The Irish-founded tech company is facing a backlash for pulling its support for Pride and employee resource groups in favour of focusing on other areas such as AI.
We’ve written a lot about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives within the workplace.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are an integral part of this and have often been lauded as a key element to company success. However, that does not appear to be the belief held by Intercom CEO Eoghan McCabe.
According to internal communications seen by The Irish Times, staff were informed that the company would no longer promote ERGs in the office or in its internal general communications channels.
A spokesperson for Intercom also told The Irish Times: “This is a crazy time for tech. Businesses are under pressure, AI [artificial intelligence] is changing everything.
“We’re deprioritising absolutely everything that does not directly contribute to our success and it’s yielding great results. We’re incredibly proud of the open, accepting, mature culture our CEO is building and the new high bar for talent he’s setting, too.”
Pivoting to AI
Mentioning AI alongside the need to deprioritise things that don’t contribute to success suggests the sudden pivot away from employee support groups is in order to focus its efforts on the fast-growing trend that has taken Big Tech by storm.
Indeed, Intercom announced its own AI chatbot, Fin, powered by GPT-4, in March of this year. A banner promoting this chatbot is plastered right across the top of Intercom’s home page, promising to resolve 50pc of support questions instantly.
The unicorn is not the first company to pivot to AI at the expense of other business areas. In April of this year, Dropbox announced plans to lay off 500 employees to focus on AI.
But actively shifting focus away from employee-focused initiatives such as ERGs is hitting differently. Intercom is now facing backlash online, including from former employees who have expressed their disappointment at the sudden policy change. SiliconRepublic.com has reached out to Intercom for comment.
This move came a year after McCabe apologised for “poor judgement” in his behaviour towards women employees in the company’s earlier years.
A step backwards
While much of the backlash Intercom is currently facing online focuses on its decision to remove support for Pride, it is important to note that the pulling of support relates to all ERG initiatives within the company, which include support for other minorities.
Deprioritising everything that does not directly contribute to a company’s success is an interesting turn of phrase when used to back up a decision to remove support for ERGs and other diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Years have been spent garnering support for DE&I initiatives in companies, particularly in the sci-tech world. As part of that work, countless reports have shown the direct business value of improving diversity and inclusion.
In 2017, research from Forbes suggested that inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87pc of the time. A Boston Consulting Group study from 2018 found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19pc higher revenues due to innovation.
While streamlining a business and focusing acutely on very specific goals to increase success is not the worst advice for companies, it should still be taken with a big-picture approach, considering what distractions and extra projects you can afford to lose versus which losses will be detrimental to the business – and its employees – as a whole.
Over the years, we’ve heard from many DE&I officers and employees who have spoken about the importance and value of diversity and inclusion initiatives and employee resource groups.
In 2020, we heard from Patrizio Fatale, the campus sponsor for Johnson & Johnson’s diversity council in Ireland. He said companies need to set the tone from the top “by winning the hearts and minds of your employees” and articulating the importance of diversity and inclusion.
Mastercard’s Robert Dillon spoke about his experience coming out at work in 2021 and said checking whether a company supports initiatives such as Pride is something he would always do. He added that companies should have inclusion policies readily available and resources for employees to form committees.
“These initiatives are things that an LGBTQ+ person will be aware of when they first join your company and will lead to them being happier and more engaged during their time working with you.”
And while Intercom seems to be pivoting away from some of its DE&I efforts under McCabe’s leadership, other companies are ensuring there is a C-suite leader in place to protect diversity and inclusion.
Yahoo appointed Alicin Reidy Williamson as its chief diversity and culture officer in 2022. Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, she said ERGs are so important in all companies, that even when they’re not formally recognised, they often still exist because “people come together to find each other”.
“It’s human nature, and people need support. People need community.”
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