Inside Pinterest, more tales of workplace discrimination

Inside Pinterest, more tales of workplace discrimination

When McKenna Rogers landed a job on Pinterest’s finance team in 2018, she felt like she’d arrived. She loved the platform — so much that she’d used it to help plan her wedding. “Working there felt like a dream come true,” she says. The year before, Forbes included Pinterest in a list of companies where women most like to work.

Three years later, stories from former employees about inequality and insensitivity have poked holes in Pinterest’s friendly aesthetic. In June, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks came forward with allegations of racial discrimination at the company. Two months later, former COO Françoise Brougher sued Pinterest for gender discrimination and retaliation. She specifically called out the chief financial officer Todd Morgenfeld who’d allegedly made insensitive comments and given her sexist feedback in a performance review.

The issues with the finance team go beyond what Brougher laid out in her lawsuit. Interviews with four former employees suggest a pattern of unequal treatment for women and people of color in the department, including inappropriate comments from managers and unequal pay and leveling.

“I felt obligated to go along with it”

For Rogers, the issues began shortly after she started when her boss showed a keen interest in her personal life. Rogers was separated from her husband and says her boss often asked about who she was dating and offered to give her rides home since they both lived in the South Bay. When she finally relented and let him drive her to the train station, he told her all about his divorce. “I felt obligated to go along with it,” she says. When she said she’d met her boyfriend through a previous job, she says he expressed excitement that she dated at work. The interaction made her deeply uncomfortable.

“There was so much backstabbing it was insane”

The oddities started to add up. Rogers felt that her boss didn’t set clear goals and often insinuated that she wasn’t meeting his expectations. He’d leave the office for days at a time, then return and micromanage her work. He often routed her projects through another member of the team, though this person was not Rogers’ manager. “There were a lot of really nice people at Pinterest but it was hard to build relationships, there was so much backstabbing it was insane,” Rogers says. “It was cutthroat. Everyone was just trying to climb.”

When Pinterest sent out a Pulse survey and followed up with employees about the results, Rogers was honest about how she thought her manager could improve. She assumed the information would be kept private. Later, her manager pulled her aside and berated her. “Going to my boss with your feedback is disappointing because it makes me look bad,” McKenna remembers him saying. This interaction was repeated in emails Rogers sent to the HR team in 2019, which The Verge has reviewed.

Rogers’ relationship with her boss deteriorated. He canceled their one-on-one meetings and added team members to her projects without an explanation for who was supposed to do what. Rogers no longer felt like she knew where her role ended and her teammates’ began. In her midyear performance review in 2019, Rogers’ boss said he wanted her to “foster more team health by expressing gratitude when someone is mentoring or helping her.”

During a team happy hour, her boss told a joke about a dog “licking his balls under the table at work,” according to Rogers’ recollection. She decided to go to HR. In a detailed email sent on August 1st, 2019, Rogers wrote that her boss had made an inappropriate joke at a happy hour and that he no longer responded to her Slack messages. She noted she was being passed over for assignments.

In a statement, a Pinterest spokesperson said: “The concerns that this employee raised were reviewed and we provided ongoing HR support as well as took appropriate disciplinary action based on the circumstances.”

On August 8th, 2019, Rogers sent a follow-up email to the HR team saying that she and her boss had met and that it hadn’t gone well. She said she would be working from home for the day because she no longer felt comfortable in the office.

Ultimately, the HR team decided not to further investigate Rogers’ claims, according to emails between her and the HR team which The Verge has reviewed. Instead, Rogers and the HR team agreed she and her boss would have mediated meetings. The team also sent her resources for requesting a leave of absence.

Pinterest disputed the claim that the HR team didn’t further investigate Rogers’ claims. “The concerns this employee raised were reviewed,” a spokesperson said. “We provided ongoing HR support and took appropriate disciplinary action based on the circumstances. The actions may not always be visible to everyone involved.”

Rogers is not alone. Another woman who worked on the payroll team says she, too, came in thinking Pinterest was going to be a positive and supportive place to work. “For me getting the job at Pinterest felt like the pinnacle of my career,” she says. “When I started I was highly ambitious and excited to work really hard.”

She quickly came to believe, however, that the expectations of her were different than that of men on the team. She helped oversee payroll for multiple countries, regularly working nights and weekends, but dreaded meeting with her boss who insinuated this wasn’t enough. If a man on the team forgot to release payroll, she says her boss would blame her for not reminding them.

Eventually, the pressure became too much, and she quit. “I was mentally struggling and crying all the time,” she says. “I felt like a failure. I gave up my equity, I gave up this great role. I felt like I was being pushed out of my job.” She got severance when she left that was contingent on her not speaking poorly about the company, which is why she is not named here.

Black people at the company were being underpaid compared to their white colleagues.

Months earlier, a man who worked on the finance team looked at the payroll data and realized that Black people at the company were being underpaid compared to their white colleagues. He asked not to be named in this article for fear of legal retaliation. When he brought the data to the HR team, he assumed they would be grateful. Instead, he says they questioned him about why he’d pulled the information and who had put him on the project.

Pinterest said an independent firm is doing a comprehensive review of the company’s workplace culture, including an assessment of the way Pinterest evaluates, promotes, and compensates employees.

When the man decided to leave the company shortly after, he was told he needed to pay back more than $60,000 in expenses from his corporate credit card because his manager hadn’t approved the card originally. The charges, he says, included Wi-Fi on flights and team happy hours. He was aware of other managers who did not get the same level of scrutiny, and the request seemed to him to be retaliation for coming forward about the unequal pay. In a letter, the legal team said they would take him to court if he did not repay the expenses, so he did.

In a statement, a Pinterest spokesperson said: “We always investigate reports of misuse of company funds.”

“It was a lot of, ‘is this just me, or is this weird?’

Employees say senior men at Pinterest tended to get favorable treatment in other ways, too. According to another woman on the finance team, who asked not to be named for fear of professional retaliation, some got outsized equity grants compared to their female colleagues. “It was a lot of, ‘is this just me, or is this weird?’” she says. It was a feeling confirmed by the woman who worked on payroll and the man who’d noticed Black people were being underpaid.

The man who had been in her role previously had managed both payroll and equity. When she asked to manage both functions as well, she was told the company no longer wanted them to be combined. After she left, Pinterest hired a man to replace her. He managed both payroll and equity.

“I want to work at that Pinterest”

She’d thought the company looked “artsy craftsy with all the trappings of Silicon Valley.” Now, she realized it was a facade covering up a darker interior. “It was definitely one of the most political places I’ve worked,” she says. “There were times I would look at how the company was being talked about and be like, I want to work at that Pinterest.”

McKenna Rogers held on to the same hope when she met with her manager in a mediated meeting in 2019. She thought that with an HR team member present, she’d be able to give her boss feedback and hear how she might improve.

Instead, she says her boss lost his temper during the meeting, yelling at her that she wasn’t meeting his expectations. In a follow-up email with the HR team, Rogers says, “I understand this was a highly emotional conversation, but is this something you could follow up with him about? Lately in our 1:1s it tends to head this direction and I’d like to figure out how to diffuse it.”

Rogers says the situation did not improve. After her therapist told her she was suffering from PTSD and severe depression, she decided to quit. In her resignation email to her boss and the HR team, she said: “My reason for leaving at this point in time is due to your poor treatment of me over the past 6-8 months…I’ve developed PTSD due to this and it is time for me to leave Pinterest.”

Her boss never responded to her email. The person who did was an HR coordinator who sent a perfunctory note about doing an exit interview and forgot to include her real name, instead writing: “Hi McKenna, my name is [Name].” It was a fitting ending to a job that had seemed so warm and inclusive on the surface but turned out to be so cutthroat. “From the outside, it looks so nice, it looks different than Facebook and Instagram,” Rogers says. “Then you get there and you realize it’s not.”

In a statement emailed to The Verge, a spokesperson for Pinterest said: “The leadership and employees at Pinterest have a shared goal of building and fostering a company we can all be proud of. We know we have real work to do and recognize that it’s our job to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for everyone.”

Rogers says she wouldn’t have come forward if Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks hadn’t spoken up first. “They did the hardest part, they took the step, and it was huge,” she says. “I’m following to make sure the story doesn’t disappear. We have to keep speaking up.”

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