Earlier this month, Zoom followed in the footsteps of many of its peers in the tech industry and laid off 150 employees—about 2% of its workforce—in an effort to redirect its resources and invest in what the company described as “critical areas for the future.” One of the teams that Zoom deemed superfluous was the group of employees working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, according to a Bloomberg report this week.
In an internal note to employees, chief operating officer Aparna Bawa claimed that in lieu of an internal team, Zoom would bring on DEI consultants who would focus on inclusion. Per Bloomberg, Bawa also said that Zoom had to “change its approach to DEI.” (Zoom was not immediately available for comment.)
As Fast Company reported last year, this decision is in line with a broader trend across the tech industry—and other sectors, too—that has led companies to quietly disinvest from the very public commitments they made in 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Too often, when companies are forced to trim headcount, DEI jobs are among the first to go. As the tech industry cut over 400,000 jobs between 2022 and 2023, many DEI teams were gutted; Twitter’s 30-person DEI team, for example, was reduced to just two employees after repeated layoffs and Elon Musk’s acquisition. In other cases, at companies like Amazon, former employees have reportedly been replaced with cheaper, less experienced hires.
Like so many companies, Zoom brought on its first chief diversity officer, Damien Hooper-Campbell, in June 2020 and published its first diversity report in 2022. But Hooper-Campbell left within less than two years and was never replaced. (As Fast Company reported in 2021, Zoom did not have Hooper-Campbell report to the CEO or head of operations.) Over the last few years, many DEI leaders have left their posts due to burnout or opted to start their own consulting practices, often in response to shrinking budgets and the exhausting pace of their work—which is all the more challenging when corporate DEI commitments are constantly in flux.
While DEI practitioners have long had to contend with cyclical investment in their work, the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action last year has sparked an especially strong backlash from politicians and business leaders. More recently, the issue has become the target of outspoken executives like Musk and Bill Ackman, who have openly derided DEI initiatives. And while the affirmative action ruling did not apply to private employers, Edward Blum—the conservative lawyer driving much of the anti-affirmative action movement—has brought lawsuits against organizations like the Fearless Fund, a VC firm that invests in underrepresented founders.
Even beyond cutting jobs or trimming budgets, it’s clear that this broader cultural pushback is impacting how companies are approaching DEI: As conservative activists have threatened legal action, companies like JP Morgan Chase and Tesla have already altered the language of their diversity initiatives or revised their DEI goals.