Audio recordings have leaked of LinkedIn’s racially charged employee town hall meeting on race and diversity on Wednesday. As first reported by The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani, during the meeting, some LinkedIn employees made racially insensitive comments about minorities, protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
But some employees also felt that part of the insensitivity came from company management. The virtual event was meant as an opportunity for LinkedIn employees and leadership to discuss the current demonstrations on race relations and police treatment of blacks. This happened at a company that itself has largely failed to make its workforce more diverse over the past decade. (You can see the company’s most recent diversity report here.) Tech companies in general have struggled with diversity, some more than others.
Our source, who participated in the town hall, related that LinkedIn’s new CEO Ryan Roslansky—who had only been on the job for three days—said he didn’t have the answers to the company’s diversity problems.
“You know, leadership is a funny thing [laughs], especially on day three as a new CEO, you get a lot of interesting feedback,” Roslansky said. “I think one of the most common things you see is something like don’t ever go into a company all-hands or a town hall if you don’t have the answers, and here I am on day three telling you all that I don’t have the answers.”
It was the way he said it that rankled some employees. His laughing tone was taken by some to be an unserious take on a serious issue. “We are really upset about how our leadership managed this situation,” says the source, who asked to remain anonymous because the company is now upping the pressure on employees to stop leaks. “We expect more from our CEO than just saying, ‘I don’t have answers.'”
Roslansky, to be fair, has a casual and down-to-earth style that can allow for some self-deprecation.
LinkedIn’s diversity problem can be seen in its leadership team, too.
“It’s one thing to say something, it’s another to do something,” Roslansky said during the town hall, “so I just want to make sure that you are all holding myself and the executive team accountable to what a more diverse executive team looks like, and I want you to know we’re working really hard on it.”
LinkedIn’s senior VP of engineering Mohak Shroff, who was part of the panel discussion, also betrayed a lack of seriousness during the event, the source says. While another employee was talking, Shroff was watching YouTube videos on his laptop. While watching video of one of the protests, he accidentally unmuted the audio, and every person in the virtual town hall (more than 9,000 people) heard a protestor on the video yell, “Fucking bitch, I will kill you.” Shroff had to apologize for the faux pas at the end of the meeting:
“I was actually running newsfeed video of the George Floyd arrest, so that was running in the background,” Shroff said. “I want to apologize to everyone if the audio was startling when my mic unmuted.”
The source also suggests the company has been spinning some of the facts about the town hall after the fact.
Roslansky said in a blog post Thursday that employees sent in 200 questions during the town hall. But our source says there were actually 400 questions submitted in the Q&A. Asked about the discrepancy, a LinkedIn spokesperson vigorously disputes the higher number, saying Roslansky’s figure is correct.
The company answered only three of the questions during the event. The company promised to answer all of the questions after the meeting, the source said, but as of late Thursday night none of the remaining questions had been answered.
And it was during the Q&A time after the panel that some LinkedIn employees began expressing opinions on the anonymous chat feature in the BlueJeans videoconferencing service that were at best insensitive and at worst racist. One commenter said blacks are not hired at LinkedIn because they lack skills. Others spoke out against the tactics and goals of Black Lives Matter. Others questioned the purpose of the protests.
This kind of discussion reflects badly on a company where minority voices are so poorly represented. And the LinkedIn employees aren’t wrong to place much of the blame for this on the company’s leadership.
Asked about the event, LinkedIn spokesperson Nicole Leverich said that the company “came together in a town hall meeting on race this week with employees as part of our commitment to open, honest, and constructive conversations. During the town hall several of our executives spoke and answered questions from employees.” In response to one such question, general counsel Blake Lawit said that politicians such as President Donald Trump would be required to comply with its community standards.
“They are trying to sell us that we are a great company to work for, while not addressing diverse hiring and promotions for blacks and Latinos for years—this has to stop,” the source says. “Our leaders are not doing anything real to address this issue; we need to stop faking that we are a diverse company—we are not.”