A tech executive of Indian descent hailing from Singapore has initiated legal proceedings against Meta, alleging racial discrimination that hindered her career advancements and professional prospects. The lawsuit has been filed with the Civil Rights Department of California.
Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a Singaporean-born Asian American, who had previously worked at Disney, Google, and Twitter, joined Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, in January 2020. Hired to work on the youth policy team, her responsibility was to safeguard children and teenagers from bullying, harassment, and other forms of abuse. However, Jayakumar claims that she faced racial bias during her tenure at Meta.
According to Jayakumar, after expressing her interest in career advancement within the company, her supervisor began excluding her from various opportunities and initiatives that were previously within her purview. Furthermore, she alleges that she was assigned subordinate roles beneath less experienced colleagues.
Despite her extensive experience and positive feedback as a collaborative team player, Jayakumar asserts that her supervisor informed her that she lacked the seniority and collaborative skills necessary for promotion. These allegations have been documented in a complaint filed by Jayakumar with the California Civil Rights Department.
As Jayakumar’s workload and responsibilities increased, she claims that her performance ratings began to decline. In an interview, she expressed her poignant feeling that being an Asian woman destined her to be a worker rather than a leader, which left her with a distressing sentiment.
Jayakumar is among a growing group of Asian Americans in the tech industry who have chosen to break their silence and publicly address issues of discrimination and retaliation. Several recently filed lawsuits indicate that long-standing racial biases within Silicon Valley have pigeonholed Asian Americans as diligent worker bees, depriving them of management and executive roles that offer greater influence, visibility, and remuneration.
Jayakumar’s complaint states, “The pattern of discrimination experienced by Ms. Jayakumar mirrors that faced by the broader Asian American community: others make assumptions about what work Asian Americans are suited for.” It further highlights the lack of support Asian Americans receive in the workplace when it comes to seizing leadership opportunities.
Through her legal representative, Jayakumar is demanding that Meta institute policy reforms, including monitoring the promotion rates of Asian Americans and providing training to managers regarding stereotypes and tropes associated with Asian American employees. Meta declined to comment on the matter.
Jayakumar expressed her firm belief that discussions surrounding these issues have taken place behind closed doors, in living rooms, and in personal spaces for far too long. She highlighted the struggles endured by previous generations of men and women who had to endure such mistreatment in silence. She emphasised the collective desire among individuals like herself to put an end to this situation, stating that no one wishes for it to persist even a minute longer than it already has.
Vaishnavi Jayakumar remarked, “The generations of men and women before us had to suffer in silence. I don’t think any one of us wants this to continue for a minute longer than it already has.”
Following changes in immigration laws that removed restrictions on individuals of Asian descent, particularly those with high levels of education and skills, Asians and Asian Americans have become a significant presence in the tech industry, particularly in engineering and other professional roles. However, this representation does not extend to managerial and executive positions.
While there are notable exceptions such as Asian American CEOs Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, and Jensen Huang of Nvidia, these individuals are not the norm. Research indicates that Asian Americans are more likely to be hired for professional positions but face the greatest challenges when it comes to advancing into leadership roles within tech companies.
Interestingly, in some companies like Meta, the number of employees of Asian descent exceeds that of white employees. However, there is a significant drop-off in representation at the leadership level. A report conducted by USA TODAY revealed that while 46% of Meta’s workforce consisted of Asian American employees in 2021 (the latest available data), they accounted for only 27% of the executives. Conversely, white employees comprised 39% of the overall workforce but held 58% of the executive positions at Meta.
At the close of 2022, Meta carried out a significant downsizing, resulting in the termination of over 11,000 employees. This was followed by another wave of mass layoffs in March of the current year, affecting an additional 10,000 positions.
Against this backdrop, Jayakumar’s complaint emerges as one among a growing number of lawsuits filed by Asian Americans in the tech industry. These legal actions aim to address the enduring racial prejudice that has long been prevalent in Silicon Valley and call for necessary measures to be taken in response.