A tech company has vowed to banish “anti-racism”. what does that mean?


While jobless claims fell last week, layoffs at big companies — especially in tech — continue to grab headlines. Last Wednesday, the communications platform announced that Twilio would be laying off 11 percent of its workforce, but CEO Jeff Lawson said in a letter to employees that the layoffs would be done through an anti-racism/anti-oppression lens. It affects what he calls “marginalized” groups.

So, what are anti-racism suppressors?

We don’t know exactly what Twilio meant by that phrase. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

But job cuts will affect some groups more than others, said Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute.

“We know that the black unemployment rate is double the white unemployment rate. And we see it rise faster, rise faster, rise higher,” she added.

One reason may be unconscious bias, says Sarah Kaplan of the University of Toronto.

“Even if managers don’t know it, ‘Who’s the best team player, who fits?’ You might be thinking. And for them, it will be someone who looks like them.

And even strategies meant to be “neutral” can be otherwise, she says: “We fire people who are most recently hired, we fire temps or part-timers, we fire people with low performance reviews.”

In industries like tech — which have only recently begun to diversify — new hires are more likely to be women or people of color, and they often face greater scrutiny on the job, said Kate Bann of the Center for Equitable Development in Washington.

“And yes, you might be the last one hired, but the fact that you might have a shorter tenure in your job is mirroring these other structurally biased labor markets,” she says.

In order to break these patterns, employers need to be aware of them, says Joseph Ifigbu, founder and CEO of HR analytics firm Iqtable. Companies committed to diversity equity and inclusion in employment must be intentional about letting people go, he said.

Because if you do that analysis and it’s like 90% women or like 90% people of color – it’s like, ‘Okay, what’s going on here? Why did this happen?

Answering that question is also legally important, says employment attorney Krista Mitzel. Because employers cannot hire or fire based on age, gender, race, or ethnicity.

“It would be discriminatory if all white men were fired,” she said.

Mitzel says the goal isn’t to shift disproportionate impact to any one group, but to ensure that cuts — when they unfortunately have to happen — happen equally across the workforce.

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