Examining Tech Execs’ Response To The Black Lives Matter Movement

The murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police has caused one of the greatest modern civil rights uprisings. As protests continue around the world the issue of diversity, inclusion, and the treatment of Black workers has come to the forefront of executives' minds.

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Numerous tech executives have responded, with most saying they support the protests, condemn racism, and ultimately want to build on the messages of unity at the heart of the uproar.

Santa Monica-based video game developer, Riot Games, has announced the placement of a senior staff member on administrative leave.

The staff member in question shared a message that read in part: "The media and the left have made George Floyd into a martyr. But who was he really?"

The company responded, saying: "We're aware of an offensive social media post made by a Riot employee and have launched an investigation," the statement read. "We'll say firmly that the sentiment in that image is abhorrent, against our values, and directly counter to our belief that addressing systemic racism requires immediate societal change, which we detailed in the commitments we made Friday. While we don't discuss the details of our investigations or their outcomes, we're following our disciplinary process closely and have placed him on leave pending its conclusion."

More scrutiny is being placed on tech giants as they publicly show support for Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, yet engage in inconsistencies in their in-house behavior.

LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky shared a message that read: "We stand with our colleagues and the Black community. We stand with those fighting racism every day. We stand for justice, fairness, and level playing fields. And as a company, we WILL NOT stand for another day of anything that gets in the way of real progress."

Later, Roslansky was forced to publicly address a town hall meeting where the company's employees were defending racism.

"Many of you shared the hardest part was realizing that this company we love and hold to such a high standard still has a lot of work to do to educate ourselves and our colleagues on how to create a culture that is truly anti-racist," Roslansky wrote. "We will do that work."

Statements like these have caused many to point fingers at execs, calling them complicit in the systematic racism that is upheld within the industry. Tech has always had a notorious problem with diversity, inclusion, and equality.

Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai also released a statement, saying: "Today on US Google & YouTube homepages we share our support for racial equality in solidarity with the Black community and in memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery & others who don't have a voice. For those feeling grief, anger, sadness & fear, you are not alone."

Google has reportedly rolled back many of its diversity programs over the last few years. Tech Crunch also criticized the CEO, positing that "actions speak louder than words."

Four Google employees and two people who recently left the company told NBC News that since 2018, internal diversity and inclusion training programs have been scaled back or even removed. One diversity training program at Google called Sojourn, a racial justice program designed to help employees learn about implicit bias and how to navigate conversations about race and inequality, was cut entirely.

While most statements from tech execs look like lip service, some companies are putting their money where their mouth is.

Investor Jason Lemkin tweeted that, despite being a "slow and quiet investor," he plans to prioritize meetings with black founders for all of June.

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian announced his decision to step down from the board of directors and called for the company to fill his position with a black board member. "I'm saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: "What did you do?”" he shared on Twitter. Ohanian has already made a shortlist of potential candidates to present to the board.

He also added that he intends to use future gains on Reddit stock to serve the black community, and pledged $1 million to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp.

Venture Capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced 'The Talent x Opportunity Fund (TxO),' a program set to financially support black and other underrepresented founders in tech. "Designed for entrepreneurs who have the talent, drive, and ideas to build great businesses but lack the typical background and resources to do so, this fund is something we've been working on for six months," a blog post read.

Most recently, Amazon has banned the police from using its facial recognition software, Rekognition, for a year. This comes as civil rights advocates raised concerns about the racial biases in surveillance technology. IBM also joined in, saying it would stop offering its facial recognition software to be used for "mass surveillance."

In the past, Amazon defended its AI-powered facial recognition software against accusations of bias while offering it to law enforcement agencies.