- Alison McDonnell, a Black woman, filed a racial-discrimination claim against VMware.
- Tech firms generally need to support employees of color better, she said.
- She advocates more diverse leadership, voluntary diversity trainings over mandatory ones, and more.
In January, Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission rejected a racial-discrimination claim from the former VMware principal analyst Alison McDonnell, a Black woman, saying that she had been unfairly passed over for a promotion despite her qualifications.
Now, as she appeals the commission’s decision, she’s calling on the tech industry to “stop paying lip service to diversity and become diverse.”
“The old trope that we can’t find enough Black people: We know that’s BS. We all know that’s ridiculous,” McDonnell told Insider. “You have a huge amount of Blacks and Latinos coming out of computer-science programs all across the country, but they’re still not hired. What they need to do is actively hire and retain Black talent.”
In December 2019, McDonnell left VMware and filed her complaint against the company. She was contracted by VMware to work as a senior analyst, holds three law degrees, and now works as a freelance consultant in the software industry. As the Irish Examiner reported at the time, the commission rejected her complaint in February, saying it didn’t find an element of “unfairness or irregularity” in processing her request for a promotion.
A VMware spokesperson said that “while we cannot comment on Alison’s appeal while it is ongoing, we believe that in the first instance, the court reached the correct conclusion in dismissing each of her legal claims and finding in favor of VMware.” You can read VMware’s full statement below.
For her part, McDonnell said she was frustrated but not surprised when she didn’t get promoted, believing the odds were against her: As of VMware’s most recent diversity report, published in May, Black people only make up 3.7% of its global workforce and 2.2% of its leadership.
“The numbers weren’t really on my side,” McDonnell said.
A lack of diversity is a pervasive problem across the overall tech industry, even as people of color increasingly speak out about negative experiences working at major companies. Earlier this year, two Black women publicly resigned from Salesforce within weeks of each other, each saying that the firm’s professed focus on equality didn’t align with the reality for workers from underrepresented groups.
In addition to hiring a more diverse workforce, a partial solution to the problem lies in a Harvard Business Review study, McDonnell said, which found that compulsory diversity trainings can lead to worker resentment — but employee-led approaches like voluntary trainings, task forces, and self-managed teams can foster a more welcoming environment for people of color to develop professionally.
She also suggested that tech employees could push for a more diverse industry via unionization — a notion that’s becoming increasingly popular among tech workers.
Finally, she suggested that tech giants like VMware can be more receptive when employees of color like herself take the step of formally alleging racial discrimination. She said that VMware never reached out to her to discuss or mediate her complaint and instead fought her lawsuit “tooth and nail.”
“I feel like if VMware would’ve taken a more humanistic approach and a more empathetic approach, that would’ve spoken volumes for them,” McDonnell said. “Then we could’ve had a resolution to this that would be satisfactory to everyone.”
Below is the full statement from VMware:
“VMware continues to build an inclusive culture into our company goals to ensure that: all employees are treated fairly, regardless of their individual differences; leaders demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through their actions; and each business and function in VMware is making a noticeable improvement on our inclusive culture. While we realize we have a lot of work ahead of us, we continue to set aggressive goals to accelerate our progress.”
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