New York Magazine and The Verge collaborated on a piece.
The sign that the culture was irreversibly starting to change came in the form of a doc. Employees could ask executives tough questions and expect a good-faith response when they asked for brutally honest feedback from the company. Reed Hastings had a reputation for answering questions within a few days, even if it was critical or tricky. The company put the film on the platform. A film about violence against women should be taken down.
Dozens of employees eagerly await a response from the company on October 8th, 2021.
There were angry blocks of text on the pages. One asked if there was a difference between offensiveness and harmfulness when evaluating what content to buy and air. If we can measure the appetite of members for transphobic and bigoted content, will we start partnering with dangerous celebrities, actors, and comedians?
The Closer, a comedy special by Dave Chappelle, was bought by the streaming service. The comedian made jokes about the trans community. Executives from the company disagreed. Ted Sarandos sent an email to directors and executives on October 8th stating that The Closer wasn't going anywhere. Chappelle's previous special, Sticks and Stones, was the company's most-watched stand-up set to date, but the jokes about transphobia did not go down well with those who found them offensive.
Tech workers, meanwhile, say they’re experiencing a new kind of culture shock: an increasingly chilly response to their criticisms
In Silicon Valley, there was a shift in the tone of the conversation. In 2009, Hastings and the chief talent officer published a 128-page PowerPoint presentation that laid out their management philosophy: lead with context, not control; don't hire brilliant jerks; and, most importantly, always be honest. "If you don't speak up when you disagree with a colleague or have feedback that could be helpful, you are disloyal to the company," wrote Meyer in No Rules Rules:Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention.
Silicon Valley helped to shape a generation of tech startup looking to define their own company culture with the help of the powerpoint. The presentation may be the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.
The company's transparency made it one of the most desirable places to work in the tech industry, with engineers being paid $500,000 a year. The company's relationship to its workforce has changed over the past 10 years as it has gone from being an outsider to one of the most powerful forces in entertainment. Investing in engineering talent was the only way to solve streaming video. It's difficult for viewers to watch live if the popularity of shows like Game of Throne overloads the server. Content on the platform is the most competitive part of the business. Pressure is growing from its competitors. It has lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade, and other streamers are growing. The news sent its stock tumbling 25 percent and the company laid off 450 people to bring costs in line with slower revenue growth. Tech workers say they areExperiencing a new kind of culture shock: an increasingly chilly response to their criticisms
Emily Feingold disagreed with the idea that dissent is no longer welcome. She said that the company works hard to support feedback at all levels.
That commitment was put to the test. The lines of communication that had been open for years were gone after Dave Chappelle.
One person commented, "In Ted's email to directors, he calls out that Dave Chappelle is one of our most popular comedians today and his last special is 'our most watched, stickiest, and award winning stand up special to date.'" sticky metrics outweigh the chance of harm, according to my interpretation of the message. Is that an accurate interpretation of that email?
The question was unanswered for days.
The company's success has been attributed to its work culture. He felt like a fool when he tried to sell his company to John Antioco. Ten years later, the company was bankrupt and the value of the company was $9 billion. It was not obvious at the time, but we had a culture that valued people over process, emphasized innovation over efficiency, and had very few controls.
The company's engineering organization was influenced by that culture. In Silicon Valley, where coders were treated like kings, there was no one else like it. Where companies like Apple and Apple had upwards of eight levels to designate rank, it was the senior software engineer who had one. Managers bent over backwards to make people feel at home and encouraged staffers to give notes. Kevin Cureton, a software engineer, wrote a memo about improvements the engineering organization needed to make. The engineer identified unnecessary obstacles to the process and called out the underlying issues. He says his manager was happy. She said that they were looking for context to bring up.
At Netflix, staffers saw it as their right and responsibility to bring company values to life through the content that appeared on the platform
A small technical error can bring down an entire product or service in an engineering organization. One former employee says that when something is wrong in the code, you want to fix it. It could be seen as arrogant when it comes to the workforce in tech. How many people are interested in receiving engineering notes?
The company's place in Hollywood was solidified by the opening of the Icon building. The new building was very fancy and had a secret entrance for celebrities. The New York Times called it the Town Hall of Hollywood. A former engineering manager said he had to ask Jack Black to step out of the way to get to the badges. The building was supposed to have an open floor plan, but many of the private meeting rooms had been taken over by directors and producers. The company put up domes in the break rooms to make calls. Employees visiting from Los Gatos would wander around the building with their laptops trying to find a place to meet. All of the buildings have been renovated and we now have more space in the offices.
The building made up for its lack of space with its glamor. Two engineers from Los Gatos were on their way to the elevator when someone said, "Hey." They looked up and saw that the man they were looking up at was the one they were looking up at. Chris Pine walked down a hallway. One person says that didn't happen in Los Gatos.
The employee resource groups started jumping into the creative process after the expansion of the original content division. If a movie with a sensitive topic was being worked on, the producer could reach out to the inclusion-and-diversity team to get feedback. Engineers were trying to help shape movie plotlines to those outside the company. It was their duty to bring company values to life through the content that appeared on the platform.
The film Girl won the Caméra d'Or in May of last year. A trans teen is trying to become a professional dancer. The Trans* ERG were invited to an early screening of the movie.
The employees watched the film in disgust. A scene in which the main character cuts off her own genitalia was filmed while the teenager was naked. Both of the directors and co-writers werecis gender. The former engineer said that he had heard of the male gaze. It ended on an act of self-liberation after the cis gender person looked over at the trans person.
“To be honest I was not expecting content so … shocking! I mean … it is really really heavy!”
The inclusion-and-diversity team oversaw conversations between employees and their leaders in the content division. Two staffers who were present at the meetings say the leaders were initially defensive and that the director had gotten a positive response. They agreed to put a warning ahead of the movie. The film contains sexual content, graphic nudity, and an act of self- harm. The viewer is advised to make their own decisions.
It was a concession for management. It was a victory for the Trans* ERG. The employees felt heard. They paid for the movie even though we didn't get everything we wanted. The former engineer said that they couldn't not show it. They were ready to work with us. Even though it was hostile, the process was collaborative.
He was known for taking criticism on the chin. There is an anecdote from No Rules Rules about the licensing deal for The Blacklist. He was called out in a meeting. He put his hand on the man's shoulder and said thank you. As the executive grew more powerful, he became less willing to discuss what content should be on the platform. He clashed with Cindy Holland, the former vice president of original content, over the company's contract with Chappelle, according to reports. The female executive was fired by the co- CEO.
Some of the lieutenants were resistant to receiving feedback. Techies had expertise in making movies. The feedback-friendly tech organization, where everyone had an opinion on everything, and the top-down Hollywood studio, where executives had the final say, were two different companies.
Cureton, the engineer who shared tough feedback early on in his tenure, moved from the product to the studio organization and found it less open to criticism. He was warned not to fix technical problems outside of his scope of work. He was terminated. Being out of my lane too often was one of the reasons he was given.
Executives may have been surprised by the level of anger coming from employees, but some already knew what they were getting into. A document was put together by an analyst before The Closer was released. Most of the set deals with cancel culture and his views on trans people.
A lot of films were analyzed by the streaming giant. According to an internal explanation, the briefs were supposed to alert all relevant parties to offensive or boundary-pushing scenes.
There were 20 red flags in the stand up set. There is a very mean spirited joke here as he questions a trans woman who was making reference to her people. Chappelle calls a trans vagina 'Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy'.
Chappelle's detractors should avoid these 71 minutes of unfettered, cynical, and pointed observations, as the analysis concluded.
“If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
Some employees were surprised by the brief. A language manager in Brazil pinged a colleague on slack after reading a document I was surprised by the content. She said that it was really heavy. He's creative intent is racist, homophobic, misogynist, and dirty. The manager insisted that the creative intent was followed. We don't want to tone down the content.
The special made the tenor more heated. Workers were angry as their questions were not answered. A former Los Gatos engineer says that it definitely stood out. Feingold explained that they opted for town halls because of the large amount of questions. Adding a content warning to The Closer is one of the demands put together by the Trans* ERG.
They didn't intend to do that. According to employees, the communications team told them that if they added a content warning to The Closer, Saudi Arabia would be able to request it. The comedy team agreed to alert the employees when it releases a controversial special. Employees received a heads-up that Ricky Gervais was coming, and the team stayed true to its word. There wasn't a lot of resistance this time.
An update to its culture deck was published that month. It said that if you would find it hard to support our content breadth, it might not be the best place for you. Even if we find individual titles offensive or counter to our personal values, we must be prepared to defend a broad range of stories and storytellers. We may need to work on titles we don't want to watch or don't want to watch at all. The word defend was taken out after employees pushed back against it.
The role of ERGs is to create a community of belonging for different groups within the company. Creatives can contact the inclusion-and-diversity team to inquire about sensitive content.
On the anonymous employee forum Blind, which requires users to have a corporate email address to access company specific channels, staffers are discussing the change One says that they can't speak up in studio teams and what Ted says goes. Our voices are not heard when we raise the issues we see early on in our shows.
One person said that the company could save money if it fired more higher-ups on the Hollywood side, while another said that it should stop spending so much money on mediocre content.
It could have been in the Open Q&A document, but it was not. The Google doc seemed like a good place for executives to say something.