Professionalism/Cher Scarlett and Tech Labor Advocacy

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Cher Scarlett Headshot 2021

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Cher Scarlett is a software engineer who found her passion as a workers' rights activist during her professional career. Although her birth date is unknown, she was born either in 1984 or 1985 in Walla Walla, Washington. She grew up in poverty with her mother in Kirkland. With numerous struggles in her early life combined with bipolar disorder, she would eventually drop out of high school. She began teaching herself how to code in middle school, and has worked at major firms including Apple, Activision Blizzard, and Starbucks. Her major achievements include being the leader of the #AppleToo movement, successfully lobbying for labor protections in Washington state, and advocating for the first Apple shareholder proposals to be approved in 10 years.[1]

Ethical Deception in Professional Life[edit | edit source]

After her pregnancy at 21, Cher Scarlett was forced to change her career trajectory to provide for her future child.[1] She secured a $27,000 per year salary web development job in 2007, but this did not cover the costs of childcare and rent.[2] She then decided to freelance, answering Craigslist web development ads. Over time she built a portfolio with a social networking site and e-commerce sites with backends.[2]

However, she encountered a pattern of losing potential jobs far into negotiations. She would pitch solutions and design ideas to prospective clients, but they would ask to speak with the programmers.[2] When she revealed that she was the sole programmer, she would lose her opportunities. Scarlett tried changing her email address to seem more gender-neutral. But when she spoke with clients on the phone, they would still usually back out.[2]

Scarlett desperately needed money. She created the brand St. Louis Web Media and began using the email, "info at St. LouisWebMedia-dot-com."[2] When asked to speak to engineers, she would claim that engineering was outsourced to a reputable firm. After creating this brand, Scarlett was able to survive in the industry.[2]

To secure business, Cher Scarlett deliberately misinformed clients. Though she did not misrepresent her work, capabilities, and skills, she lied about the identity of the developer who would ultimately be creating sites. In a perfect world, where the evaluation of a professional is not based on age, sex, gender, skin color, or ethnic background, it would be morally impermissible to lie about the gender identity of a developer. In such a world, this lie would serve no purpose, only creating harm by leading a client to believe incorrect information.

But this is not a perfect world. Cher Scarlett's business partners held incorrect biases, thinking that, because she was a woman, Scarlett would be less capable of building software solutions. Such misogynistic beliefs cause measurable harm.

Scarlett passed the valid checks that should be given before hiring a developer. She communicated well in emails and initial discussions and impressed business prospects with her portfolio.

Scarlett only failed an invalid check that would have no bearing on the quality of her work: she was a woman in a man-dominated field. To even the field, giving her a chance of competing with those who did not suffer from discrimination, she lied about who was going to be completing the client's work. This corrected for the invalid biases held by her customers, helping her compete more fairly in the market for freelancing web development.

It is difficult to delineate precisely when it is permissible to lie in business proceedings. Allowing deception to any degree can easily be abused, and all lies cause some degree of harm. But in an unjust world, if it is clear that others are mistreating or barring opportunities solely because of characteristics with no bearing on the ability to complete work, a person should feel free to deceive prejudicial business partners. The harm of lying about being a man is much less than that caused by discrimination based on gender.

Advocacy in the Workplace[edit | edit source]

Advocacy in the workplace is important for facilitating change where there is injustice. Professionals may face scrutiny or risk their career while standing up for what they think is right, but their efforts are necessary to provide a safe, inclusive, and prosperous work environment. Cher Scarlett is a highly regarded software engineer and activist who gained recognition in her advocacy for labor rights. Throughout her time at Activision Blizzard, Starbucks, and Apple, she advocated for the rights of women and minorities, spoke against unfair and exploitative practices, and provided avenues to help other coworkers. She exemplified the true spirit of a whistleblower, drawing upon her courage and moral fortitude to pave the way for positive change in the workplace.

Scarlett gained notoriety for her advocacy at video game company Activision Blizzard from 2015 to 2016.[1][3] She collaborated with coworkers to raise awareness about the mistreatment of minorities and women by the company, having personally faced underpayment and sexual harassment while working there.[3] Although she felt unsafe reporting workplace harassment, Scarlett, along with a few coworkers, provided testimony to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).[4] DFEH then filed a gender-based discrimination, inequality, and harassment lawsuit against Activision Blizzard.[4]

After taking on the role of a technical lead at Starbucks, she began to question Starbucks' values. After two black customers were arrested at a Starbucks without any apparent reason while they were waiting for someone, Scarlett took to Twitter to voice her concerns and advocate for fair treatment of marginalized groups.[5] In an attempt to be more inclusive, Scarlett took the initiative to try to integrate Pride celebration onto Starbuck's web app but was met with avoidance from upper management.[5] She advocated for equitable pay at Starbucks, arguing that the cost of living was not proportional to her pay.[5] She also joined a successful campaign to address the disparities between Starbucks' compensation for women and men.[5]

As an Apple security engineer, Scarlett became the face the of the #AppleToo movement. This movement centers Apple employees who share their experiences in the workplace including harassment, discrimination, and feeling unheard by management.[6] Feeling dissatisfied with the way Apple addressed reports and requests from employees, Scarlett decided to demand change more directly.[6] Employees shared their stories with Scarlett through Discord, and #AppleToo was born from these conversations.[6] Scarlett encourages these employees to continue to share their complaints with state and federal authorities to hold Apple accountable.[6] She filed cases against Apple for labor law violations, alleging that Apple prohibits employees from talking about wages, hours, or other terms of their employment.[7] The National Labor Relations Board found merit to these charges.[7] She states that she received retaliation from Apple through harassment from colleagues even after she resigned.[8]

Topical Boundaries[edit | edit source]

Cher Scarlett's background helped her develop grit and deep contempt for injustice. During her professional life, she also quickly rose through the engineering ranks at respected firms. Thus, she was able to find a perfect balance between the seemingly contradictory skills of advocating for workers' rights and producing high-quality engineering.

Most workers would not challenge the status quo after landing a big-tech job opportunity. Instead, Scarlett truly stepped into her role as an activist after getting an offer as a Principal Software Engineer at Apple.[1] In 2021, Apple hired Antonio Garcia Martinez, a product manager who had referred to "most women in the Bay Area" as "soft and weak... and naive" in his book Chaos Monkeys.[9] She tweeted criticism of Apple and helped circulate a petition calling for an investigation of Martinez's hire; it was later announced that Martinez would leave the company.[9] She would also criticize Apple on the issues of harassment, pay equity, its strict back-to-office policy, discrimination against the disabled, and more. She would even fire back at Activision when stories of sexual harassment began resurfacing.[1]

In an interview with the Washington Post, Scarlett summarized her professional perspective: "I'm not a corporate shill, but I'm also not throw-away-my-job idiotic, I have to feel good about what I'm putting into the world, whether that's in my job or on social media, whatever. I have to feel good about it. And if I don't I have to remedy it immediately." She also stated that "I've gone through much worse, I know my rights - and I know I can find another job."[1]

Since March 2022, Scarlett has continued her work in the industry as a Senior Software Engineer at ControlZee[10], an online video game platform company.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Cher Scarlett's work as a software engineer and as a workers' rights advocate reveals the ethical boundary for when it is acceptable to misinform, importance of workers advocating for reforms in the workplace, and ways to balance advocacy with a successful career.

Future research about Scarlett could explore the stories of the other workers that supported her causes throughout her professional life, help frame her work in its historical context, or reflect any of her future work fighting injustice.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f Albergotti, R. (2021, Oct 14). She pulled herself from addiction by learning to code. Now she’s leading a worker uprising at Apple. The Washington Post.
  2. a b c d e f Tomlinson, K. (2021, Aug. 3). “I had to invent this whole company to get work”. Ampere.
  3. a b Cords, S. (2022, March 16). Blowing the Whistle on Big Tech. The Progressive Magazine.
  4. a b Liao, S. (2021, August 6). At Blizzard, groping, free-flowing booze and fear of retaliation tainted 'magical' workplace. The Washington Post.
  5. a b c d Scarlett, C. (2022, March 4). Starbucks - gulps away from equality. Medium.
  6. a b c d Kramer, A. (2021, August 30). How #AppleToo built a movement at Tech's most secretive company. Protocol.
  7. a b Apple and its execs disregarded workers' rights, NLRB says. Law360. (n.d.).
  8. Wayt, T. (2022, April 3). Apple whistleblower movement torn over harassment allegations. New York Post.
  9. a b Schiffer, Zoe. (2021, May 12). ‘Misogynistic’ Apple hire is out hours after employees call for investigation. The Verge.
  10. Scarlett, Cher (2022, May 9). Cher Scarlett, Principal Software Engineer (LinkedIn Profile).