Human Capital: The biggest labor stories of 2020

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Hellllooooo, 2021! Welcome back to Human Capital, a weekly newsletter that details the latest in the realms of labor, and diversity and inclusion.

Not a ton happened this week so I figured I’d use the time to look back on some of the more notable labor stories of 2020.

Sign up below to receive Human Capital in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT. 

Gig workers vs. Uber, Lyft, Instacart et al.

California’s Proposition 22, backed by gig companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, passed to ensure gig workers are classified as independent contractors. It was an important proposition that resulted in the yes side contributing north of $200 million to its efforts. But the fight isn’t over, which you can read about here

Amazon’s stumbles

Amazon faced a number of labor disputes throughout the year — many of them involving its warehouse workers and surveillance

An example: Christian Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse worker, was fired from Amazon in March after organizing a walkout at one of the company’s fulfillment centers in Staten Island. As a result, New York’s attorney general is investigating if Amazon violated federal worker safety laws and New York state’s whistleblower protections laws by firing Smalls.

Smalls’ termination helped galvanize other warehouse workers who later formed an international organization to demand change inside Amazon’s warehouses. Organizers pointed to worker retaliation as one of the driving factors for the formation of Amazon Workers International. Meanwhile, Amazon executives reportedly discussed discrediting Smalls and making him the face of the organizing movement.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told TechCrunch the company did not fire Smalls for organizing a protest. Instead, Amazon said it fired him for “putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of employment.”

In November, Smalls filed a lawsuit against Amazon alleging the company failed to provide PPE to its workers.

Tech workers unionize 

Kickstarter and Glitch became two of the first tech companies to unionize. Kickstarter workers voted to unionize in February. A month later, workers at Glitch voted to unionize.

In September, at least ten tech companies were actively looking to form unions, Grace Reckers, the lead northeast union organizer of OPEIU, told TechCrunch at the time.

“Employees are seeing that they don’t actually have control of how the products they make are being used,” she said. “Even though most of the messaging in Silicon Valley is about creating a better world for us, making our lives easier and innovating, it also moves under the philosophy of move fast and break things.”

Disclosure: My partner works at Glitch and serves on the union’s bargaining committee.

Pinterest finds itself under heavy scrutiny 

Two former Pinterest employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, spoke out about racial and gender discrimination at the company. Shortly after, Pinterest’s former COO Francoise Brougher sued the company alleging gender discrimination. Pinterest settled the suit for $22.5 million.

But Ozoma and Banks described to me a double standard in their experiences compared to Brougher’s. While Brougher received a $20 million payout, Ozoma and Banks received less than one year’s worth of severance.

“This follows the time-honored tradition in America where Black women come forward, blazing a trail, revealing injustice and white women coming in and reaping all the benefits of that,” Banks told me.

Dr. Timnit Gebru’s departure from Google makes waves

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 07: Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Dr. Timnit Gebru, a top AI researcher, said she was fired from Google for sending an email to her direct reports discussing how she was disappointed in her organization’s approach to DEI as well as the approval process around her research paper. Gebru sent that email after Google did not grant her permission to attach her and her colleagues’ names to an AI ethics paper about language models. Gebru had previously sent her superiors an email, detailing that if they would not meet her specific conditions she would prepare to leave. Google proceeded to tell her it accepted her resignation and cut off her access to her work email. 

In December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said it would review the events leading up to Gebru’s departure. In Pichai’s memo, he said the company needs to “accept responsibility for the fact that a prominent Black, female leader with immense talent left Google unhappily.” He also noted how it’s had a “ripple effect” through underrepresented communities at Google.

Alexis Ohanian makes room for Black people at the table

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the company’s board of directors, insisting that Reddit replace him with a Black person. Reddit took Ohanian’s advice and appointed Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

Troubles at coworking space The Wing

WASHINGTON,DC-APR9: Audrey Gelman, the founder of The Wing, a women’s only co-working space and organization, April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Wing started in NYC and DC is their first location outside of New York. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Wing blew up following allegations of racism and other forms of discrimination. Its CEO, Audrey Gelman, resigned as a result and later apologized for not taking any action

In a note sent to former employees, Gelman apologized for not taking action to combat mistreatment of women of color at The Wing. She also acknowledged that her drive for success and scaling quickly “came at the expense of a healthy and sustainable culture that matched our projected values, and workplace practices that made our team feel valued and respected.”

That meant, Gelman said, The Wing “had not subverted the historical oppression and racist roots of the hospitality industry; we had dressed it up as a kindler [sic], gentler version.”

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is on the horizon

TC Sessions: Justice is hitting your virtual screens this March. You’ll be able to hear from folks like Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, Gig Workers Collective’s Vanessa Bain, Christian Smalls and others.

Tickets are available here for $5.

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Mixtape podcast: Behind the curtain of diversity theater

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It’s fair to say that most people have heard about diversity reports. And it’s probably also fair to say that most of us have watched, sometimes with a metaphorical bucket of buttered popcorn, as companies crisis-comms their ways out of … crises. But most of us do not know what goes on behind the scenes.

Mark S. Luckie has an idea. The digital strategist, journalist and author of “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook” and “DO U,” has written “Valley Girls,” a fictional portrayal of life behind the social curtain at popular tech company Elemynt. Particularly the journey of main character Kelsey Pace, as she navigates life as a communications manager for the company. Having worked in strategy and partnership positions at Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, Luckie tells us he was most interested in exploring how the actual conversations about diversity work inside of tech companies.

Valley Girls Author Mark S. Luckie

Mark S. Luckie

“The most that people the most insight that people have is diversity reports, which of course are published from the tech companies, but not an idea of ‘Okay, what’s really going on?’ And so that’s what ‘Valley Girls’ aims to explore — what’s really going on? How bad is diversity? What are the things that are happening or not happening? What is the employee attitude towards it? One of the big narratives is what are the contentions between employees and executives to actually furthering diversity within these companies?”

Tech watchers will read “Valley Girls” and perhaps be able to identify what company drama he is referring to when he mentions this Congressional hearing or that anonymous memo. This, Luckie says, was on purpose.

“It is a merging of the narratives. So yeah, anyone who follows tech or works around tech will be able to … say, ‘Okay, this reminds me of this, it reminds me of this.’ And because like I said, all these experiences are not isolated from each other. They’re woven into each other.”

With “Valley Girls,” Luckie says he wanted to explore the personal conflict that can emerge while working at one of these companies. He did that and more.

Click play above to hear more about the book, due out this month, and what he heard about the reactions from some in Silicon Valley.

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T-Mobile says hackers accessed some customer call records in data breach

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T-Mobile, the third largest cell carrier in the U.S. after completing its recent $26 billion merger with Sprint, ended 2020 by announcing its second data breach of the year.

The cell giant said in a notice buried on its website that it recently discovered unauthorized access to some customers’ account information, including the data that T-Mobile makes and collects on its customers in order to provide cell service.

From the notice: “Our cybersecurity team recently discovered and shut down malicious, unauthorized access to some information related to your T-Mobile account. We immediately started an investigation, with assistance from leading cybersecurity forensics experts, to determine what happened and what information was involved. We also immediately reported this matter to federal law enforcement and are now in the process of notifying impacted customers.”

Known as customer proprietary network information (CPNI), this data can include call records — such as when a call was made, for how long, the caller’s phone number and the destination phone numbers for each call, and other information that might be found on the customer’s bill.

But the company said that the hackers did not access names, home or email addresses, financial data, and account passwords (or PINs).

The notice didn’t say when T-Mobile detected the breach, only that it was now notifying affected customers.

A spokesperson for T-Mobile did not respond to requests for comment, but told one news site that the breach affects about 0.2% of all T-Mobile customers — or approximately 200,000 customers.

It’s the latest security incident to hit the cell giant in recent years.

In 2018, T-Mobile said as many as two million customers may have had their personal information scraped. A year later, the company confirmed hackers accessed records on another million prepaid customers. Just months into 2020, T-Mobile admitted a breach on its email systems that saw hackers access some T-Mobile employee email accounts, exposing some customer data.

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Amazon launches a $4.99-per-month ‘personal shopper’ service for men’s fashion

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Amazon is introducing a personal shopping service for men’s fashion. The service, now available to Prime members, is an expansion of the existing Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe, a $4.99 per month Stitch Fix rival, originally aimed at women. With Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe, an Amazon stylist selects an assortment of fashion items that match a customer’s style and fit preferences. These are are then shipped to the customer on a monthly basis for home try-on. Whatever the customer doesn’t want to keep can be returned using the resealable package and the prepaid shipping label provided.

At launch, the new men’s personal shopping service will include brands like Scotch & Soda, Original Penguin, Adidas, Lacoste, Carhartt, Levi’s, Amazon Essentials, Goodthreads, and more — a mix of both Amazon’s own in-house brands and others. In total, Amazon says Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe will offer hundred of thousands of men’s styles across more than a thousand different brands.

The service itself is similar in many ways to Stitch Fix, as it also starts customers with a style quiz to personalize their monthly fashion selections. Also like competitive fashion subscription services, customers can reach out to their stylist with specific requests  — like if they need a professional outfit for job interview, for example, or some other occasion where they may want something outside their usual interests.

But unlike Stitch Fix, which charges a $20 “stylist fee” which is later credited towards any items you choose to keep, Amazon’s personal shopping service is a flat $4.99 per month. Another difference is that the Personal Shopper service will alert you ahead of your shipment to review their picks. You then choose the up to 8 items you want to receive, instead of waiting for the surprise of opening your box.

Image Credits: Amazon

Before today, Amazon had offered men’s fashion in its try-before-you-buy Prime Wardrobe product selection. But that service simply allows Amazon Prime members to request certain fashion items for home try-on, instead of paying for them upfront then returning what doesn’t work. To date, Prime Wardrobe’s biggest drawback has been that many of the fashion items found on Amazon aren’t eligible for home try-on, particularly many of those from the most in-demand brands.

However, Amazon claims it doesn’t stuff Prime Wardrobe with only its own brands. The company says less than 1% of its total selection of brands within Prime Wardrobe are Amazon-owned. (Of course, that percentage may be higher in the boxes customers receive from their personal shopper, at times.)

Amazon also says millions of customers have used the home try-on option provided by Prime Wardrobe and   “hundreds of thousands” of customers have created fashion profiles within Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe since its 2019 launch.

However, only “tens of thousands” of customers today use the Personal Shopper service on a monthly basis.

That means Prime Wardrobe is no real threat to Stitch Fix at this time, if making a comparison purely based on number of paying customers.

StitchFix has had longer to perfect its model and refine its insights which has allowed it to grow its active client base to 3.5 million. That figure is up 9% year-over-year, as of the company’s latest earnings reported earlier this month. More recently, Stitch Fix benefited from the pandemic — after it got through its initial backlogged orders — as customers sought to change their style from businesswear to activewear.

Men’s activewear had been particularly in demand, which is perhaps a trend Amazon had also seen ahead of the launch of its new service.

While home try-on via Prime Wardrobe is available today in the U.S., UK, Germany, Austria and Japan, the Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe subscription is currently available in the U.S. only. It’s also only available on mobile devices.

 

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N26 hires Adrienne Gormley as its new chief operating officer

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Fintech startup N26 is announcing some changes in the leadership team with two new C-Level hires. First, Adrienne Gormley, pictured above, is joining the company as chief operating officer, replacing Martin Schilling who left the company in March 2020. Second, Diana Styles, pictured below, will become N26’s chief people officer.

Gormley has spent the last six years working for Dropbox in Dublin. She was the VP of Global Customer Experience as well as the head of EMEA for Dropbox. Previously, she’s worked at Google and Transware.

At N26, she will be in charge of a large chunk of the company, from customer service, to business operations, service experience and workplace division.

Styles has many years of human resources experience. She was the senior vice president of Human Resources, Global Sales and Brands at Adidas. Similarly, as chief people officer, she will oversee important aspects of the company, such as employee retention, leadership development, talent acquisition and more.

Both will be based in Berlin and report to the company’s co-founder and chief financial officer Maximilian Tayenthal. N26 has grown quite a lot over the past few years as there are now 1,500 employees working for the company.

Image Credits: N26

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Trump administration’s TikTok ban has been delayed

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A U.S. federal court has said a ban on TikTok will not go into effect on Monday as scheduled.

The move to delay the anticipated ban will allow Americans to continue using the app while the court considers the ban’s legality and whether the app poses a risk to national security as the Trump administration claims.

For weeks since President Donald Trump signed two executive orders in early August, the government has threatened to shut down the viral video sharing app over fears that its parent company ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing, could be forced to turn over user data to the Chinese government. TikTok, which has 100 million users in the United States alone, has long rejected the claims.

TikTok first filed a lawsuit against the administration on September 18, and on Thursday this week filed a last minute injunction in an effort to stop the ban going into effect Sunday night. On Friday, the government asked the court to reject the injunction in a sealed motion, which the government later refiled as a public motion with some redactions. A public hearing on the injunction was set for Sunday morning. The case is being heard in DC District Court presided by judge Carl J. Nichols.

In its ruling on Sunday, the court gave just its decision, with the formal opinion handed over privately to just the two opposing parties. Due to sensitive material included in the government’s motion, the parties have until Monday to ask for any redactions before the final opinion will be published.

The decision is just the latest episode in the continuing saga of the sprawling fight over the future of the fastest-growing social app in America. A deal reached between ByteDance and the U.S. government last weekend was believed to have resolved the standoff between the two parties, but the deal has frayed over disputed details between buyer Oracle and ByteDance.

The administration first launched an action against TikTok on August 6, with President Trump arguing in an executive order that the app posed an unreasonable national security risk for American citizens. That order mirrored a similar one published the same day that put restrictions on the popular Mandarin-language messenger app WeChat, which is owned by China-based Tencent.

Last weekend, a federal magistrate judge in San Francisco put in place an injunction on the Commerce Department’s ban on WeChat, pending further court deliberations. TikTok, whose arguments mirror those in the WeChat lawsuit, was hoping for a similar outcome in its own legal proceedings.

One difference between the two lawsuits is the plaintiffs. In WeChat’s case, a group of WeChat users filed a lawsuit arguing that a ban would hurt their expression of speech. TikTok is representing itself in its own fight with the government.

The court case is TikTok Inc. et al v. Trump et al (1:2020-cv-02658).

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Philippines payment processing startup PayMongo lands $12 million Series A led by Stripe

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Stripe has led a $12 million Series A round in Manila-based online payment platform PayMongo, the startup announced today.

PayMongo, which offers an online payments API for businesses in the Philippines, was the first Filipino-owned financial tech startup to take part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Y Combinator and Global Founders Capital, another previous investor, both returned for the Series A, which also included participation from new backer BedRock Capital.

PayMongo partners with financial institutions, and its products include a payments API that can be integrated into websites and apps, allowing them to accept payments from bank cards and digital wallets like GrabPay and GCash. For social commerce sellers and other people who sell mostly through messaging apps, the startup offers PayMongo Links, which buyers can click on to send money. PayMongo’s platform also includes features like a fraud and risk detection system.

In a statement, Stripe’s APAC business lead Noah Pepper said it invested in PayMongo because “we’ve been impressed with the PayMongo team and the speed at which they’ve made digital payments more accessible to so many businesses across the Philippines.”

The startup launched in June 2019 with $2.7 million in seed funding, which the founders said was one of the largest seed rounds ever raised by a Philippines-based fintech startup. PayMongo has now raised a total of almost $15 million in funding.

Co-founder and chief executive Francis Plaza said PayMongo has processed a total of almost $20 million in payments since launching, and grown at an average of 60% since the start of the year, with a surge after lockdowns began in March.

He added that the company originally planned to start raising its Series A in in the first half of next year, but the growth in demand for its services during COVID-19 prompted it to start the round earlier so it could hire for its product, design and engineering teams and speed up the release of new features. These will include more online payment options; features for invoicing and marketplaces; support for business models like subscriptions; and faster payout cycles.

PayMongo also plans to add more partnerships with financial service providers, improve its fraud and risk detection systems and secure more licenses from the central bank so it can start working on other types of financial products.

The startup is among fintech companies in Southeast Asia that have seen accelerated growth as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many businesses to digitize more of their operations. Plaza said that overall digital transactions in the Philippines grew 42% between January and April because of the country’s lockdowns.

PayMongo is currently the only payments company in the Philippines with an onboarding process that was developed to be completely online, he added, which makes it attractive to merchants who are accepting online payments for the first time. “We have a more efficient review of compliance requirements for the expeditious approval of applications so that our merchants can use our platform right away and we make sure we have a fast payout to our merchants,” said Plaza.

If the momentum continues even as lockdowns are lifted in different cities, that means the Philippine’s central bank is on track to reach its goal of increasing the volume of e-payment transactions to 20% of total transactions in the country this year. The government began setting policies in 2015 to encourage more online payments, in a bid to bolster economic growth and financial inclusion, since smartphone penetration in the Philippines is high, but many people don’t have a traditional bank account, which often charge high fees.

Though lockdown restrictions in the Philippines have eased, Plaza said PayMongo is still seeing strong traction. “We believe the digital shift by Filipino businesses will continue, largely because both merchants and customers continue to practice safety measures such as staying at home and choosing online shopping despite the more lenient quarantine levels. Online will be the new normal for commerce.”

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Top 15 Ironman Triathlon Podcasts You Must Follow in 2020

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Top 15 Ironman Triathlon Podcasts Contents [show] ⋅About this list & ranking Ironman Triathlon Podcasts IMTalk Get Fast Podcast The Triathlon Brick Session Kona Kamps Experts of Tomorrow Ger Prendergast Podcast IronWomen Podcast The Chris Lieto Podcast IMTalk’s Legends of Triathlon Tri Swim Coach Triathlon Swimming Podcast The Weekly Word Podcast Crushing Iron Triathlon Podcast The Bevan […]

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Top 5 Thor Podcasts You Must Follow in 2020 (American Superhero Film)

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Top 5 Thor Podcasts Contents [show] ⋅About this list & ranking Thor Podcasts The Mighty Thorcast Radio Free Asgard Thor’s Hour of Thunder Submit Blog Do you want more traffic, leads, and sales? Submit your blog below if you want to grow your traffic and revenue. Submit Your Blog Thor Podcasts View Latest Posts ⋅Get Bloggers Contacts […]

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Top 20 The Twilight Saga Podcasts You Must Follow in 2020

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Top 20 The Twilight Saga Podcasts Contents [show] ⋅About this list & ranking The Twilight Saga Podcasts Twilight Decoded Gender Forking Remember Twilight? Unbitten It’s 2020 And We’re Reading Twilight TwiFight After Midnight Twilight Phase The Twilight Sleuths Edward is a Vampire Into the Twilight Twilight Saga Podcast Books as Bad as Twilight The Twilight Saga Rewatch […]

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