LinkedIn prides itself on being the highly professional, troll-free antithesis to all other social-media platforms. But on Wednesday, the company’s own internal meetings looked more like a “dumpster fire” Facebook comments section than anything on the company’s famously civil website.
Earlier this week, the career networking website announced that it would hold a virtual global town hall to address the nationwide social unrest sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. The meeting was billed as an event to discuss racial inequality by “reflecting on our own biases, practicing allyship, and intentionally driving equitable actions.”
“We’ll spend most of our time together in open discussion, so please consider bringing questions or experiences you’d like to share,” read the invitation email to staff.
LinkedIn employees followed those instructions precisely. The results were a disaster.
Throughout the meeting, which was conducted by videochat and featured a sidebar where employees could leave comments, several anonymous staffers shared opinions echoing the detractors and skeptics of the Black Lives Matter movement. Several of these commenters criticized LinkedIn’s position on diversity hiring, equating such practices with racism against white people.
“As a non-minority, all this talk makes me feel like I am supposed to feel guilty of my skin color. I feel like I should let someone less qualified fill my position. Is that ok? It appears that I am a prisoner of my birth,” one commenter wrote. “This is not what Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted for anyone.”
“I believe giving any racial group privilege over others in a zero sum game would not get any support by others. Any thoughts on hurting others while giving privileges with the rosy name called diversity?” read another employee comment.
“George’s killers need to be tried according to law. But how can hiring more minorities into manager roles and C-suite positions address cop racism? I thought hiring at LinkedIn is based on merit alone.”
Other LinkedIn staff went further, complaining in the comments that police violence against white people was undercovered, and attempting to pivot the conversation to black-on-black crime instead.
“Blacks kill blacks at 50 times the rate that whites kill blacks. Usually it is the result of gang violence in the inner city. Where is the outcry?” one commenter said, echoing a common anti-BLM talking point deflecting from concerns about state violence against the black community.
“This tragic incident that happened to George Floyd happened exactly the same to Tony Timpa (white man) by Dallas cops in 2016, and no one seemed to care then,” another employee wrote.There were no out cry for justice in his case. Why? Should we not want justice for all?”
“Do we all understand that racial prejudice is about EVERYONE and can go any direction?” wrote another. “Racial prejudice is rampant in tech companies. As a white person, I’ve experienced it from people of other races too.”
The comments were immediately met with outrage from numerous other LinkedIn staffers, who called the comments disturbing and racist.
One employee described the Q&A as a “dumpster fire,” while another called it an “epic fail.” A staffer who identified as black said the comments had “absolutely destroyed me.”
“I do not feel safe working at this company in a place where I was already uncomfortable with the treatment I’ve received on my OWN team since I started,” wrote one employee. “This is so sad.”
“There are some extremely offensive comments here that go completely against the spirit of what this is intended for,” another added. “I am COMPLETELY shocked by some of these racist comments from my fellow employees. I am thoroughly disgusted!”
“The racism at LinkedIn really came out in the Q&A section!” a third staffer quipped.
According to one employee who attended the call, LinkedIn asked staff not to share details of the meeting with anyone outside the company.
After The Daily Beast reached out for comment, CEO Ryan Roslansky shared a note addressing employee complaints about the comments, which he said were “appalling” and “offensive.” He said that the presenters were not able to see some of the comments in real time, and acknowledged that granting anonymity on the question form allowed some staff to “add offensive comments without accountability.”
“We require members on our platform to have real identities and we will not allow anonymous questions in all hands meetings in the future,” he said. “I said it in the Company Group yesterday, and I will say it again, we are not and will not be a company or platform where racism or hateful speech is allowed.”
Roslansky added: “By raising voices, democratizing access to learning and jobs, and tackling the systems of economic injustice, we can and will make meaningful change. For any of this to happen, we have to start with our culture and commit to working through hard things together. We have to anchor on our values, including having open, honest and constructive conversations and respecting that relationships matter.”
Over the past several years, a number of major tech companies have been roiled by internal dissension over diversity policies and initiatives. In 2017, Google fired an employee who argued against the company’s diversity hiring initiatives by circulating a memo claiming women are “biologically” less likely to succeed in tech. Big Tech has struggled to diversify its workforce, with Microsoft, Apple, and Google all reporting that black technical employees are still far underrepresented at the companies compared to national percentages.
LinkedIn itself has continued to struggle with boosting its inclusivity. The company’s 2019 workforce diversity report admitted that “we’ve discovered that we need to evolve the way we hire at scale and think innovatively to address specific hiring needs. For example, hiring more leaders from underrepresented groups in the U.S., including more Black and Latino leaders, is a critical priority for us.” According to the report, LinkedIn had just 3.5% black and 5.9% Latino staffing compared to a white (47.5%) and Asian (40.3%) employees.
One anonymous staffer in Wednesday’s meeting seemed to best sum up the event.
“I think the anonymous Q&A platform may have been a mistake lmao.”