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Pinterest pinned for gender discrimination: What you can learn from it

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The latest settlement from Pinterest in a gender discrimination suit reminds business owners everywhere, no matter the size, to beware of creating or maintaining a hostile work environment.

Women in a meeting around table, inclusion as a part of stopping gender discrimination representing invisible work.

Talk about a Pinterest fail! Only this time it’s not some artistic baker’s confection dream that ends up looking phallic, scatological, or like a melty nightmare. This is a $22.5 million settlement of a gender discrimination suit by former COO Francoise Brougher.

In the suit, Francoise Brougher alleges gender discrimination and a toxic workplace. She discovered she made less than her male colleagues and had a different, less favorable vesting schedule. In addition, Brougher charges, she was left out of meetings with other executives. When she spoke up about concerns with the way Pinterest was being run and about these differences, Brougher alleges, they fired her.

With the settlement, Pinterest admits no wrongdoing. Pinterest and Brougher agreed to jointly donate $2.5 million of the settlement to programs supporting women and underrepresented communities in tech. The remaining $20 million goes to Brougher and her attorneys. It’s a costly lesson, even for such a large tech company. Let’s consider the lessons here for smaller businesses.

Paying women less and excluding them from meetings they would normally attend are two examples of gender discrimination. In this particular case, Bougher states that the executive team held several meetings without her, meetings similar to those she’d previously attended and should, as COO of the company. Retaliation for reporting such discrimination is also illegal. Brougher claims Pinterest did both.

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Gender discrimination can take many forms, and it may not always be intentional. Other times, it may be entrenched in a company’s culture, and will be more difficult to address. It is essential, however, for businesses to examine their own culture and pay attention to any red—or even yellow—flags they see through comments, complaints, and HR reports. Based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, companies employing 15 or more people, employers must not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin.

Employers, take note! In 2020, people are fed up and tired of accepting unequal opportunities and mistreatment. Check your culture, talk to your employees, examine your own behavior—especially anything resembling a pattern. Besides being a total jerk move and illegal, gender (and all other) types of discrimination is really bad for your business. Let’s look at how.

Who wants to work in a hostile work environment? Nobody! When discrimination occurs, it affects the targeted employee’s mental health and stress level, which alone is bad, but this can also lead to poorer physical health, meaning more sick days. If the offending person treats all members of a group (say, women) less respectfully or negatively, then that can lead to low employee morale. If the problem is culture-wide, expect morale and productivity to take a hit. People don’t do their best work or become content, loyal, productive employees in an environment of mistrust, inequality, and/or actual aggression.

Additionally, if word gets out, as it did in this case, both in Brougher’s lawsuit and her scathing article, “The Pinterest Paradox: Cupcakes and Toxicity,” the company’s reputation suffers. Current employees may feel shame, anger, or embarrassment. Something like this lawsuit may encourage others with grievances to come forward, and the company may be looking at more legal action.

Other employees may see this as a warning, and may start looking for work elsewhere, for a better work environment, more opportunity and equality, at a company with a better reputation. Additionally, a company with discrimination complaints and lawsuits against it will likely have a more difficult time recruiting quality talent, and may even make it onto a union or other black list of sorts.

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Employers do not want that! And people don’t want to work where they aren’t valued! Valuing employees means so much more than what you pay them.

Employers, it’s worth investing the time to thoroughly examine your company for overt or unintentional discrimination. Brush up on the law, either by asking your HR team to provide a training, or by reading up on gender discrimination. Equalrights.org has put together this excellent Gender Discrimination at Work Guide that provides definitions, examples, the laws, employees’ rights, legal advice, and more. Employers and employees alike should read it and take note.

Pin this, Pinterest.

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Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

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