Tech company Twilio just made the headlines for cutting 11% of its workforce following a wave of layoffs affecting organizations worldwide in 2022. But what stood out from the CEO's announcement was his claim of this being an "anti-racist layoff". So what does he mean by that?
The company's CEO Jeff Lawson wrote in his message to the employees:
"As you all know, we are committed to becoming an Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppression company. Layoffs like this can have a more pronounced impact on marginalized communities, so we were particularly focused on ensuring our layoffs – while a business necessity today – were carried out through an Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppression lens."
Mr. Lawson, together with Twilio's Chief Diversity Officer, Lybra S. Clemons, has been vocal about DEI matters at Twilio and reinforced his commitment to redefine the company's DEI strategy through an antiracist lens. In 2020 they wrote:
We are building broader accountability measures for our new approach to DEI to ensure systemic changes that promote equity for all employees. This means we need to activate antiracism at the individual, company, and societal levels.
With a strong reputation for their commitment to DEI, it's not surprising that Twilio took DEI matters into account during the layoff process. However, by using a vague claim and not disclosing what criteria were used to determine who would be laid-off to ensure an anti-racist process, the company became susceptible to criticism and online attacks from self-proclaimed "anti-woke activists".
As DEI experts, we believe that in order to hold an organizaton accountable for inclusion and equity, it is essential to investigate how the patterns of talent decisions impact various demographic segments at all stages of the employee lifecycle. Therefore, ensuring that a painful layoff process does not have a disparate impact on underrepresented groups is a respectable move from Twilio and something that should be discussed more broadly as layoffs become widespread.