Leslie Miley had just stepped out of an elevator at Google when another employee demanded to see his badge on Monday. They followed him then knocked him in the chest, said Miley, who is a director of engineering at Google.
Google's corporate culture tells employees to check the badges of people coming into the building behind them. The goal is to prevent unauthorized individuals from slipping in, or "tailgating," to use the security term. But Miley said he gets accosted at least once a week while wearing his badge because he doesn't look like the employee they expect.
"It's not easy being black at #google," Miley said in a tweet on September 9.
Google is still mostly recruiting white men. Less than 5% of its US workforce is black, according to Google's 2019 diversity report. The numbers in tech are worse. Black people hold fewer than 3% of tech roles at the tech firm.
"I will always get challenged because people look at me and think of me as a threat," Miley said on stage at the Tech Inclusion 2019 conference in San Francisco on Thursday. "If I just dressed up like a food service worker, people would open the door for me. If I dressed up as a janitor, people would hold the door for me. Because no one would question if I was a food service worker or a janitor who is coming to serve them food or clean their office."
Asking employees to check a person's badge if they hold the door for them is standard practice at tech companies, said Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer in the computer science department at University of California, Berkeley. It's especially useful on a corporate campus that has many buildings with many entrances and security guards scattered.
"Every business that is remotely concerned about physical security with keycard doors that are unattended like that have 'no tailgating' as something (they practice)," Weaver said on the phone. "Because you give me five seconds with an unattended computer and that computer is mine, and all the secrets that computer has access to are mine."
"The problem," he said, "is that white employees are not being scutinized."
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Miley said his badge was hanging from his hip and visible when the other employee, who Miley did not identify, followed and made physical contact with Miley, urging him to show his identifaction. Miley said he did not comply.
"To be clear, I had not responded to their request for my papers, as my badge is clearly visible," Miley tweeted.
Wayne Sutton, cofounder of Change Catalyst, a company that hosts conferences and career fairs aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in tech, believes this Google employee was adamant about badging because Miley is black.
Sutton, who is also black, said on the phone that on past visits to Google, "I felt like I had to over-communicate who I am and why I might be on campus because it could be a trigger to other people. I shouldn't have to do that."
Miley also shared photos of fliers on campus that remind employees to watch for "tailgators." One poster shows a group of badgers with badges filing through an open door marked Google. There's an alligator without a badge trying to fit in. Another sign shows two white people and an alligator whose face is hidden behind take-out boxes.
"This is the environment that is created when you put signs on doors that have everyone looking alike be the normal, and the people looking different being the other," Miley said on stage. "… I always look like the other."
In August, Google employees passed around a memo written by a former employee who said racism has infected the company culture. They cited coworkers at the New York headquarters saying disparaging words about "Black Lives Matters" protesters, bragging about gentrifying neighborhoods, and rejecting candidates of color without reason.
"I never stopped feeling the burden of being black at Google," they wrote in the memo, which was first obtained by Motherboard.