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Coronavirus led this company to cut diversity staff. The protests prompted a reversal.

Thumbtack says it will invest more in remedying inequities — and start by hiring a new head of D&I again.

A protester holds up a sign at the George Floyd memorial

Worldwide demonstrations against police brutality are also putting pressure on companies to do more to promote diversity and inclusion.

Photo: Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Thumbtack's co-founder Marco Zappacosta published a blog post on Friday. Like many tech CEOs, he took a stand "against injustice, racism and hate." Included was a pledge that his services marketplace would make practical changes, including recruiting black employees — the company currently has none in senior leadership — and hiring a new head of diversity, equity and inclusion.

But some of Thumbtack's promises weren't new initiatives, but rather reversals of course, a sign of rapidly changing priorities in the tech industry as a racial injustice crisis layers on top of a disease outbreak.

Until March, the company had a head of diversity and inclusion, as well as a D&I team member focused on recruiting. But Thumbtack laid them off along with 30% of the workforce. Now, in the wake of a Minneapolis police officer's killing of George Floyd and the subsequent demonstrations, Thumbtack says it will invest more in remedying inequities — and start by hiring a new head of D&I again.

"As the business has bounced back from the effects of COVID-19, which caused us to lay off one-third of our employees, a new Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the only new position that has been approved," a Thumbtack spokesperson said. "We are intentionally making this our first before any others as part of a plan to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive team."

It's an about-face for the company, but not an entirely unexpected one. Diversity and inclusion efforts were already threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, as Protocol reported last month. With protests continuing around the country, many companies are waking to the realization they have a lot of work to do.

The venture capital community in particular, where black investors make up only 3% of all venture partners, is under pressure to diversify firm partnerships and invest in more founders from underrepresented groups. In the last week, firms have rolled out initiatives from increased office hours for black and Latinx founders to new funds, like SoftBank's $100 million opportunity growth fund, that are investing in underrepresented groups.

Before Thumbtack's announcement, the company's previous head of diversity and inclusion, Alex Lahmeyer, posted on LinkedIn that he had seen the number of D&I roles decline over the last few weeks.

"Frankly, I'm scared. Not for my own job search, but for the future of strategic, corporate DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] work that we saw being placed on a pedestal just a few months ago," he wrote. "While it doesn't surprise me, I'm upset that companies use DEI programs for PR strategy and then slash them like they're deadweight."

Lahmeyer told Protocol he doesn't plan to return to his former employer. "Thumbtack informed the former D&I team that a headcount would be reinstated, but I'm not interested in returning," he said in a statement.

But the tech industry's approach to diversity could be changing. Companies including Medallia, GitHub and The Infatuation have advertised D&I-related job opportunities in the past week.

Work opportunities have also rebounded for diversity and inclusion consultants, said Will McNeil, CEO of Black Tech Jobs, a recruiting platform. "We have seen a surge," he said. "Some due to our marketing and our Coffee, Tech & Opportunity event, but much of it has been pushed by the events on the ground related to police brutality and the protests. There has been a push to action."

McNeil is hopeful he can bring back staff members he had to furlough after clients started dropping at the beginning of the pandemic. "We are looking to do that in the next week or so," he said. "And we may have to hire some contract workers, too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

Update: A statement from Alex Lahmeyer was added shortly after publication.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

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J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Enterprise

Alphabet goes deep into industrial robotic software with Intrinsic

If it succeeds, the gambit could help support Google Cloud's lofty ambitions in the manufacturing sector.

Alphabet is aiming to make advanced robotic technology affordable to customers.

Photo: Getty Images

Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.

The goal of Intrinsic is to "give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they're completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications," CEO Wendy Tan-White wrote in the post.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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