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Apr 14, 2018

Tesla and beyond: Hidden problems of Silicon Valley

Co-produced with PRX Logo

With Silicon Valley under the microscope for not living up to its idealistic hype, this week’s episode of Reveal investigates tech companies on the cutting edge that are struggling to solve old-fashioned problems.  

We start with worker injuries at Tesla’s electric car factory in California. Alyssa Jeong Perry of KQED in San Francisco and Reveal’s Will Evans examine what caused the company’s safety problems and whether its claims of improvement hold up.

Next, we look at who holds the power in Silicon Valley. Reveal data reporter Sinduja Rangarajan got unprecedented access to demographic data about workers in Silicon Valley’s biggest companies. She found that most tech companies get low marks on diversity, and makes these findings come alive with help from a choir.

Then, Ellen Huet and Aki Ito, reporters with the Decrypted podcast from Bloomberg News, profile one of the women who sued Google over unequal pay. Kelly Ellis and other women say they were paid less than men for equal or similar work.

We end the hour with a discussion among successful women of color in Silicon Valley about why women feel out of place at the office and the shortcomings of company diversity efforts.  

Dig Deeper

  • Read: Tesla says its factory is safer. But it left injuries off the books
  • Read: What women of color in the tech industry want
  • Read: The sound of disparity: Data directed Silicon Valley diversity choir

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson: From the center for investigative reporting at PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. A few weeks ago I was at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland in California where a choir was warming up.
(Choir noises) This is a beautiful building. The sun is setting outside and you can see the last glimmer or light coming through the stained glass windows here.
We weren't there to learn hymns, we were there to talk about Silicon Valley, just south of Oakland. These days companies like Apple, Uber and Airbnb are held up as models of innovation and the work place of the future. Today, we're gonna look at what it's really like to work in Silicon Valley and how these companies treat their employees. We have a lot of data to help tell the story, but the numbers, well they're really hard to talk about without charts and graphs. So yes, we're gonna sing about them.
Choir: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12
Al Letson: Let's start with a company most of you have heard about. Tesla, the Electric car maker, which has a factory in Fremont California, just thirty miles from the Church. The companies' only been around for about fifteen years, which is new for an auto maker. But it's already worth tens of billions of dollars. And it's rise has been unbelievable. Just listen to how the stock price has shot up. Five years ago it was worth around $44 a share. Fewer than six months later it was worth over $190. Last June, it broke $380.
Choir: (Singing)
Al Letson: Since then, it's come down but if you add up the value of all of those shares and compare it to other U.S. auto makers-

 

Choir: (Singing)

 

Al Letson: Now it's among the most valuable U.S. car manufacturers, up there with Ford and General Motors.

 

Choir: (Singing)

 

Al Letson: And the crazy thing is, Tesla doesn't sell that many cars. Companies like Ford and GM, their car sales are in the millions a year. And Tesla, they're in the low hundred thousands.

 

Choir: (Singing)

 

Al Letson: Tesla cars have been a green novelty for the rich. CEO Elon Musk sent one of them into space on one of his rockets. But now, they're trying to come back down to Earth with a practical car, the Model 3. AHIP 35,000 dollar sedan aimed at the mass market. Reveal reporter Will Evans got a ride in one of the first to be sold.

 

Will Evans: Tesla has taken hundreds of thousands of orders for the Model 3, which can go 220 miles or more on a single charge. But it's behind schedule in building them. One of the first customers to get one was twenty year old Yo-Yo Shui. He got his car in December and when I caught up with him, he'd been driving pretty much non stop.

 

Yo-Yo Shui: This car has more miles on it than any Model 3 out there right now. And it's only been 21 days. We've driven this thing more than 13,000 miles.

 

Will Evans: Yo-Yo is a big fan of the Model 3. He was so excited about getting his hands on one, he wanted to give other fans a chance to drive it too.

 

Yo-Yo Shui: We've had about 450 people drive the car. And about four to five thousand people sit in it.

 

Will Evans: Do you think this car is ready for the masses?

 

Yo-Yo Shui: I think Tesla is doing their best to cater to the mass market. And that starts with the price. But I think where they're not ready is the software. This car comes with so many features that are both handy and life threatening- (Trails off)

 

Will Evans: Yup he said life threatening. Meaning features like autopilot, which is under scrutiny because of a fatal crash last month. Yo-Yo says it could put people's lives in danger if not fixed. He says on his trip it took longer than it was supposed to to calibrate itself.

 

Yo-Yo Shui: On multiple occasions we came within half a second maybe of either crashing into another car, rear ending another car, t-boning someone, running off the road or hitting a guard rail. And that happened probably about a dozen times within the first thousand miles of driving.

 

Will Evans: After that, it started working better.

 

You've got your hands completely off the wheel?

 

Yo-Yo Shui: My hands are completely off the wheel. I have my eyes on the road. My feet are away from the brake and the accelerator.

 

Will Evans: This is a little freaky (Laughing).

 

Yo-Yo Shui: Yeah. Yeah. We've you know-

 

Will Evans: This is the last leg of Yo-Yo's journey. Around 7:30 on a Saturday night, we reached the final destination. Back where he started, the Tesla factory in Silicon Valley. Just like at many of Yo-Yo's stops, there's a crowd of Tesla fans waiting. (Cheers)

 

Speaker 1: Nice to meet you. We've been following you and tracking you like a dog. I missed you in Vancouver so I came.

 

Yo-Yo Shui: Awesome, yeah thanks for coming out.

 

Will Evans: Yo-Yo's trip is a reminder of how far Tesla has come and how far it still has to go. He says that car is great to drive, but there's still bugs to be worked out. And software glitches aren't the only problem. Tesla's factory is also under scrutiny. People who worked here building these cars say working conditions are dangerous. I teamed up with Alyssa Jung Perry of KQED in San Francisco to investigate.

 

911 Responder: 911, what's the address of your emergency?

 

F-Responder: 911, what's the address of the emergency?

 

Male Responder: What is the address there sir?

 

911 Caller: 45500 Fremont Boulevard.

 

Male Responder: That Tesla Motors?

 

911 Caller: Yes.

 

Alyssa Jung: That address in Fremont California is where Will and Yo-Yo just drove to. It's where they build the Model 3 and Tesla's other cars, the Model S and Model X.

 

F-Responder: Okay and tell me exactly what happened.

 

Hispanic Caller: They have an associate with a cut on his wrist and it's pretty deep.

 

F-Responder: 911-

 

911 Caller: He reported to the [inaudible 00:05:54] that his finger is near falling off.

 

F-Responder: Okay where is the patient-

 

911 Caller: Um we just have an associate up in our medical offices that they wanna get to the hospital because he has chest pains and he's vomiting.

 

Alyssa Jung: 911 calls like that come pretty often from Tesla. In the second half of 2017, there were more than fifty calls. One of them was for an injured worker named Dennis Cruz after a small fire broke out on the assembly line.

 

Male Responder: Is Dennis breathing normally?

 

Female Caller: He is having shortness of breath.

 

Male Responder: So shortness of breath-

 

Alyssa Jung: I met Dennis at a park in Fremont a few weeks ago.

 

Dennis: Can we sit?

 

Alyssa Jung: Yeah no that's why I wanted to come over here.

 

Dennis has dark hair and is built like an athlete. He used to be an amateur boxer. But he hasn't been the same since the accident.

 

Do you get out of breath easily now?

 

Dennis: Um it's hard for me to catch my breath.

 

Alyssa Jung: He says some adhesive on a car frame caught fire and he inhaled the smoke. He didn't think much of it at first.

 

Dennis: It was a small blue flame, probably about a foot or a foot and a half in size. The tips were orange and not much smoke that I could see.

 

Alyssa Jung: Since then he's been on restricted work duty because of respiratory problems. Now he can no longer do the things he used to love like playing soccer with his five year old son, Little D.

 

Will Evans: (Music) Dennis's accident was one of 722 injuries there last year, according to Tesla.

 

Dennis: It's not uncommon to see an ambulance there a couple times a week. When I was carted off via ambulance they said that they were there probably four times a week.

 

Will Evans: How safe is working at Tesla? We wanted to see what was really going on at the factory. So we went on a tour. (Man speaking)

 

Inside the factory, forklifts and tuggers zip by lugging materials and towing Dollys. We joined the fray in a golf cart that takes us past workers clustered around car frames and giant red robots named after X-Men characters, Wolverine, Storm, and IceMan.

 

Alyssa Jung: During the tour, we hear a lot about Tesla's commitment to safety. It's an issue they've been criticized for. In 2015, Tesla workers suffered serious injuries at double the rate of the auto industry. But last year, Tesla's CEO Elon Musk told investors the factory has gotten a lot safer.

 

Elon Musk: A thing that we're making progress on is factory safety. So I think we're on track to be less than half the injury rates of the automotive industry. And by far better than any other U.S. factory.

 

Will Evans: We'll find out a bit later if that goal was met. On our tour, Tesla had us sit in on a safety training.

 

Fm Supervisor: Wait, wait, wait. You see how you have your wrists? No, let me show you what you were doing and I'm gonna show you what I want you to do. Okay?

 

Will Evans: Supervisors show trainees how to hold and use tools and avoid injuries.

 

Fm Supervisor: Don't develop this habit, because what happens is when you're on a side where this kicks up, it's gonna come up right up into your face. And you don't want that right?

 

Alyssa Jung: Dennis the injured factory worker used to work in the underbody department grinding down metal welds, drilling holes, and attaching metal plates. I asked him if when he started he had any hands on training for the job?

 

Dennis: No Ma'am no. Not in our area. It was hands on but the training would be "Here's your grinder." Or "Here's your process. Read these work instructions."

 

Alyssa Jung: Tesla told us each new hire gets at least four days of training, which includes two days of hands on. But we spoke to more than three dozen Tesla employees and many said that same thing, there wasn't enough safety training.

 

Roger Croney was a factory supervisor before leaving Tesla last year. He used to work at General Motors, and he says Tesla gave him workers who were so unprepared that he created his own training program.

 

Roger Croney: And I made complete PowerPoints, spreadsheets, and a complete safety training of everything they're supposed to be doing, what they're gonna be wearing to that specific area.

 

Will Evans: California's workplace safety agency, CalOsha has cited Tesla more than forty times for health and safety violations at it's Fremont plant since 2013. And workers told us the factory was chaotic. Forklifts and tuggers would sometimes collide into workers.

 

Tesla Employee: And he was hit by one of our tugger carts.

 

911 Responder: Okay.

 

Tesla Employee: And it hit him and his leg in between another, looks like another heavy cart. They're saying that he has severe bleeding and they think it may be a bone poking out of his pant leg.

 

911 Responder: Okay.

 

Alyssa Jung: Several former employees we talked to said accidents like the one we just heard could be avoided if the factory floor was more clearly marked. We noticed the issue on our factory tour.

 

Tesla Tour Guid: Yeah that's the pedestrian path on the gray over there.

 

Alyssa Jung: What gray? There's a lot of gray?

 

Tesla Tour Guid: The dark gray. There's a dark gray.

 

Alyssa Jung: There's a lighter gray for pedestrian-

 

Tesla Tour Guid: There's a light gray like walking path. Not on this area, this is for tuggers. But the light gray over there, you should stay on that.

 

Will Evans: While the law doesn't specify a color for the floor, many factories use bright yellow to mark hazards. But former members of Tesla's own environment health and safety team told us it was well known that Elon Musk doesn't like yellow. Here's Roger Croney, the former supervisor again.

 

Roger Croney: Well yeah he wanted the plant to be specific colors. So everything had to be red, gray, had to be and gray.

 

Will Evans: You know yellows obviously the safety color right?

 

Roger Croney: Yeah.

 

Will Evans: It's the caution color. Do you think that was a problem?

 

Roger Croney: He was the boss. (Laughs) So you gotta do what the boss say.

 

Will Evans: Color coding may not seem like a big deal. But Justine White was told walkways couldn't be marked with yellow because the CEO didn't like the color. Justine was one of five former members of the environment, health and safety team who told us that at Tesla, production trumped safety. At the end of 2016 she wrote an email to human resources saying she couldn't effectively do her job. She wrote "The risk of injury is too high. People are getting hurt every day and near hit incidents where people are getting almost crushed or hit by cars it unacceptable." (Music)

 

Alyssa Jung: Back then Dennis Cruz was recovering from another work injury, tendonitis from repetitive motion. The company put him on light duty and paid him worker's comp. But that was as little as $1600 a month, which was a lot less than his normal pay.

 

Dennis: I could barely pay our groceries, our car insurance, gas, and food for my son and his mom when they went to go visit her dad. So I mean it was very hard that time. So I had to live in the car for three months.

 

Alyssa Jung: Unable to afford Bay area rent, his fiance and son stayed with relatives while Dennis spent nights in his car at the same park where he asked to meet me.

 

Where did you find yourself parking your car?

 

Dennis: Right there where that gray van is. So I kind of stayed there because it's close to the bathroom. And I just go here and go to sleep.

 

Alyssa Jung: You seem very emotional. What's bringing those feelings up for you?

 

Dennis: It was a sad time in my life. It was hard to be without my family. They would come down and visit occasionally. When they did I had to rent a hotel room. And my son would ask me "Daddy, where do you sleep?" And I'd tell him "At work. I work so much I sleep at work."

 

Will Evans: We wanted to talk to Tesla about it's safety record, so we went back to the factory.

 

Gabby Toladano: Sure, I'm Gabby Toladano and I report to Elon Musk and oversee human resources, environment health and safety-

 

Will Evans: We meet in a small conference room with glass panels all around, just a short walk from the factory floor. Lorrie Shelby is there too. She's the new Vice President for environment, health and safety.

 

Lorrie Shelby: So we're not only the safest car, we're the safest car made by the safest employees.

 

Alyssa Jung: So will asks them about Elon Musk not liking the color yellow.

 

Lorrie Shelby: I mean that's news to me. We have people in yellow vests all over the place.

 

Alyssa Jung: Then Will brings up safety training to Lorrie.

 

Will Evans: Another concern we heard was that the training wasn't adequate. Are you happy with the amount of training at the moment?

 

Lorrie Shelby: I could always use more training. But I mean it meets the definition from a regulatory standpoint. We're always adding on additional best practice training and trying to improve.

 

Alyssa Jung: So how safe is Tesla? A crucial measure is the injury rate. Remember when Elon Musk said last year Tesla was going to be safer than the rest of the auto industry? Turns out that didn't happen.

 

Lorrie Shelby: In our 2017 data showed that we are at industry average. So we're happy about that.

 

Alyssa Jung: But was it even average? Here's how injury rates work. Companies like Tesla are required by law to record every serious work injury. Anything that requires more than first aid, event temp workers who get hurt are supposed to be counted.

 

Lorrie Shelby: If they report into a supervisor that's Teslan, you have to report them. That's the law. So based on my review of our data, we've always done that.

 

Alyssa Jung: But that's not what we were told by whistle blowers who were formed safety team members. And we received internal Tesla records that show serious workplace injuries were labeled as personal, medical, or minor first aid incidents. Those injuries don't show up on reports that Tesla legally has to share with the Government. So Tesla's injury rate ends up looking better than it actually is. Here's Will with Lorrie and Gabby again.

 

Will Evans: And there's a lot of injuries on there that we found were appear to be work related and didn't get on the OSHA logs. And I can give you some examples. "Couldn't come into work because of pain from installing wiper motors."

 

One worker hurt his arm installing wiper motors. Another got an injury from repetitive motion. And another sprained her back carrying something at the factory. We had a dozen examples.

 

Lorrie Shelby: Can I just stop you and say I'd have to look at each one of these. I mean we work with our clinic, we work with our physicians in order to make these decisions so-

 

Will Evans: Tesla says that in these cases, the worker may have thought their injury was work related but then a doctor decided it wasn't. But we found cases where doctors actually did determine the injuries we work related. And those didn't get counted either.

 

Alyssa Jung: Gabby who heads HR meanwhile kept questioning the integrity of our sources.

 

Gabby Toladano: I would say, first of all we can't speak to the motivations of the people you may have talked to. And fortunately people leave for all kinds of different reasons for different motives.

 

Alyssa Jung: So then Will shows them an email from Justine White to Elon Musk's Chief of Staff Sam Teller.

 

Will Evans: "I know what can keep a person up at night-"

 

  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Speaker 2: ... Chief of Staff Sam [Tuller 00:18:01].

 

Speaker 3: I know what can keep a person up at night, regarding safety. I must tell you that I can't sleep here at Tesla. She has serious concerns about the safety hazards in the area.

 

Speaker 4: And I don't know Justine, but as you can imagine, at a 40,000 person company, we get a vast number of claims, and not all of them are substantiated.

 

Al Letson: They said they'd check into Justine's allegations, but what about everything else we showed them?

 

Speaker 5: We've given you guys this information. At the beginning of the conversation, you guys said safety is number one and everything. I mean, how does this square up with the information that we've given you guys?

 

Speaker 6: Oh. Well, we'll definitely look into it. This is not the same company that you're, I think that you're showing us here. It's not under my leadership or [Gabby's 00:18:45] leadership.

 

Al Letson: After our meeting, they did get back to us about Justine. They said all of her complaints were unsubstantiated, and they kept referring to an anonymous internal survey they did in January. It asked workers if they believe Tesla is committed to their health, safety, and well being. They told us that 82% said yes.

 

Speaker 6: We're driven. I mean, Tesla is a fun place to work. You've got to be driven to work here, so maybe it's not cut out for everyone.

 

Speaker 2: I'm back at the park with Dennis Cruz and his family. His son, Little D, has just climbed onto a swing.

 

Dennis Cruz: Okay, here you go. Ready?

 

Little D: High. Higher, Dad. Higher. Higher.

 

Speaker 2: Dennis is no longer living out of his car. He has an apartment now with his fiance and son. But the last injury, the one with the fire, still has lasting effects, like painful coughing and headaches, and he can't keep up with his five-year-old son.

 

Dennis Cruz: Okay. I'm gonna stop you. Hey, [inaudible 00:20:03].

 

Speaker 2: You seem out of breath right now.

 

Dennis Cruz: A little bit.

 

Speaker 2: Despite everything that's happened to him, he wants to go back to Tesla. He needs to provide for his family, and he still sees opportunity there.

 

Dennis Cruz: They promote from within. I can't do that on Worker's Comp. I can't do that away from the factory. That's why I push to go back. I push to go back into the fire.

 

Al Letson: That story was produced by Alyssa Jeong Perry of KQED in San Francisco, and Reveal's Will Evans.

 

In the weeks leading up to our broadcast, they received several statements from Tesla dismissing the allegations, and pushing back hard on our reporting. One said that while the company may not be perfect, Tesla cares deeply about its employees, and tries its absolute hardest to do the right thing. They also said this about Reveal's reporting: "In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization, working directly with Union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla."

 

Tesla is also one of several companies in Silicon Valley facing accusations of discrimination. When we come back, we look at who gets the jobs, and who holds the power in Silicon Valley, with a little help from our choir.

 

Choir: [singing 00:21:37].

 

Al Letson: That's coming up on Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Speaker 7: We spend a quarter of our lives at work, so shouldn't we enjoy it? You can find out on WorkLife, a new podcast from TED. Each episode, organizational psychologist Adam Grant takes us inside some of the most unusual workplaces, like The Daily Show writers' room and the International Space Station, to reveal the hidden keys to happier, more productive work. Check out the episode on criticism, to step inside a company where everyone is rated and ranked constantly in front of everyone, and have learned to love it. You'll never see your job the same way again. You can subscribe to WorkLife ... That's one word, without a space ... On Apple podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts.

 

Byer Duncan: Hey, folks. Byer Duncan here, from Reveal. I'm here to tell you about a really cool opportunity we have coming up, and I'm gonna bring in a friend to help me do it.

 

Elan Stevens: Hello?

 

Byer Duncan: This is Elan Stevens.

 

Elan Stevens: I am a reporter at KUT Austin's NPR Public Radio station.

 

Byer Duncan: Elan is also a former Reveal Investigative Fellow. I asked him, is it something he'd recommend to other journalists?

 

Elan Stevens: Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. I went from kind of a scrappy investigative reporter to, now I'm know as kind of this lean, mean investigative reporting machine. I have people coming to me all the time for training, to help them out, find public information, or just to put some teeth on their investigative stories.

 

Byer Duncan: Applications are due April 19th. To find out more and to apply online, just go to revealnews.org/fellowship. Again, that's revealnews.org/fellowship.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Sinduja, we are at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland, California. Scream out, y'all.

 

This choir, made up of church members and Reveal fans, blew me away. We got them together to help us tell the story of a project one of our colleagues has been working on. Sinduja Rangarajan is a data reporter at Reveal.

 

Sinduja R.: We're here to tell the story of diversity in Silicon Valley.

 

Al Letson: Okay, so how do we do that?

 

Sinduja R.: We're gonna imagine that this is a hypothetical tech company, [crosstalk 00:24:19].

 

Al Letson: Basically, we divided the singers up and had them sing different parts, representing who's working in big tech companies. The more singers you hear, the larger that group is.

 

Basically, we're gonna group people off according to what their numbers would be in Silicon Valley.

 

Sinduja R.: Yes, what the average percentage is, and if that company would be. Yes.

 

Al Letson: Is this my company?

 

Sinduja R.: Is this your company? Yeah. You get to be the CEO.

 

Al Letson: Eh. There are no black CEOs.

 

Sinduja R.: Not too many.

 

Al Letson: I'm joking, I'm joking, I'm joking.

 

Sinduja R.: Actually, there's not too many. You're right about that.

 

Al Letson: The first thing we looked at was executives. Okay, Sinduja. First we'll start off with the black executive, which since this is my tech company, this would be where I would sing. Correct?

 

Sinduja R.: Yes.

 

Al Letson: All right. Let's hear black executive.

 

Choir: [singing 00:25:05].

 

Al Letson: How did I get such a good voice?

 

Then, we brought in Hispanic and Latino executives.

 

Choir: [singing 00:25:11].

 

Al Letson: Okay. Those are just two voices, yeah?

 

And then, Asian executives.

 

Choir: [singing 00:25:17].

 

Al Letson: That's a lot more. There's a big difference there.

 

Sinduja R.: Yes.

 

Al Letson: And then, what about the number one group?

 

Choir: [singing 00:25:25].

 

Al Letson: Wow. There are that many white executives, than black executives?

 

Sinduja R.: The percentage, yes. Yes.

 

Al Letson: Give me the numbers?

 

Sinduja R.: It's like 73% white executives. 21%, on an average, Asian executives. 3%, on an average, Latino executives, and 1.39% black executives.

 

Al Letson: Wow. I mean, we knew that there was disparity, but I didn't realize that it was that bad.

 

Sinduja R.: Yes, it's that bad. Especially at the executive rung, it is that bad. And executives make all the decisions.

 

Al Letson: Which means they decide what gets made, and how it's gonna work.

 

Sinduja R.: These companies are making products that define our lives, that we use every day, and that's why it's really important to know who works for them, and who makes these decisions, and it's been really hard to get companies to release this data. Most of them want to keep it quiet.

 

Al Letson: How did you get your hands on it?

 

Sinduja R.: All the big companies in the U.S. have to tell the federal government who works for them, give a breakdown of their workforce by race and gender. How many women work for them? How many Latinos work for them? And what they do. But they don't have to give this information to the public, and the federal government will not release these numbers to the public, either. So it's been really hard to get this data.

 

Choir: [singing 00:26:44].

 

Al Letson: Okay, so then how did you get it?

 

Sinduja R.: We found this professor at the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has access to this data, because they work with the federal government. He was able to give us some of this information, as long as he didn't tell us company names.

 

Al Letson: What else were you able to learn from this data? Like, what about women?

 

Choir: [singing 00:27:09], [singing 00:27:13].

 

Sinduja R.: We learned that around 80% of Silicon Valley executives are men, and among the female executives, white women dominate.

 

Choir: [singing 00:27:23], [singing 00:27:27], [singing 00:27:31].

 

Al Letson: Okay, so that was executives. But what happens when you go down the ladder?

 

Sinduja R.: When you look at professionals in Silicon Valley ... You know, you look at the designers, the engineers, the analysts ... You see that the workforce is a little bit more diverse, and there are more Asians, but still not that many more blacks or Latinos. But when you move up the ladder, to the managerial and executive rungs, it gets whiter and whiter. And you know, Silicon Valley companies often claim to be a meritocracy, where anyone with talent can succeed.

 

Al Letson: We've been talking about Silicon Valley as a whole, but you were able to get some data on individual companies, too. Right?

 

Sinduja R.: Yes. My co-reporter, Reveal's Will Evans, and I, asked around 200 companies for their numbers. Most of them blew us off. Only a couple dozen decided to release them.

 

Al Letson: Okay, so out of those who gave it to you, what did you find out?

 

Sinduja R.: What really surprised me was that some companies were doing better than others, and some more diversity is not this impossible goal to achieve. An example of this is LinkedIn, a professional networking site.

 

Choir: [singing 00:28:43].

 

Sinduja R.: 40% of its workforce were women, in 2016. When you compare this with Invidia-

 

Choir: [singing 00:28:50].

 

Sinduja R.: ... 17% of their workforce was women. Invidia is this forward-looking company that makes graphic chips, and is a big player in the world of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

 

Al Letson: For a place like Invidia, that is basically designing our future, the fact that they don't have more people at the table to help envision what that future is, is troubling.

 

Sinduja R.: We wanted to talk to Invidia about this, but they refused. A lot of companies in Silicon Valley say they struggle to build a diverse workforce, but the data shows us that some are doing better than others.

 

Al Letson: What about the big companies in Silicon Valley that we're all kind of intimate with, like Apple, or Google?

 

Sinduja R.: Apple has a diverse workforce, but a large portion of their minorities, black and Latinos, are working in sales and in retail.

 

Al Letson: And what about Google?

 

Sinduja R.: Google, the most in the middle of the pack.

 

Al Letson: So, even Google struggles with this, where for years their code of conduct was, "Don't be evil."

 

Choir: [singing 00:29:53].

 

Sinduja R.: Google's an interesting case. They've had some of the most famous women executives in Silicon Valley come out of there, like Sheryl Sandberg.

 

Choir: [singing 00:30:03].

 

Sinduja R.: Melissa Mia.

 

Choir: [singing 00:30:06].

 

Sinduja R.: But in 2016, they had only four women executives out of 31. About a third of their workforce is women, which is about industry average.

 

Al Letson: Thanks, Sinduja. Sinduja Rangarajan is a data reporter at Reveal.

 

We'll be releasing our full investigation on Silicon Valley's diversity data in the coming weeks. To catch that story and many others, sign up for Reveal's newsletter by texting newsletter to 63735. Again, that's newsletter to 63735. You can text stop or help at any time, and standard texting rates apply.

 

We were just talking about Google, and for Kelly Ellis, landing a job there was a very big deal. It was 2010, she was 25, and she'd worked hard to get there. She had the degree, a college minor in computer science, and she had the experience, four years as a software engineer. Like every new hire, she was given this colorful baseball cap with a propellor on it, called a Noogler hat. Then, she was whisked through orientation.

 

Kelly Ellis: I was excited. It was a lot of information. It was a lot to take in. But I was like, "This is gonna be great."

 

Al Letson: As one of Google's 20,000 or so employees at the time, Kelly dove into the work, but it wasn't long before she started noticing things that didn't sit well with her. Little hints about salaries at Google. It seemed like her male colleagues were making more money.

 

Kelly Ellis: I remember talking to other women engineers about their similar frustrations. I think I just didn't want to believe that Google could be evil, when it comes down to it.

 

Al Letson: Kelly isn't at Google anymore, and when she left, her plan was to put the experience behind her and move on with her career. That's just what she did, until other people, including the federal government, started seeing the same red flags. Now, Kelly finds herself in a high-profile battle against one of the largest companies in the world. She's suing Google for discrimination.

 

We're teaming up with the Decrypted Podcast from Bloomberg News to understand why Kelly, and other women who worked at Google, believe the company didn't pay them fairly. Bloomberg's Ellen Hewitt and Aki Ito investigate.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Kelly is on her second job since she left Google. She works out of Oakland for a tech startup, and we recently caught up over lunch.

 

Kelly Ellis: Hey.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Hey. Nice to see you.

 

Kelly Ellis: Good to see you.

 

Ellen Hewitt: How's it going?

 

Kelly Ellis: Good. I've never been here for lunch before.

 

Ellen Hewitt: I haven't, either.

 

I've been following Kelly on Twitter for years way before this lawsuit started, because she's been so vocal about her experience as a woman in tech. She has a tiny gold septum ring in her nose, and wears glasses that she nudges with the back of her hand.

 

Speaker 8: Do you guys want to do anything besides water to drink? Are we-

 

Kelly Ellis: I'm fine with water.

 

Ellen Hewitt: I'm all right with water. Can you tell me the [crosstalk 00:33:02] ...

 

I'm surprised by how approachable she is in person, because she's pretty salty online. Aki and I first met Kelly at her lawyer's office, and she talked to us about her time at Google. She says that she started seeing the warning signs almost immediately, when she learned she'd be working with what's called front end code.

 

Kelly Ellis: That was really, really surprising to me, because it was really different from what I had been doing before. I would say a lot of people in the software world looked at front end engineering as something that you didn't need a degree to do.

 

Ellen Hewitt: This is an important distinction in software engineering. Front end coding, which Kelly was assigned to, focuses on what the consumer sees in their browser. Back end coding interacts with the plumbing, like servers and databases, and that's what Kelly had done before she came to Google.

 

Kelly Ellis: And I very quickly noticed that that was where all of my women colleagues were working, was in front end engineering. So I was like, "That's kind of annoying." But at the same time, I was still like, "Well, I'm at Google, though." You know?

 

Ellen Hewitt: At Google, everyone has a level, starting at level one for interns and hourly workers, up to level 10 or higher for top executives. The higher you are, the more you tend to get paid, and Kelly started to suspect that she was hired at the wrong level.

 

Kelly Ellis: I had had another software engineer join my same team the week after I did. He and I both graduated in the same year, but he was level four, when I was level three.

 

Ellen Hewitt: On top of that, there was a whole group of new grads, straight out of college, who joined a couple months after Kelly.

 

Kelly Ellis: They were all starting at the same level that I was at, and that was when I was like, "This feels wrong." But when I would ask people about it, they would say, "Well, you know. We sometimes down slot people, and then we'll just correct it come promotion time."

 

Ellen Hewitt: Kelly applied for a promotion. She says the committee reviewing her application agreed she was doing the work of a level four, but they didn't promote her because she hadn't been at Google long enough to show an upward trajectory.

 

Kelly Ellis: That was when I realized that I was always gonna be playing catch-up, because by the time that I was going for promotion from four to five, the people who were at four were already at level five. So I was frustrated, but I was still like, "Well, it's still Google." You know? I don't think I considered quitting.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Did you talk about that with a manager, or maybe like an HR rep?

 

Kelly Ellis: Not with an HR rep, but with managers. And again, I was just sort of told, like, "Trust the system." It didn't seem like there was any remedy.

 

  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
  Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 - 00:53:37]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Kelly: ... And I was just sort of told I trust the system. It didn't seem like there was any remedy.

 

Aki Ito: Kelly later did get promoted, twice, and was able to move into a back-end engineering teaming. But after four years, she quit to go work for a smaller company where she felt she'd have more opportunities to grow. She tried to put her experiences at Google behind her.

 

Kelly: I kind of always felt like yes, this probably has something to do with my gender, but I fell through the cracks somehow. My case isn't typical.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Three years later in 2017, Kelly was browsing the news online when she saw an article about a government investigation into Google. In a court hearing, a lawyer with the Department of Labor said that they'd found evidence of systemic compensation disparities at the company.

 

Kelly: I mean I was like, "Oh, shit. Okay, now this is getting real." I read the article and I was like, "Yep, yep, yep."

 

Ellen Hewitt: Learning about the government's investigation made Kelly see her experience in a different light.

 

Aki Ito: Around the same time, a San Francisco lawyer named Jim Finberg read about the same investigation. Jim's a lawyer at the firm Altshuler Berzon, and he specializes in workplace discrimination cases. He remembers how struck he was by the statistical claims cited by the Department of Labor about the alleged difference in what Google paid women, and what it paid men.

 

The government found the gap so significant that it was incredibly unlikely for it to have happened by chance. Basically, about 1 in 100 million. Jim compares it to a coin toss.

 

Jim Finberg: So if I flip a coin, there's a one in two chance that it will be heads. If I flip a coin a thousand times, and it's only heads once out of a thousand times, well that's a lot more suspicious than if it's once out of two times.

 

Aki Ito: Jim discussed the government's findings with a couple of other lawyers, and they decided to ask former and current Google employees to get in touch if they were interested in talking.

 

Jim Finberg: We put a post on the Internet and didn't necessarily think we would get much of a response, but we got called by about 80 to 100 women who said, "Yeah, it's terrible. Women are paid less than men for the same work."

 

Aki Ito: Kelly was one of the women who saw Jim's post. She filled out an online form, and then met Jim and his colleagues to tell her story in person. She heard the other women's stories, too.

 

Kelly: I felt that I was finally realizing that this wasn't a well-intended accident. I'm not saying that they set out to discriminate against women, but I fully believe that they know about the problem, and decided not to fix it.

 

Aki Ito: Kelly agreed to be a named Plaintiff, along with two other women. Represented by Jim, the three women filed a lawsuit in September. In the Complaint, they said that Google pays women less than men for equal or similar work. They also said that the company puts women on career paths with lower pay ceilings. The lawsuit made international news.

 

Anchor 1: Welcome back. Alphabet Investors, this morning, shaking off concerns over the gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Google yesterday. Now critics-

 

Anchor 2: ... Lawsuit accuses Google of paid discrimination against women. Three women who used to work for Google filed the suit yesterday. The claimed the tech giant has-

 

Ellen Hewitt: Google declined our request for an interview, but the company has denied the allegations detailed in the lawsuit. The company published a blog post last month that addressed pay equity, and the results are very different from the government's findings that we told you about earlier.

 

Google said it reviewed the salaries of 89% of its workforce. It excluded the jobs that it said weren't held by enough workers for the company to run a reliable analysis. For the job categories it examined, Google says it found a pay gap among a tiny group of workers. The company says it has since closed that gap.

 

Hey, nice to see you.

 

Jim Finberg: Good morning, Ellen. How are you?

 

Ellen Hewitt: I'm good.

 

Jim Finberg: Welcome to the Superior Court.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Just the other week, the latest hearing in Kelly's lawsuit took place in San Francisco. I met up with Jim, the lawyer, outside the courthouse.

 

Yeah, let's go inside. Jim has big plans for the lawsuit. He wants it to be a Class Action case. Today's hearing is to discuss the number of jobs that the proposed Class Action would cover.

 

Judge: Thank you. Good morning. Please have a seat.

 

Counsel: Good morning, Your Honor.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Jim's team argues that 30 different jobs should be included. Google's lawyers argued for a smaller number. The judge, Mary Wiss, rules in favor of Kelly and the other Plaintiffs. I catch up with Kelly afterwards.

 

Hey. So, I don't know ... Was it good?

 

Kelly: Yeah, it's good.

 

Ellen Hewitt: How does it feel to you personally?

 

Kelly: Good. I mean, it just feels kind of like another step in the journey. There's a lot more to go, so it's not like it feels like a victory, really. It was the result that we were hoping for.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Yeah. I know you have to get to work.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I'm not going to go back to work.

 

Ellen Hewitt: Sounds good, thank you.

 

Kelly: Yeah, no problem.

 

Aki Ito: Pursing this case hasn't come without its costs. Because of how vocal she's been on gender issues, Kelly's faced a lot of online harassment over the years. The lawsuit elevated her profile even more.

 

What are the kind of things that the online trolls say to you?

 

Kelly: I mean, it's anything from the wage gap isn't real, get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, to you deserve to be raped to teach you a lesson about going after tech companies because you couldn't cut it as an engineer.

 

Aki Ito: Recently, one of the men who threatened her online got ahold of her phone number and started calling her. When she told him to stop, he told Kelly that he was in her neighborhood and mentioned a restaurant on her block. She filed a restraining order against him. But despite all of that, she says she still doesn't regret speaking up.

 

Kelly: I'm so lucky to have had all of the opportunities that landed me in this career. A lot of that comes from my privilege, and I really want other people to have the opportunity because I do think that technology is the future of the economy, and I want it to be available to everyone and for everyone to have the chance to succeed.

 

If entire groups of people are being compensated unfairly, or not given the same opportunities because of factors that they can't help, then that's not the kind of industry I want to be in.

 

Aki Ito: For now, Kelly's trying to live her life as normally as possible, going to work, hanging out with friends, as she waits for the suit to move forward. Jim expects to file a motion on her behalf early next year to get the case certified as a Class Action suit. If approved, that would open it up to thousands of women who've worked at Google.

 

Al Ledson: Our story was reported by Ellen Hewitt and Aki Ito in partnership with Decrypted, a podcast from Bloomberg News. You can find Decrypted wherever you get your podcasts. In the interest of full disclosure, I have followed Kelly on Twitter for a while. In January, before I even knew we were doing this story, she Tweeted that she was being harassed, and she was raising money to stay in a hotel. I contributed $50.00.

 

When we come back, women of color who've worked for Google and other big tech companies, talk about how they get ahead in Silicon Valley. That's next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX.

 

Speaker 9: Hey everybody. This is [inaudible 00:44:42] from Reveal's data team. The [inaudible 00:44:45] you have been hearing throughout the show is more than just a soundtrack. We're using music to tell the story of diversity in some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley.

 

We actually translated data points from an analysis into musical notes. The idea was to convey the scale of what we were seeing in the data into something you could both hear and feel. We call this process Data Sonification. Want to learn how we did it? Find out by visiting us at RevealNews.org/Choir. Again, that's RevealNews.org/Choir.

 

Al Ledson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I am Al Ledson. We've been talking a lot today about diversity in Silicon Valley, who works there and who doesn't. We've already heard how hard it is for women, especially women of color. But there are some women of color making it in Silicon Valley, and we wanted to hear from them.

 

Christina Kim: What I'm going to do is I'm going to say my name, where I'm from-

 

Al Ledson: Reveal's Christina Kim and [Sandujua Ragarojin 00:45:56] got eight of them together on a Thursday night after work in January.

 

Christina Kim: ... And you all have to respond to this, too. The theme song that you want to play every time you walk into a room.

 

Speaker 10: Every time I walk into a room ... I think it's going to be Queen.

 

Christina Kim: Oh.

 

Speaker 10: Yeah, I think I like that. I listen to it every day.

 

Al Ledson: These women come straight from work to meet in a wood paneled room on the top floor of the San Francisco public library, over quiche and tea.

 

Speaker 11: And my song would probably be Taylor Swift Shake It Off.

 

Al Ledson: All these women are successful professionals, product managers, engineers, entrepreneurs.

 

Speaker 12: The only thing that's popping to my head right now is Lucky Star from Madonna, so I'm just going to go with that one.

 

Al Ledson: They had so much to say about their experiences that they eventually got kicked out of the library because it was closing. Ong Jung Lee is a consultant to tech companies, and Janaya King-Robertson is a product manager at Ebay. They've both dealt with feeling out of place at the office. Here's Ong Jung.

 

Ong Jung: In the startup environments that I've been in, that culture is dominated by tech bros, tech bros playing video games and calling each other "Bro" and "Dude." It's almost like you're forced to channel your own inner tech bro in order to even pretend like you're relating. After a while it becomes exhausting because you're living this double consciousness.

 

Speaker 13: I make it a point to showcase how similar I am, because I already know walking in that I look different. I educate myself on what's happening, current events, so when someone yells, "Bitcoin," out in the middle of the office, or "A Thorium is dropping like a rock," I am able to say, "Oh, that's crazy," blah, blah, blah. They're like, "Oh," and they're surprised. It gives them the reassurance that I also fit in with this team.

 

Al Ledson: [Secruta Medoria 00:47:39], an engineering manager at Sales Force, talked about how some of the women engineers lack confidence.

 

Secruta Medoria: When I have had a man and a woman report to me, I have to do a lot more to push the woman whose equally or sometimes more competent to take on a new opportunity just because she's a little bit hesitant about how she thinks she will do. So, before even trying, there's this doubt factor that comes in.

 

Jenn Wong: There's a challenge of asking for the things that you want, and being very vocal about the things that you want and that you need. I've done that.

 

Al Ledson: That was Jenn Wong, a software engineer at Event Right.

 

Jenn Wong: But it's a double edged sword because then you become that vocal, annoying person. I've actually heard in the past that one of my previous managers called me a pain in the ass, which is super funny because I thought he was an amazing manager. He definitely provided what I needed to move up with in the company, but also he thought I was a pain in the ass.

 

Shanaya Roberts: So right. That's literally the trade-off we have to make every day. Do I want to be liked? Or, do I want the things? What if you lean into it and actually find some other women, start a thing where the point is we're going to be pain in the ass. #BeAPainInTheAss, whatever. Literally start a movement so that you're taking the critique and you're flipping it.

 

Al Ledson: Big tech companies do have organized diversity efforts, but participating in them can come with a cost. Here's Shanaya King-Robertson again.

 

Shanaya Roberts: I was on a diversity committee at Google. We put together proposals, and we put together ideas and there's so many ideas, there's so many things that you could do, but we also had jobs, right? You have to take time off work, and the ability to get all of those people in a room weekly to make sure that you're tackling the issues, and making sure that you're doing everything that you're supposed to do legally as well, there's a lot of other different hurdles that you have to jump through.

 

Christina Kim: Did you ever get paid to do any of this work? Because that sounds like a ton of work.

 

Shanaya Roberts: No.

 

Christina Kim: So, yeah. That's my point. So often we ... If we're the only black person in a group, then we get tokenized and asked to do all of this work without being compensated.

 

Shanaya Roberts: Oh, for sure.

 

Christina Kim: How do you feel about that?

 

Shanaya Roberts: I have just come to the realization that I am going to be one of the people responsible for women of color in tech.

 

Christina Kim: How do you feel about the fact that all of this time and effort that you're pouring into helping the company get more diverse is literally taking away from your time in working on your career?

 

Shanaya Roberts: I don't think about it for the company. If I could help a woman of color get into a different company, it's about them as opposed to which company they go to work for. The company should be lucky to have them. It's also about our customers, getting better products in their hands. For me, yes, there is a lot of time and energy that that takes, but I'm willing to do it because if I don't, who will?

 

Christina Kim: I will argue that the company is fully aware-

 

Shanaya Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Christina Kim: That they are getting that from you-

 

Shanaya Roberts: Absolutely.

 

Christina Kim: Yeah, they are not compensating you for it. They are at best lazy, and compensating you and recognizing you in the way you should be, and at worst, willfully just letting you do it at the expense of your career.

 

Shylin Simmons: To be candid, I've been in the tech industry for 20 years, and we've spent a lot of time, so much time, talking about the challenges of diversity and women getting promoted. The diversity pipeline, nowadays, I want to see some change from the top down.

 

Al Ledson: Shylin Simmons is an ex-Googler and entrepreneur.

 

Shylin Simmons: I want to see that there are more women on Boards of Directors. In the past year I've joined a Board of Directors for a 1.4 billion dollar business, because I feel that it was important for me as a woman of color to sit at this company and help represent. That's what I'm proud of. I'm trying to do some direct action towards why I think effort is needed.

 

Al Ledson: We're ending our show this week with that anthem of women's empowerment. Respect. Respect to all the women who participated in our round table, including Shylin Simmons, Ong Jung Lee, Shanaya King-Robertson, Jenn Wong, and [Secrutha Butteria 00:52:03].

 

Our lead producer for this week's show is, hello, Catherine Wiskowski, and Taki Tellenidis edited our show. A lot of people here at Reveal helped out this week, including senior editors, Siva Brandstetter, and Michael Corry. A special thanks to Eric Segara, Christina Kim, Professor Donald Tomaskovich-Deevy, and the team at the Center Employment Equity, and from Bloomberg News, Pia Gatkari, Liz Smith, Magnus Hendrickson, Francesca Levy and Christy Westguard.

 

Thanks to all the incredible singers in our Silicon Valley Choir, and Stephan Schneider of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Our production manager [Moinday Anaosa 00:52:47], our sound design team is the dynamic duo, Jay E. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, yo, Aruda. We had help this week from ROM team, [Nerabluey 00:52:57], and from the Cat Woman Squad, Catherine Raymondo and Cat Shugnit.

 

Our acting CEO is Krista Sharfenberg. Amy Paolo is our editor-in-chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Commorado. Support for Reveal is provided by the Levin David Mogan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heisting Simmons Foundation, and the Ethics in Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Ledson, and remember-

 

Choir: There's always more to the story.

 

  Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 - 00:53:37]