Pinterest pays $20m to settle gender discrimination lawsuit

The virtual scrapbook company Pinterest is paying out a record $20m (£15m) to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by a female executive who had alleged she was fired after “speaking out about the rampant discrimination, hostile work environment, and misogyny” at the San Francisco firm.

Françoise Brougher, the company’s former chief operating officer, had accused it of marginalising and silencing women and excluding them from decision-making.

She accepted the payout after Pinterest – a website mostly used by women where users share recipes, home decoration and gardening ideas – conceded that it must do more to “improve its culture”.

As part of the settlement with Brougher, the $43bn company is also investing $2.5m in “advancing women and underrepresented communities in the technology industry”. The tech sector in the US is frequently portrayed as having a “tech bro” culture that encourages men and blocks women from top decision-making roles.

Brougher, who was fired in April on a video call with Pinterest’s 38-year-old billionaire chief executive, Ben Silbermann, said she agreed to the settlement only on the condition that it was made public, to help other women in the male-dominated tech industry.

“My goal was about accountability and driving change,” she said .

The $20m deal – under which Pinterest did not admit to any wrongdoing – is thought to be the largest publicly announced settlement for gender discrimination.

Brougher made her lawsuit against her former employer public in August in a blogpost titled The Pinterest Paradox: Cupcakes and Toxicity.

In the post she said it was time to eliminate the “boys’ clubs” that dominate far too many companies and make room for more female leaders and their ideas.

“Although 70% of Pinterest’s users are women, the company is steered by men with little input from female executives. Pinterest’s female executives, even at the highest levels, are marginalised, excluded and silenced.”

Brougher said discrimination against female executives would only end when they “are more the norm than the exception” in leadership roles.

“When men speak out, they get rewarded,” she said after publishing her blogpost. “When women speak out, they get fired.”

The French former Google executive said she also discovered she was underpaid compared with her male Pinterest peers when she read the company’s official filings ahead of its flotation on the stock market last year. Brougher said she was “punished” when she brought the discrepancy up with Silbermann.

“There is a reason that women do not negotiate as hard as men for higher pay. It is not because we are not good negotiators. As I would learn at Pinterest, it is because we get punished when we do.

“I want more women to speak up,” she said on Twitter this week. “But more importantly, I want more women in the C-suite.”

The number of Fortune 500 companies with female chief executives has reached a record high of 37 this year, but that still works out at just 7%.

Two black female former Pinterest employees have also publicly accused the company of racist and gender discrimination. Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, who were Pinterest public policy and social impact managers, said they endured several instances of racism and discriminatory treatment by Pinterest co-workers, managers and human resource staff.

Following the allegations, hundreds of Pinterest staff organised a virtual walkout, signing a petition that stated: “I am [upset/angry/shocked/unhappy/whatever you’re feeling] about the racial and gender discrimination that has happened at Pinterest, and am leaving work early today. Join me.”

In a statement, the company said: “Pinterest recognises the importance of fostering a workplace environment that is diverse, equitable and inclusive and will continue its actions to improve its culture.”

Brougher said she welcomed “the meaningful steps Pinterest has taken to improve its workplace environment and is encouraged that Pinterest is committed to building a culture that allows all employees to feel included and supported”.