Hostile emails, insults and sexist dress codes: The dark side of working at Facebook

Working at Facebook was like being in a cult with founder Mark Zuckerberg its unquestioned leader, a new book claims. Photo / Supplied
Working at Facebook was like being in a cult with founder Mark Zuckerberg its unquestioned leader, a new book claims. Photo / Supplied

Facebook has long been accused of being a sexist workplace and letting founder Mark Zuckerberg rule with an iron fist in a velvet, perk-filled glove.

But as far as one ex-employee is concerned, the glove is now definitely off.

Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former Facebook advertising manager who was fired two years ago, claims that working at the social network was like being in a cult akin to North Korea with Zuckerberg its unquestioned leader.

Female employees were told not to wear clothing that might be "distracting" to male workers.

Human resource managers gave a speech during initiation for new employees in which they told women that there was a dress code which they had to stick to.

They also pulled women aside and "read them the riot act" if their skirts were too short.

Men do not appear to have been given the same treatment according to Martinez' new tell-all book, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley.

Martinez takes the title from a term used in the tech world for a tool used by computer developers to identify problems before they crop up.

But for Martinez, there were problems aplenty at Facebook, not least the KGB-like internal police force called "The Sec" which monitored everything that staff did.

Facebook has long faced allegations its workplace culture is sexist and still mirrors the Frat House-style environment that harks back to social media's early days.

Facemash, for example, was a crude "hot or not" style game that went viral in Harvard, where Zuckerberg studied.

Since then former employees have claimed that little has changed and that it is more like Mad Men when it comes to equal rights.

Sheryl Sandberg's conference room became dubbed "Only Good News", apparently because that is all she wanted to hear. Photo / AP
Sheryl Sandberg's conference room became dubbed "Only Good News", apparently because that is all she wanted to hear. Photo / AP

Martinez, who was sacked by Facebook in 2013 after two years working on targeted advertisements, describes how new employees went through a series of talks to induct them into the company's way of thinking.

The author recalls being told by Chamath Palihapitiya, one of the stars of Facebook: "Look, we're not here to f*** around. You're at Facebook now and we've got lots to do."

After 20 minutes more of lecturing he finished off with another missive: "Just f*****g do it." But "doing it" had its limits.

Martinez says that Facebook's Human Resources told them that the policy on asking co-workers out was that you got one try and if they said no you had to leave it.

"Next was a warning to the womenfolk," writes the author. "Our male HR authority, with occasional backup from his female counterpart, launched into a speech about avoiding clothing that distracted coworkers.

"I'd later learn that manager did in fact pull aside female employees and read them the riot act. One such example happened in [advertising with] an intern who looked about 16 coming in regularly in booty shorts."

Such attitudes toward women got senior staff into trouble with Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook and one of the few female boardroom executives.

On one occasion, she was evaluating a presentation of a new tool that used pictures of cats instead of users' pictures.

Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Photo / Newscorp
Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Photo / Newscorp

When Sandberg asked why they were all cats, the product manager Dan Rubenstein said: "Well, you know, kittens and cats are like pu..."

Sandberg did not need to hear the word "pussy" and replied: "Got it!" followed by a sharp intake of breath.

She said: "If there were women on that team they'd NEVER EVER choose those photos as demo pics. I think you should change them immediately."

Rubenstein duly scribbled in his notepad: "CHANGE PUSSY PHOTOS NOW!"

Martinez, a former Goldman Sachs trader who had an on-off relationship with the mother of his three children, has his own chauvinistic issues.

He writes: "Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of s**t. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism and ceaselessly vaunt their independence but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they'd become precisely the sort of useless baggage you'd trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel."

Martinez admits that he once tried to have sex in a closet on the Facebook campus after getting drunk in the bar on site called "Shady Lady".

'True believers'

He admits that he had his "fair share of scares" with women nearly getting pregnant after having unprotected sex with many women.

Martinez writes: "I was on season four of the show where a tear-filled woman X shows up two weeks after the shag saying she had 'missed her period' (sort of in the same way I'd say I 'missed my bus'). Nothing had ever come of it and after the third showing you just wanted to say: 'Look, woman, unless you've got a screaming infant in your arms and it looks like me, we have nothing to talk about'."

In another passage about his pre-Facebook days Martinez says that trying to attract venture capital funding with an ongoing lawsuit against him was like "walking into a singles bar with a T-shirt announcing: 'I'm HIV positive.'"

Martinez says that working for Facebook is like being in a cult with Zuckerberg as its leader who is followed by "true believers" who have a Messianic zeal to get everyone in the world on to the social network.

The day that an employee joined Facebook is called their "Faceversary" and is marked by celebrations akin to how Christians celebrate the day they are baptised.

It was essentially treated as a second birthday and everyone would congratulate you and give you balloons.

The day people leave Facebook is considered their "death" and they would post a picture of their battered ID card as their Facebook profile to show they were going out the door.

In Facebook's first office, one conference room was called Ping and the one next door was called Pong.

When Facebook moved to its sprawling campus in Menlo Park signs were put up which read: "Our work is never done", "Embracing change isn't enough", "Make it faster", "The journey is 1% finished" and "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

Zuckerberg's office became known as The Aquarium because of its all-glass walls, while Sandberg's conference room became dubbed "Only Good News", apparently because that is all she wanted to hear.

Staff were expected to work 20-hour-plus days, Martinez claims, and eat all their meals at the cafeteria, which evolved to cater for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Chilling email

Not every initiative was a success though and when Zuckerberg asked staff to paint the walls of their new office he was furious, because after two days the place was covered with obscene drawings.

Martinez says the gist of the email Zuckerberg sent round to staff was that "I trusted you to create art and what you f*****g did was vandalise the place".

According to Martinez Zuckerberg was obsessed with secrecy. When one employee leaked details about a new product launch Zuckerberg responded by sending a chilling email round to every single worker with the subject line: "Please resign."

The email was designed to cause alarm to anyone who received it - in this case the whole company.

Zuckerberg was so angry at the employee who leaked details about the new product that he "excoriated" the individual in the message - attacking the person for his or her "base moral nature" and how he/she had "betrayed the team".

The book says: "The moral to this story, a parable of a prodigal son but with an unforgiving father, was clear: F*** with Facebook and security guards would be hustling you out the door like a rowdy drunk at a late night Taco Bell."

In his few personal dealings with Zuckerberg, Martinez found him to be blunt and once interrupted his response to say: "Why don't you just answer the question?"

He said that during a meeting about targeted advertising Zuckerberg did not review the technical details because he "wouldn't have had the patience" to go through it.

Zuckerberg made decisions that affected Facebook's 1.6 billion users based on "gut feel" and "whatever historical politics were at play" rather than a considered judgment, Martinez claims.

'Supreme Court of Sheryl'

Martinez is also brutal in his assessment of Facebook's ability to make money from advertising before 2013 and said its ability to monetise its data was "utter dog s***" and that they were clueless.

A lot of the change appears to be the work of Sandberg, who arrived in 2008 having previously been at Google and who had been mentored by former Federal Reserve chairman Larry Summers while studying at Harvard.

She instituted what Martinez calls the "Supreme Court of Sheryl", or a system for improving targeted advertising that she controlled.

The book says: "She clearly knew her boss inside and out. Here was a boss who excelled in the role of gatekeeper and shepherd to difficult and powerful men, whether that role was chief of staff for prickly US Treasury Secretary Larry Summer, or COO of and for Zuck."

One of Sandberg's tricks for hiring the right staff was to make them think they were missing an unmissable opportunity.

A colleague told Martinez: "She basically convinced me by saying: 'Look, I either hire you now and you come work for Facebook, or a year from now I'll hire you to work for the guy whose job I'm offering to you right now'. And that's what convinced me."

Martinez is not the first former Facebook employee to highlight its workplace culture.

In The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, Katherine Loose claimed that it was deeply sexist and stuck in a 1950s mentality.

She wrote that female workers at the social network were propositioned for threesomes or given crude insults like "I want to put my teeth in your a**".

Lower-ranking employees who were invariably female were banned from a conference unless they worked as coat checkers whilst there.

In the book she compared Zuckerberg to Napoleon and branded him a "little emperor" who created a company where his staff could "idol worship" him.

Loose was employee No 51 and worked her way up from customer relations to a senior marketing role before becoming the speechwriter for Zuckerberg.

Facebook declined to comment about Martinez' book when Daily Mail Online reached out.

- Daily Mail

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