Gendered Caste System at Netflix

Streaming Gender Inequality in 2021: A Caste System at Netflix

When I was 35, I quit my Marketing position at an Application Security company and attended a women’s Bootcamp because I wanted to become an Information Security professional. I commuted four hours a day, missed my family, and spent my weekends doing homework.

When I was approaching graduation, a mentor asked me, “What is your dream job? Your dream company?” I immediately said: “My dream is to work at Netflix!”

Netflix Dream Comes True, Morphed into a Nightmare

Fast forward to September 2017, my first day at Netflix. My dream had come true! I couldn’t believe my luck. I joined what was at the time, the Information Security Team. My team and manager were kind, supportive, and brilliant. Everyone seemed to love what they did and wanted to make a difference.

A couple of years later, a few folks from our team migrated to another team and reported to a new manager. This move is when my dream job turned into a nightmare. I was fortunate to join a fantastic group of people. I enjoyed and respected my teammates; we all had a great rapport and did excellent, innovative, and collaborative work.

The unfortunate fly in the ointment was my new manager.

My Boss, the Self-Described Leader of “The Boys’ Club”

My new manager was LB. I had worked with LB’s team in tandem since he started at Netflix in 2018. LB already had a reputation as a difficult person to work with because he was argumentative, and he never fully listened — especially to women.

Before joining LB’s team, he commented that he “had wanted to hire a man for his team, but he has to hire a woman, so it offsets the Boys’ Club he has built currently.”

Once I reported to LB, he had already hired two token females to “offset the Boys’ Club.” I was not someone LB hired directly; I was part of a reorg. This did not bode well for me with a manager who already clearly had stated and demonstrated his preference to hire and work with men. One team member called him out for not having any women on the interview panel when interviewing a female candidate. That is very telling coming from a “leader” at a company so vocal about diversity and inclusion. LB stated that he would try to be “more aware” in future hiring decisions. LB publicly told me that I would be pulled into future interviews. That never happened, not even once.

Weekly 1:1 Meetings were Power Trips

Once I joined LB’s team, we had regular meetings each week. We rarely discussed my work or my progress. Instead, LB used these meetings as a power trip, an opportunity to interrogate and bully me. He argued with every word that came out of my mouth just to be a contrarian and intimidate and insult me. He repeatedly questioned my background, work history, and experience rather than focusing on my work product. Netflix executives often declare that they do not retain “brilliant jerks,” but in this case, the description could not be more apt.

Once on LB’s team, I found that I needed to constantly reiterate and defend the details around the work I had completed as LB never took the time to listen to what I said or review what I had previously relayed to him via email or report. LB assumed that I had either not done the work or had not done the work correctly, even when the proof was in his hands or in my words. This was demeaning and insulting. LB was determined to assume the worst about me, one of the few women on his team, despite my excellent performance record, work ethic, and work product.

In our weekly meetings, LB started quizzing me as to whether I knew what specific tech phrases meant, such as “ingest” and “on-premise.” Of course, I did, and my responses proved it. LB did not quiz my male colleagues on tech phrases or question their background or work history. This appeared to be another trick designed to ferret out a reason to belittle or humiliate me, but I gave him no ammunition.

LB Enforced Netflix’s Culture of Fear and Paranoia

While Netflix glamorizes and celebrates its alleged workplace culture, including a “Culture Deck’’ manifesto on its website on how to treat employees, including a declaration that they do not have “brilliant jerks,” the reality is that Netflix does not practice what it preaches. Instead, Netflix encourages ruthless, demoralizing managers who promote a culture of fear by making employees paranoid about their job security on a daily or weekly basis. According to an October 2018 WSJ article, Netflix’s VP of Publicity told a gathered group of Netflix PR executives that it was “good” if employees came to work every day fearing they would be fired “because fear drives you.” LB took that lesson to heart and put it into brutal practice.

At Netflix, employees are updated on their performance status by management determining if you are a “keep,” an “open,” or a “not a keep.”

In every weekly 1:1, LB told each member of his team (at least the women) where they stood in his book. He used this performance tool to lord his power over his (female) subjects and keep them afraid and obedient. Even worse, he hemmed and hawed, vacillating as to his assessment, so I never knew if I would lose my “keep” status from one week to the next.

At one point, I asked LB if I needed to look for a job. His response was, “your program is making a good trajectory, so you are a keep.” I had always been a keep, never even an “open” despite his vacillations and demeaning treatment of me.

While he wanted to keep my excellent work product, he retaliated when it came time for my compensation review. He tried to justify not giving me a raise because there was “not enough market data to warrant a raise” despite Netflix’s unprecedented earnings.

This excuse rang false, as other (male) members on my team received raises. I knew for a fact that other (male) members of the team with smaller programs and who have been there less time than me and who shared the same title and substantially similar job duties had received raises. When LB saw me shake my head at this disingenuous response, he sneered, “plus, not being a keep means you do not qualify for a raise.” I was extremely confused as he had just confirmed that I was “keep” the week prior. LB was an expert gaslighter, a master manipulator, and I was his preferred victim.

At our next meeting, I asked LB to tell me where I stand because he had been vague and had changed his mind from one week to the next. He responded, “If you were not a keep, you would know it,” thus reversing the comment he had used the week before to justify why I did not receive a raise. LB’s failure to provide honest and consistent answers regarding my status was a cruel power play and a tactic to keep me insecure. He showed me time and again that he did not want me on his team even though my performance was solid, so he grudgingly told me every week (except the week he did not give me a raise) that I was a “keep.”

LB resented me and other women for breaking up his Boys’ Club. He abused his power by keeping us on edge as to whether he would deign to “keep” us one week to the next, toying with our confidence by threatening our job security.

Gaslighting: LB’s Preferred Tool to Manipulate Women

In one particularly bad 1:1 with LB, he explained that he and his manager were “disappointed” that I had not singularly run a particular meeting a month prior. LB, a teammate, and I had coordinated slides for a presentation ahead of time, and no one ever said or suggested that I run the whole meeting. Had this suggestion been made, I would have done it without hesitation. When he raised this criticism a month later, I pushed back and said, “If you both expected me to run the meeting solo, then why did you agree to present the vulnerability management section when you were asked?” He looked at me like I was wrong and that it did not happen. He was gaslighting me. Fortunately, I had a screenshot in which he agreed to present this issue, without any concern or suggestion that I should be presenting it instead of him. His toxic, gaslighting behavior had to be brought to light.

Managing by Manipulation

LB seemed determined to trick me, to manipulate me into saying something he could use against me. He often asked me if I even liked my job. I told him a strong YES every time until he broke me down months later, and my response, through tears, was, “I always loved my job at Netflix….until I started reporting to you.” He shrugged it off, just another woman making complaints. He was cold and showed no compassion, no interest in working through things or hearing me out, let alone improving our working relationship or becoming a better manager.

In team meetings, I learned to speak as little as possible because LB had emotionally and verbally manipulated me into submission through his campaign of hostile intimidation. LB was dismissive and demeaning about me, my comments, and my perspectives when I spoke up. He treated me like I was worthless, a waste of his and the team’s time. My teammates countered his hostile behavior by affirming my work and my contributions. Still, it was clear that LB disliked me despite my strong work product and good collaboration with other team members.

LB played favorites. He praised some (male) team members constantly and repeatedly shunned other (female) team members and me. While Netflix had forced LB to break up his Boys’ Club, being a woman on LB’s team was like being a lower caste member.

Never Enough

Nothing I did for LB was ever enough. I worked tirelessly for almost two weeks on a particular document, including nights and weekends. During this time, LB said, “I’m not asking you to work over the weekend, but I myself will be taking a stab at this document this weekend.” This seemed to be a trap. I was dedicated to my job and wanted to show LB and others that I cared about my work and my program, so I worked on the document over the weekend and was quite pleased with the result, delivered on Sunday so LB would have plenty of time to review it.

When Monday came around, we met to review progress. I saw in the revision history that LB had not touched the document over the weekend or before our meeting. I mentioned that I had completed additions to the document by Sunday, as he had told me he wanted to work on it over the weekend. Rather than acknowledging my time and effort, or excellent work product, or his lack of follow-through, he nonchalantly said, “Really….what did you do?” A simple check of revision history would have shown him what I did and when, but he never cared enough to notice my efforts before our meeting.

This incident made it crystal clear that it did not matter what I did to prove myself or the quality of my work; LB was biased against me, as a woman on his team by decree from above, from before my first day.

I continued to stand up for myself, but his bullying never abated. My teammates noticed that LB treated me differently, targeting me with demeaning, hostile comments and using an intimidating, aggressive tone. They saw me get visibly upset when LB dug into me in group settings. Some colleagues told me they spoke to LB about his harsh treatment of me. Nothing changed.

Slow Erosion of My Mental and Physical Health

LB never let up on me. He singled me out and bullied me every chance he got. I dreaded 1:1 and group meetings with him, but I was determined to persevere as I worked so hard to obtain this “dream job” and build my program.

But I could only endure so much. LB’s harassment took a toll on me both mentally and physically. It began with being extremely rattled and upset after each 1:1, gritting my teeth through his dismissive comments and enduring his petty criticisms. At some point, after each of our 1:1 meetings, I would lay my head down and cry. EVERY. SINGLE.TIME. I am a grown woman, and it takes a lot to make me cry, but LB degraded me to the point of tears every week. I relayed this to LB and informed him that I have never cried at a job, but since I moved to his team, I cried all the time. He did not care; he did not respond. Instead, he seemed smug and rather pleased with himself. Nothing improved after I told him this.

Clarity: Gender Discrimination and Harassment at Netflix

Slowly, I started to understand that this was not just a situation of a boss who disliked and undervalued me. This was bigger than me; it was gender discrimination and hostile work environment harassment. LB’s harsh management style somewhat masked his discriminatory actions, so it was not always apparent that he was biased against women. It’s when you are the target, despite your strong work ethic and excellent work product, that you fully understand that it’s not about you or your work — it is about who you are, a woman in a man’s world, a Boys’ Club, a lower caste member on LB’s team at Netflix.

I noticed that LB was taking my work that was near completion or execution and reassigning it to various male colleagues. Programs and projects that I worked hard to build and establish were handed to male colleagues who worked in similar roles without warning or explanation. I called LB out on this. He always had an excuse as to “why,” such as “I added him to get his opinion as well.” This was a shock as I had managed this particular project for many years before I reported to LB. I had folks from another FAANG company come to Netflix specifically to meet with me and to hear about how I built my program so they could do the same. They said to me, “You did this ALL by yourself? We have multiple teams to do what you do alone.” LB never saw or acknowledged my success. Instead, he divested me of many of my successful programs and projects and handed them off to men on our team.

For example, I single-handedly ran an extensive program for all of Netflix. One day a coworker asked me if I had any documentation on facilitating a particular aspect of my program. I was confused as to why he was asking. I managed all aspects of my program myself and had since I started. Unbeknownst to me, LB had assigned my male colleague a critical element of my ongoing work without my knowledge. As I had already established a good relationship with this team in previous years with no hiccups or issues, reassigning it made absolutely no sense. But that was LB’s whole point: to exercise his power and show his disfavor by taking my excellent work and giving it to a male colleague for credit and kudos.

Slowly, LB gave other aspects of my work portfolio to my male colleagues. Instead of allowing me to present my “wins” in an all-hands meeting, LB started representing my work as his own, or that of my male colleagues, without giving me any credit.

Job and Health Decline

My sister, who also works in tech, was very adamant about me taking this to HR. I feared that speaking to HR would be detrimental to my job and could make things worse. I thought if I could endure LB’s withering attacks through a strong work ethic and excellent work product, LB would start picking on someone else. Sadly, that never happened. As a woman, I was his target.

My health began to decline. I had massive migraines. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did, I frequently had nightmares about my boss. I started having breathing issues and anxiety issues. These are all things I never experienced before in my life. I was in denial that work was making me sick, that LB was making me sick, that I was in a hostile work environment with a boss who could not see me for my skills but only denigrate me because of my gender.

I took a few days off when my health got bad because of LB. I went to see my physician, who told me to take two weeks off to focus on my health. I did not take this time because I cared too much about my work to have it possibly suffer. I sought treatment from a specialist at Stanford. When I explained my symptoms, she said that a toxic work environment caused them, and I needed to make a change. It was clear that my boss, my dream job, Netflix, was making me sick.

Reports to HR and LB’s Managers Went Nowhere

In January 2021, I finally scheduled a meeting with HR and explained my situation. I told HR that I had recently taken PTO because the work-related stress from LB had made me physically sick. HR noted this. I went on record to protect myself and to have others realize that LB is a toxic, unfair, and cruel man who does not treat women as equals. I explained to HR that I am not the only one who feels this way, as many others do.

As part of my job at Netflix, I worked with people on different teams. I was surprised when colleagues would ask me, “How is LB still here? Netflix says they don’t hire ‘brilliant jerks’” or “LB said some horrible things to and about our team, and I have lost all respect for him” or “I have cried after meeting with LB too.” Others told me that they had reported his behavior to their managers. Some people had reported LB’s behavior and toxic management style to LB’s manager. Others had given LB direct feedback.

After I (and others) went to HR several times, nothing happened. Nothing changed.

As Netflix refused to take my concerns seriously, I escalated my report. I filed a charge of gender discrimination, hostile work environment harassment, and retaliation with the DFEH because HR and Netflix had failed to take my concerns seriously and had failed to protect me from LB’s gender bias. I filed to prompt Netflix to handle my issues, women’s issues, seriously, and to drive Netflix to make positive changes before other women suffered as I did.

Three days later, Netflix terminated me for no stated reason. At the time of my termination, I was, and always had been, “a keep.” So much for radical transparency.

The Future Looks Bright — Away from Netflix

After I left Netflix, I heard from other Netflix employees that LB had mentioned that he knew I had reported his actions to HR before he terminated me. I find it interesting that HR did not start an investigation around LB’s toxic and abusive actions. Instead, they went directly to the abuser/harasser himself and told him I had sought help from HR, thus leaving me open for the retaliation that followed swiftly soon afterward.

If HR had made efforts to investigate the truth instead of protecting an abusive manager, the outcome could have differed. I might still be there. During my exit interview, HR said, “I am glad you are being professional about the health issues that you had because of LB.” To me, this was a not-so-subtle message thanking me for not taking my harassment public, for dealing with the emotional distress on my own, and for encouraging me to remain silent.

Once I left, my health turned around. My doctors advised that I have PTSD from LB and Netflix, but I am determined not to let that hold me back.

Netflix makes grand statements and broad proclamations about fostering a workplace of open communications, radical transparency, broad inclusion, and diversity. They have groups for women and often highlight them on social media. Yet, behind the walls, Netflix’s management and HR continue to allow men like LB to make women’s working lives a living hell without consequence, without correction, and without following Netflix’s stated ideals.

LB remains a manager at Netflix, continuing his reign of terror, especially on the second-class citizens he “had to” bring on to his Boys’ Club team.

It is time for Netflix to abolish this gendered caste system, to walk the talk of their alleged cultural values, and to make their workplace a safe, fair place for all employees to thrive, regardless of their gender.

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