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A high-flying tech start-up milked our diversity stories. Then it laid us off.

Citing poor market conditions, Notarize laid off over 100 people—over 60 of whom were members of a protected class. Some had been used in the company’s diversity marketing only weeks prior.

By a group of anonymous former employees of Notarize

When Boston-based tech start-up Notarize pitched us on joining its ranks, one of its main selling points during job interviews and recruitment outreach was the company’s dedication to diverse and equitable staffing. Some of us were happily employed elsewhere, but we were impressed by the idea of an inclusive, recession-proof tech company democratizing access to notary public services by making them available virtually. We uprooted and joined Notarize.

Fast-forward to last month, when—like many in this unstable economy—we were some of the 100+ employees laid off from our 440-person workforce.

Layoffs themselves are not extraordinary, especially in the fickle start-up ecosystem, where change is the only constant. But the authors of this essay have compared notes since losing our jobs, and we noticed two remarkable patterns. One: that many of those laid off were members of a protected class. Of the 100 people laid off, we know of over 60 who were either women, Black, parents, LGBTQ, older than 50, pregnant, or disabled. And two: that many of those laid off had been vocal about our experiences as minorities in the company, had elevated issues or made suggestions with regard to diversity and inclusion, or had pushed the company to make more Black hires in the weeks leading up to the workforce reduction.

Many of the layoffs took the form of teams and/or managers being able to choose between two employees—one had to go, and one could stay. On the people team, the four Black women were laid off. The only Black person on the leadership team was laid off, as were several LGBTQ members at the company. A couple of the women laid off had just told other managers at the company that we were expecting children.

Another thing stood out: prior to the layoffs, Notarize had been hiring friends of the new leadership team at breakneck speed. Though bringing on colleagues from past workplaces is not unusual at start-ups, it was frustrating to see the company falling into a tired pattern of nepotism internally while pretending on the outside to be progressive. It was noticeable that many of the people who did not lose their jobs were friends of the new corporate leaders, and/or white men.

Of course, some people not in a protected class were laid off as well, but it is impossible not to see a trend in who was spared and who was on the chopping block. This mirrors what we had already seen when it came to recruiting. In one instance, a qualified Black candidate was turned down and a friend of the hiring manager was brought on instead.

In the current political climate, it can be easy to write off an essay such as this as a bunch of “woke,” disgruntled ex-employees displeased by having lost our jobs. But in reality, none of us would describe ourselves as particularly woke. We are not snowflakes. Rather, we are hard workers who want to hold companies like Notarize accountable to the public statements they make about diversity and other social issues.

Some of us put in 16-hour days for this company, often sacrificing time with our children and loved ones to build and sell its products and manage its workforce and finances. The authors of this essay had no formal performance issues. We knew the company inside and out, and were devoted to working closely with new leadership to ensure that they were caught up to speed on the ins and outs. We were there to work—but we also wanted the company to live up to the image it had publicly created.

Yet, even as Notarize publicly touted diversity as one of its main concerns and paraded our diverse backgrounds to pat itself on the back, company leaders were stating at team-wide meetings that they were “tired of talking about social problems.” When the Buffalo mass shooting took place, and when it was leaked that Roe v. Wade was likely to be overturned, the senior leadership did not want to address either one. It was up to the employees—several of whom were ultimately laid off—to ensure that the concerns of women and people of color were heard.

The fact that the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, our disabilities, our pregnancies, and our parenthood were used as storylines internally and externally to enhance the company’s image leads us to believe that this was all a performative branding ploy, intended to make a run-of-the-mill start-up sound a bit more sexy and cultured. Several of the people who were laid off had been featured on the company’s own blog for Notarize’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. One person’s “coming out” story was published on the blog for Pride Month, less than a month before he was let go.

It is our opinion that the company’s leaders milked employees’ diversity stories for their own benefit, and then weeded out those of us who they deemed too progressive or vocal, citing “market conditions” as the reason. The strange thing about the market conditions excuse is that the company told us it was doing quite well financially, and we saw it hiring for many positions. We are aware of two recent hires who were given significant compensation packages—unsurprisingly, those people were closely connected with the new leadership, having worked with them at previous companies.

The point of this story is bigger than a 500-person start-up in Boston. These days, many companies are positioning themselves as inviting diverse hires, and are making public statements in support of current social issues. But in our experience, Notarize is the sort of company that is now willing to announce their support of their employees’ right to an abortion, only to turn around and fire people who took time off to have one. Our aim is to make companies like Notarize answerable for their public statements, so that these kinds of public relations campaigns amount to more than posturing and self-interest.

We realize that we are better off than many laid-off employees in this country. We received severance pay, and this experience has taught us to reenter the job market with a fresh skepticism, with a discerning eye toward a company culture that seems too pristine or polished—and with a plan to more critically review a prospective employer’s Glassdoor reviews.

But in general, companies should think twice before recruiting employees on a platform of rainbows and equality, only to do an about-face when it’s time to do the real and uncomfortable work. If you do not actually care about diversity and inclusion, don’t wear that on your sleeve! The truth will come out sooner than later.

Many of us thought that our ability to speak freely in the workplace about issues that mattered to us might be too good to be true. As it turns out, it was.

As of the time of publication, Notarize did not respond to our request for comment.

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