Days later, Pinnamaneni is at the nexus of her own racial equity scandal, after a former staffer accused her and “Reply All” co-host PJ Vogt of creating a “a near identical toxic dynamic” for their colleagues of color as they sought to unionize.
Both Pinnamaneni, who is Indian, and Vogt, who is White, apologized late on Wednesday, and Vogt announced plans to “step away” from “Reply All,” one of Spotify’s most-listened-to podcasts. Pinnamaneni will also leave the show, according to an internal email from Gimlet Media managing director Lydia Polgreen reprinted by Vulture. Gimlet, a Spotify subsidiary, produces the show.
“My conduct around the diversity and union organization efforts at Gimlet was ill-informed, ignorant, and hurtful,” Pinnamaneni said in a statement on Twitter. “I did not pay enough attention to the people of color with less power at Gimlet and I should have used my power to support and elevate them further.”
The incident is just the latest to roil high-profile media organizations forced to reckon with racial disparities in their own newsrooms at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has driven national conversations about equality and discrimination to the forefront.
The furor at “Reply All,” which typically tells stories tied to Internet culture, came after Pinnamaneni spent months reporting on the meltdown at Bon Appétit. Last summer, the magazine’s top editor, Adam Rapoport, resigned after an undated photo emerged of him in a racist costume, sparking further allegations of pay disparities and discrimination. Several employees of color later quit its viral “Test Kitchen” video series, alleging Bon Appétit reneged on promises to address racism.
In the first episode of her miniseries, released on Feb. 4, Pinnamaneni said last summer’s mass protests forced her to think more deeply about her own experience with race in America.
“If you’d asked me before last summer … ‘For you, personally Sruthi, what does it mean to be an Indian woman in the workplace?’ I would have said it’s mostly fine. Because back then, I didn’t really want to think of my race as a disadvantage,” she said. “If you had asked me that same question, though, after June of last year … I think my answer would have been a long pause.”
But after the show’s first two episodes aired, former Gimlet staffer Eric Eddings, who is Black, said he took issue with Pinnamaneni’s framing of the series. When staffers began trying to unionize shortly before Spotify bought the company in 2019, Eddings said, Pinnamaneni and Vogt battled against a push for more diversity at Gimlet.
“The [Bon Appétit] staffers’ stories deserve to be told, but to me it’s damaging to have that reporting and storytelling come from two people who have actively and AGGRESSIVELY worked against multiple efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff & content,” Eddings said in a lengthy Twitter thread on Tuesday.
Eddings, who previously co-hosted the Gimlet podcast “The Nod,” said that Pinnamaneni and Vogt opposed the union’s diversity efforts and that Vogt sent other staffers “harassing” messages and relayed obscene comments from Pinnamaneni directed at him.
“They weren’t obligated to support me, diversity efforts at Gimlet, or the union,” he wrote on Twitter. “But it was so triggering to hear the words of people who have suffered like me from people who caused that suffering to me and others.”
On Wednesday, both Pinnamaneni and Vogt said they had erred by not supporting Eddings and others fighting for a more diverse workplace.
“I deeply failed as an ally during the unionization era at Gimlet,” Vogt said in a statement shared to Twitter. “Reflecting on my behavior, I find it humiliating. I should have reflected on what it meant not to be on the same side of a movement largely led by young producers of color at my company.”
In her email to the staff, Polgreen acknowledged the uproar around Eddings’s claims and vowed to “make this a better, more equitable place,” Vulture reported.
“No person at Gimlet or Spotify is too important or powerful to escape accountability for their behavior, very much including me,” Polgreen wrote.
Spotify did not immediately return a message from The Washington Post early on Thursday.