent injunction that would prevent Uber from continuing to offer free delivery from Black-owned restaurants.

Uber driver claims rating system is racially biased
Uber is no stranger to lawsuits, so this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Uber is now facing a lawsuit regarding its customer ratings and how the company deactivates drivers whose ratings fall below a certain threshold. The suit alleges the system “constitues race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased.”

In a statement to NPR, Uber called the suit “flimsy” and said “ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before.”

Yes on Prop 22 gets another $3.75 million influx of cash
DoorDash put in an additional $3.75 million into the Yes on 22 campaign, according to a late contribution filing. Proposition 22 is the California ballot measure that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.

The latest influx of cash brought Yes on 22’s total contributions north of $200 million. As of October 14, the campaign had raised $189 million. But thanks to a number of late contributions, the total put toward Yes on 22 comes out to about $202,955,106.38, or, $203 million.

Prop 22 hit the most-funded California ballot measure long ago, but it’s now surpassed the $200 million mark.

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is back

I am pleased to announce TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is officially happening again! Save the date for March 3, 2021.

We’ll explore inclusive hiring, access to funding for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and workplace tools to foster inclusion and belonging. We’ll also examine the experiences of gig workers and formerly incarcerated people who are often left out of Silicon Valley’s wealth cycle. Rounding out the program will be a discussion about the role of venture capital in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem. We’ll discuss all of that and more at TC Sessions: Justice.

Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

It could be the long-awaited turning point in the world of venture capital and beyond. Yale, whose $32 billion endowment has been led since 1985 by the legendary investor David Swensen, just let its 70 U.S. money managers across a variety of asset classes know that for the school, diversity has now moved front and center.

According to the WSJ, Swensen has told the firms that from here on out, they will be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff, from hiring to training to mentoring to their retention of women and minorities.

Those that show little improvement may see the prestigious university pull its money, Swensen tells the outlet.

It’s hard to overstate the move’s significance. Though Yale’s endowment saw atypically poor performance last year, Swensen, at 66, is among the most highly regarded money managers in the world, growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country after Harvard, which currently manages $40 billion.

Credited for developing the so-called Yale Model, which is short on public equities and long on commitments to venture shops, private equity funds, hedge funds, and international investments, Swensen has inspired legions of other endowment managers, many of whom worked for him previously, including the current endowment heads of Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine these managers and many others will again follow Swensen’s decision, one that was inspired by the growing diversity with Yale itself. Should such metrics become standard, they could dramatically change the stubbornly intractable world of money management, which remains mostly white and mostly male.

Indeed, while the dearth of woman and minorities within the ranks of venture firms may not be news to readers, a 2019 study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and cited by the WSJ underscores how big an issue it remains across asset classes. Women- and minority-owned firms held less than 1% of assets managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, private-equity funds and real-estate funds in 2017, even though their performance was on a par with such firms.

As for why Swensen didn’t write this letter much sooner to universe of fund managers backed by Yale, Swensen tells that WSJ that he has long talked about diversity with them but that he held off on asking for systematic changes owing to a belief, in part, that there were not enough diverse candidates entering into asset management.

Inspired by the Black Lives Movement that gained momentum this spring, he decided it was time to take the leap anyway.

As for that perceived pipeline concern, fund managers will have to figure it out. For his part, according to the WSJ, Swensen offered a suggestion to those same U.S. managers. He proposed that they forget the similar resumes for which they’ve long looked and consider recruiting directly from college campuses.

Lo Toney has some ideas about how to (really) bring VC into the 21st century

Last week, we suggested that for a truly diverse venture industry, the limited partners who provide investing capital to VCs — institutions like universities and hospital systems — need to start incorporating diversity mandates into their work. Say a venture firm wanted to secure a commitment from the University of Texas System; it would first need to agree, in writing, to pour a certain percentage of its capital into startups founded by underrepresented groups.

Given how fragmented the world of institutional investing is, the idea might sound impracticable. But Lo Toney, one of a small but growing number of black VCs in Silicon Valley, suggests it might actually be inevitable. He points, for example, to pension funds like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which manages the assets of 1.6 million employees, many of whom “look like me,” says Toney. Imagine what might happen if they started asking more questions about who is managing their money.

Not that Toney is waiting on this development. He doesn’t need to. As a former partner at Comcast Ventures, then GV, Toney was able to secure Alphabet as the anchor investor in his own investment firm, Plexo Capital, whose debut vehicle has been funding venture outfits, as well as making direct startup investments.

Now, with renewed attention being paid to the lack of people of color throughout the startup industry, Plexo has LPs knocking on its door again, and Toney’s plans for that second fund involve not just helping his current fund managers but helping more investors of color form venture firms of their own.

It’s an extension of work that’s already in progress. Plexo, which closed its debut fund last year with $42.5 million — including from the Ford Foundation, Intel, Cisco Systems, the Royal Bank of Canada, and Hampton University — already has stakes in 20 funds, including Precursor Ventures, Ingressive Capital, Kindred Ventures, Equal Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, and Work-Bench.

Most are run exclusively or in part by people of color. “We have enough reports from the Harvard’s and the McKinsey’s of the world to show us that diversity at all levels matters,” says Toney. “We see better performance from companies with diverse boards, public companies with diverse management teams; when there are diverse managers, we see better performance.”

With his second fund, he’s hoping to turn the dial even further. More specifically, he says, Plexo aims to “develop a Y Combinator of sorts” that enables “a great investor” to transition into “a great fund manager.”

Part of the idea is to institutionalize the work that Plexo already does in an ad-hoc way around helping managers to prepare marketing materials, pitch their strategy to both high-net-worth individuals and institutions, and manage LP communications after that base of investors has been established. And those are just three aspects of the many elements of fund management with which Plexo can help, he says.

Plexo is also exploring “putting a strategy in place [to] help a lot of these younger GPs with working capital, to be able to incur the expenses that it takes to start a fund, [given that] it can take, on average, a million dollars.” (That’s taking into account no salary during the fundraising process, travel expenses, service providers, and the money that a general partner typically has to kick in to the fund.)

It’s a model that Plexo thinks it can use to move things along faster than were it solely investing in individual companies. Still, Plexo can’t do it alone. Neither can its friends and allies, including Elliott Robinson of Bessemer Venture Partners, Frederik Groce of Storm Ventures and Sydney Sykes of the retail startup Dolls Kill, all of whom separately steer a young organization called BLCK VC that works to connect and advance black venture investors.

Toney remains especially concerned over the few people of color at bigger and later-stage venture firms — investors who might otherwise have the networks and know-how to support black entrepreneurs as their startups mature.

It’s a valid worry. According to a 2018 report in The Information, there were just seven black decision-makers at the 102 venture firms with more than $250 million under management, and those numbers are relatively unchanged today. The dearth is particularly glaring for black investors who are women.

The industry could, slowly, over time, grow more inclusive of underrepresented groups. But it would happen faster if institutions that accept federal funding or else manage the money of public employees decided to focus more on the issue. In fact, it’s conceivable that the constituents of these institutions — including donors and employees through their pension fund contributions — might eventually insist on it.

“There’s often not really a collective realization of the power and influence that one can have within our asset class to actually affect change,” says Toney. “I suspect — and I don’t know this, and I’m not part of any initiatives — that we’ll see more of these [pension] funds take a stance, and that [this shift] will come from the bottom up, from their employee base.”

It might not take much to get the ball rolling. “They could put the pressure on our industry even simply asking questions [including]: ‘How many black partners do you have?’ ‘How many women do you have?’ ‘What does the composition of your portfolio look like?’”

“Even just asking those questions as a first step — that in and of itself would affect change,” he says, “because who wants to look bad when answering those questions?”

One day left to get featured at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin’s Startup Battlefield

Founders. The clock is ticking. Applications for Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2019 are closing in just about 24 hours.

On December 11-12, TechCrunch will feature the top early-stage startups from around the world in the most renowned on-stage pitch competition in the world – Startup Battlefield. Companies are battling for $50,000 in equity-free prize money, the infamous Disrupt Cup and the attention of press and investors from around the world.

You’ll join the leave of highly successful Startup Battlefield Alumni, including N26, JukeDeck, Dropbox, GetAround, Mint.com, and more. All together, the 857 companies that have launched with Startup Battlefield have raised over $8.9 billion in funding, with 113 successful exits (IPOs and acquisitions).

It’s simply. Startups from any part of the world and any industry can apply. Companies must be early stage, pre-major publicity and have a minimally viable product to demo live on stage. TechCrunch editors review the applications and select the top 3-5% of companies that apply – more competitive than college!

After being selected, founders will go through a mini-accelerator with the Startup Battlefield team, where we will train you on your pitch, go-to-market strategy, on stage talent and set you up for the biggest, most public launch on the largest tech stage in the world. Teams pitch for 6 minutes including a live demo, followed by a 6 min Q&A with our esteemed judges – VCs, angels and heads of major companies.

If you make it to the final round, you simply pitch on stage again with the same pitch in front of a brand new set of judges. These judges debate and decide the final winner of the competition and the startup that gets to bring home $50,000 and the Disrupt Cup.

Participating in Startup Battlefield gets you a whole suite of perks. We’re talking free exhibition space in Startup Alley for both days of Disrupt, invitations to private events, backstage access, CrunchMatch — our free business-matching platform — free subscriptions to Extra Crunch and a ticket to all future TechCrunch events. That’s some major value right there.

There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Stop procrastinating apply to Startup Battlefield today. We want to see you in Berlin!

Gig worker bill AB-5 passes in California

Assembly Bill 5, the gig worker bill opposed by the likes of Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, has passed in the California State Senate. This comes shortly after California Governor Gavin Newsom officially put his support behind AB 5 in an op-ed.

The bill needed 21 votes to pass in the State Senate. It passed in a 29 to 11 vote this evening.

The next step is for Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do. If he signs the bill, it will go into effect at the beginning of 2020.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Gig Workers Rising member and driver Edan Alva said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”

The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors based on the presumption that “a worker who performs services for a hirer is an employee for purposes of claims for wages and benefits…”

Those who work as 1099 contractors can set their own schedules, and decide when, where and how much they want to work. For employers, bringing on 1099 contractors means they can avoid paying payroll taxes, overtime pay, benefits and workers’ compensation.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”

In short, AB-5, which has already passed in the California State Assembly, would ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits.

Uber and Lyft, two of the main targets of this legislation, are adamantly against it. Last month, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash amped up their efforts to do whatever they can to prevent it from happening. That’s in part due to the fact that the companies cost of operating would increase.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each put $30 million toward funding a 2020 ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their drivers as independent contractors.

Assuming Gov. Newsom signs the bill, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

AB5 has passed through the Senate! We thank @LorenaAD80 for championing this in the legislature and celebrate with drivers from across the state who have spent years organizing. Up next: a real union for drivers!

— Gig Workers Rising (@GigWorkersRise) September 11, 2019

Awaken offers meditations focused on healing from systems of oppression

A mindful, contemplative approach to internalized racism and sexism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of dismantling systems of oppression, Awaken founder and CEO Ravi Mishra says. That’s the entire point of Awaken, a mindfulness and meditation app specifically geared toward helping people cope with the harsh realities of today’s society.

Awaken got its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Mishra told TechCrunch. The election surfaced these “larger questions that have to do with race, gender, sexuality and power, and how they live inside of us.”

Through Awaken, Mishra hopes to offer mindfulness and meditation practices that help cultivate stability within marginalized communities. These contemplative practices center around sitting with certain questions and identity construction. Awaken’s founding teachers are Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Sensei Greg Snyder — three leaders focused on the intersection of mindfulness and social change.

Similar to meditation app Headspace, which is valued at $320 million, Awaken has a freemium plan in place. For full access to content, Awaken charges $8.99 a month. While Awaken does seek to make money, Mishra says he’s not doing it for profit. Instead, the plan is to use all the money Awaken makes for activist work.

“We’re currently running at a loss and figuring out how to break even,” he told me. “The hope and idea is once we are fully profitable, we’ll move that into activist work.”

Awaken has plans to close a round of funding from mission-aligned angel investors early next year.

Tucker Carlson’s anti-diversity rant for Fox News didn’t go over well on Twitter

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Fox News host Tucker Carlson went on a rant Friday against Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats and politicians who have called for a more diverse workforce, government, and American way of life.

Carlson went off on anyone who has said “diversity is our strength” with the chyron on the screen blaring the question: “How exactly is ‘diversity’ our ‘strength’?” 

He rhetorically asked how can we get along better “if you can’t understand each other or share no common values.” Then he noted that the less people have in common, the less likely they are to be “cohesive.” Read more…

More about Diversity, Fox News, Tucker Carlson, Tech, and Identities

How Silicon Valley should celebrate Labor Day

Ask any 25-year old engineer what Labor Day means to him or her, and you might get an answer like: it’s the surprise three-day weekend after a summer of vacationing. Or it’s the day everyone barbecues at Dolores Park. Or it’s the annual Tahoe trip where everyone gets to relive college.

Or simply, it’s the day we get off because we all work so hard.

And while founders and employees in startup land certainly work hard, wearing their 80-hour workweeks as a badge of honor, closing deals on conference calls in an air-conditioned WeWork is a far cry from the backbreaking working conditions of the 1880s, the era when Labor Day was born.

For everyone here in Silicon Valley, we should not be celebrating this holiday triumphantly over beers and hot dogs, complacent in the belief that our gravest labor issues are behind us, but instead use this holiday as a moment to reflect on how much further we have to go in making our workplaces and companies more equitable, diverse, inclusive and ethically responsible.

Bloody Beginnings

On September 5th, 1882, 10,000 workers gathered at a “monster labor festival” to protest the 12-hours per day, seven days a week harsh working conditions they faced in order to cobble together a survivable wage. Even children as “young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country.”

This all erupted in a climax in 1894 when the American Railway Union went on a nationwide strike, crippling the nation’s transportation infrastructure, which included trains that delivered postal mail. President Grover Cleveland declared this a federal crime and sent in federal troops to break up the strike, which resulted in one of the bloodiest encounters in labor history, leaving 30 dead and countless injured.

Labor Day was declared a national holiday a few month later in an effort to mend wounds and make peace with a reeling and restless workforce (it also conveniently coincided with President Cleveland’s reelection bid).

The Battle is Not Yet Won

Today in Silicon Valley, this battle for fair working conditions and a living wage seems distant from our reality of nap rooms and lucrative stock grants.  By all accounts, we have made tremendous strides on a number of critical labor issues. While working long hours is still a cause for concern, most of us can admit that we often voluntarily choose to work more than we have to. Our workplace environments are not perfect (i.e. our standing desks may not be perfectly ergonomic), but they are far from life-threatening or hazardous to our health. And while equal wages are still a concern, earning a living wage is not, particularly if the worst case scenario after “failing” at a startup means joining a tech titan and clocking in as a middle manager with a six-figure salary.

Even though the workplace challenges of today are not as grave as life or death, the fight is not yet over. Our workplaces are far from perfect, and the power dynamic between companies and employees is far from equal.

In tech, we face a myriad of issues that need grassroots, employee-driven movements to effect change. Each of the following issues has complexities and nuances that deserve an article of its own, but I’ve tried to summarize them briefly: 

  1. Equal pay for equal work – while gender wage gaps are better in tech than other industries (4% average in tech vs. 20% average across other industries), the discrepancy in wages for women in technical roles is twice the average for other roles in tech.
  2. Diversity – research shows that diverse teams perform better, yet 76% of technical jobs are still held by men, and only 5% of tech workers are Black or Latino. The more alarming statistic in a recent Atlassian survey is that more than 40% of respondents felt that their company’s diversity programs needed no further improvement.
  3. Inclusion – an inclusive workplace should be a basic fundamental right, but harassment and discrimination still exist. A survey by Women Who Tech found that 53 percent of women working in tech companies reported experiencing harassment (most frequently in the form of sexism, offensive slurs, and sexual harassment) compared to 16 percent of men.
  4. Outsourced / 1099 employees – while corporate employees at companies like Amazon are enjoying the benefits of a ballooning stock, the reality is much bleaker for warehouse workers who are on the fringes of the corporate empire. A new book by undercover journalist James Bloodworth found that Amazon workers in a UK warehouse “use bottles instead of the actual toilet, which is located too far away.” A separate survey conducted found that 55% of these workers suffer from depression, and 80% said they would not work at Amazon again.Similarly, Foxconn is under fire once again for unfair pay practices, adding to the growing list of concerns including suicide, underage workers, and onsite accidents. The company is the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, and builds products for Amazon, Apple, and a host of other tech companies.
  5. Corporate Citizenship & Ethics – while Silicon Valley may be a bubble, the products created here are not. As we’ve seen with Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica breach, these products impact millions of lives. The general uncertainty and uneasiness around the implications of automation and AI also spark difficult conversations about job displacement for entire swaths of the global population (22.7M by 2025 in the US alone, according to Forrester).

Thus, the reversal in sentiment against Silicon Valley this past year is sending a message that should resonate loud and clear — the products we build and the industries we disrupt here in the Valley have real consequences for workers that need to be taken seriously.

Laboring toward a better future

To solve these problems, employees in Silicon Valley needs to find a way to organize. However, there are many reasons why traditional union structures may not be the answer.

The first is simply that traditional unions and tech don’t get along. Specifically, the AFL-CIO, one of the largest unions in America, has taken a hard stance against the libertarian ethos of the Valley, drawing a bright line dividing the tech elite from the working class. In a recent speech about how technology is changing work, the President of the AFL-CIO did not mince words when he said that the “events of the last few years should have made clear that the alternative to a just society is not the libertarian paradise of Silicon Valley billionaires. It is a racist and authoritarian nightmare.”

But perhaps the biggest difference between what an organized labor movement would look like in Silicon Valley and that of traditional organized labor is that it would be a fight not to advance the interest of the majority, but to protect the minority. In the 1880s, poor working conditions and substandard pay affected nearly everyone — men, women, and children. Unions were the vehicles of change for the majority.

But today, for the average male 25-year old engineer, promoting diversity and inclusion or speaking out about improper treatment of offshore employees is unlikely to affect his pay, desirability in the job market, or working conditions. He will still enjoy the privileges of being fawned over as a scarce resource in a competitive job market. But the person delivering the on-demand service he’s building won’t. His female coworker with an oppressive boss won’t. This is why it is ever more important that we wake up and not only become allies or partners, but champions of the causes that affect our less-privileged fellow coworkers, and the people that our companies and products touch.

So this Labor Day, enjoy your beer and hot dog, but take a moment to remember the individuals who fought and bled on this day to bring about a better workplace for all. And on Tuesday, be ready to challenge your coworkers on how we can continue that fight to build more diverse, inclusive, and ethically responsible companies for the future. 

Ripcord CEO faces allegations of improper behavior

 Perry Coneybeer, who left college at age 19 to work full-time at corporate file digitizing startup Ripcord, is alleging improper behavior by Ripcord CEO Alex Fielding. Coneybeer also alleges she was fired in retaliation for reporting a fellow employee to human resources. In a Medium post published today, Coneybeer alleges Fielding told graphic, sexual stories involving other employees. One… Read More

Uber’s first diversity report is not the worst thing ever

 Uber just released its highly-anticipated, first-ever diversity report detailing the demographics of its employees as of this month. The TL;DR is that Uber, like many other tech companies, is predominantly white and male. What surprised me, though, is that Uber fares slightly better than Facebook and Apple when it comes to female representation. Uber also has pretty solid representation of… Read More

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Getty launches new partnership to promote positive images of Muslim women online

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Amani Al-Khatahtbeh often starts her public speaking gigs by asking the audience to whip out their phones, do an image search of “Muslim women” and see what pops up. They usually gasp at the results — pages and pages of one-dimensional stock photos showing women behind black veils, failing to capture the diversity of Muslim experiences. 

“It just occurred to me that I shouldn’t have to use that example anymore,” Al-Khatahtbeh said.

It’s a problem that Al-Khatahtbeh is ready to fix. As the founder and editor-in-chief of popular online platform MuslimGirl.com, she’s teamed up with Getty Images to launch a new series of creative images and stock photos showing a range of modern Muslim women being their true, authentic selves. Read more…

More about Representation, Diversity, Islam, Muslim Women, and Media

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With tech ready to go to bat, Supreme Court puts off transgender rights case

 The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would vacate a lower court’s ruling in the case of Gavin Grimm, sending what was to be a landmark case on transgender rights back to the drawing board.
The previous decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals drew on Obama-era guidance from the Department of Education stating that schools should treat transgender students in a way… Read More

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Yelp is making it possible to find businesses with gender-neutral bathrooms

Yelp App Yelp is rolling out the ability to see if restaurants and other businesses have gender-neutral bathrooms. In the next couple of weeks, people will also be able to search for businesses on Yelp that have gender-neutral restrooms. To be clear, gender-neutral bathrooms are single-stall bathrooms that lock and are accessible to all genders. In order for this to work, Yelp will start asking people… Read More

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Everything we know so far about Uber’s sexual harassment scandal

uber-everywhere Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti’s story of sexual harassment and HR complicity at the company has drawn a lot of attention from the outside world as many relate to her frustrations and the broader systemic culture of sexism that manifests itself across the tech industry. In the days since Rigetti published her account, decisions have been made both inside and outside of… Read More

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Early Uber investors say they’re ‘disappointed’ in the company’s response to sexual harassment claims

uber_seo_car Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor, two early investors in Uber, are feeling “disappointed” and “frustrated” in light of Uber’s response to claims of sexual harassment at the company, the two wrote on Medium today. Earlier this week, Uber said it had hired US Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at law firm Covington & Burling, to work… Read More

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Early Uber investors say they’re ‘disappointed’ in the company’s response to sexual harassment claims

uber_seo_car Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor, two early investors in Uber, are feeling “disappointed” and “frustrated” in light of Uber’s response to claims of sexual harassment at the company, the two wrote on Medium today. Earlier this week, Uber said it had hired US Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at law firm Covington & Burling, to work… Read More

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Uber’s Travis Kalanick details independent investigation regarding sexual harassment

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Attends The Third Netease Future Technology Conference Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sent a memo to employees today following allegations of sexual harassment from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. In the memo, obtained by TechCrunch, Kalanick said the company has tapped former US Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at law firm Covington & Burling, to independently investigate the workplace issues Fowler spoke about in her… Read More

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Former Uber engineer says company ignored repeated reports of sexual harassment

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2015 file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. Uber and advocates for the blind have reached a lawsuit settlement in which the ride-hailing company agrees to require that existing and new drivers confirm they understand their legal obligations to transport riders with guide dogs or other service animals. The National Federation of the Blind said Saturday, April 30, 2016, that Uber will also remove a driver from the platform after a single complaint if it determines the driver knowingly denied a person with a disability a ride because the person was traveling with a service animal. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) Susan Fowler, a former site reliability engineer for Uber and current engineer at Stripe, accused the company of rampant sexual harassment and human resources negligence in a blog post published today.  It’s the latest in a series of events that point to serious questions about Uber’s company culture. Fowler claims that on her first day out of training, she was solicited for sex… Read More

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AncestryDNA clustered 770,000 genomes to find your family’s American immigration story

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31: People headed to Ellis Island look out at the Statue of Liberty as it stands in New York Harbor in the snow on January 31, 2017 in New York City. With President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, the subject of who can come to America has once again become a hotly debated topic in the country. The executive order temporarily bars immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya, and indefinitely prevents all Syrian refugees, from entering the U.S.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Immigration into the U.S. is a hot political topic right now, but, unless you’re Native American, pretty much everyone here has a family history involving some sort of immigration story. Now AncestryDNA, a consumer genetics subsidiary of the genealogy research site Ancestry.com, wants to help you know more about your family’s immigration journey. To do so, the research… Read More

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Leveling the playing field for women in tech is vital for emerging industries

Laying a new (artificial) cricket pitch. When I hear about the need to push gender diversity in tech and improve gender disparity in the industry, it takes me a second to appreciate the full reality of the situation. When the industry’s playing field is devised and maintained mostly by men, it leaves women at an inherent disadvantage. The bias is hardwired into the system, making it hard for men to see the problem. Read More

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From teen mom to tech maven, Rita Henderson has broken the mold

img_7018 We all read the daunting statistics about single motherhood and teen pregnancy, but we don’t always get to read stories that humanize the individuals going through these experiences.  As we continue to highlight Black voices in the tech industry during Black History Month, we want to spotlight Rita Henderson. The proud mother of a 7-year-old activist and a #BlackGirlMagic… Read More

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Twitter’s Blackbirds launch bot for Black History Month

twitter blackbirds Twitter’s employee resource group for African-Americans, Blackbirds, is launching a Twitter bot for Black History Month. The group is the first ERG at Twitter to use the tool, which Twitter launched in November. To chat with the bot, all you have to do is direct message @Blackbirds. From there, the bot will tell you one of four things: a today in #BlackHistory fact, a community event… Read More

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Google employees rally against Trump’s immigration ban

google protest Google employees are currently rallying against President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans immigration from seven majority Muslim countries. Googlers all over the country, including at campuses in Mountain View, San Francisco, New York and Seattle are rallying against the immigration ban. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and co-founder Sergey Brin, who was spotted at one of the protests… Read More

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Hidden Figures: Inspiring STEM heroes for girls

Girl goggles assembling electronics circuit at science center There is a much-loved aphorism used by parents of all generations that says “you are what you eat.” I would also suggest that a similar phenomenon holds true for career choices: “You become what you see.” Unfortunately, cinema often does society a disservice in that very few strong, independent women present compelling career choices for our young girls. Read More

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Six essays on media, technology and politics from Data & Society

danah boyd writes, “Yesterday, a group of us at Data & Society put out six essays on ‘media, technology, politics.’ Taken
together, these pieces address different facets of the current public
conversation surrounding propaganda, hate speech, and the US election.
Although we only allude to specifics, we have been witnessing
mis/disinformation campaigns for quite some time as different networks
seek to manipulate both old and new media, shape political discourse,
and undermine trust in institutions and information intermediaries. In
short, we are concerned about the rise of a new form of propaganda that
is networked, decentralized, and internet-savvy. We are also concerned
about the ongoing development of harassment techniques and gaslighting,
the vulnerability of old and new media to propagate fear and
disinformation, and the various ways in which well-intended
interventions get misappropriated. We believe that we’re
watching a systematic attack on democracy, equality, and freedom. There
is no silver bullet to address the issues we’re seeing. Instead,
a healthy response is going to require engagement by many different
constituencies. We see our role in this as to help inform and ground the
conversation. These essays are our first attempt to address the
interwoven issues we’re seeing.
(more…)

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