Native Instruments is facing calls to address an inadequate response to alleged racism within the company
A number of former employees have spoken out about their experiences working at the music tech company
Native Instruments has been accused of failing to acceptably address concerns about racism raised within the company by former and current employees.
A number of former employees have spoken out against the music hardware and software company. At least one current employee and a number of DJs including Midland, Pariah, Peder Mannerfelt, Caribou and SG Lewis have also expressed their support for the calls for NI to adequately address these concerns and take action to better support BIPOC employees.
Jessy Halison, who worked as a QA Engineer at Native Instruments’ Berlin office from late 2015 to the summer of 2018, first spoke out on LinkedIn in response to a Native Instruments post about supporting the movement for racial justice.
Jessy Halison’s post has received a number of responses from former and current Native Instruments employees and the company’s CEO Daniel Haver. These comments can be read in full here. Some of the contents is summarised within this article.
The initial Native Instruments post stated: “We stand in solidarity with everyone fighting against racism and social injustice in our society. We are listening, learning and looking into how we can best help to amplify voices against racism and be part of the force for change.” A subsequent post announced Native Instruments has made a $50,000 donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
In response, Jessy Halison wrote: “I just couldn't stay silent when Native Instruments is trying to paint a portrait of a supportive brand.
“We speak about the brand who released a campaign with the N-Word, despite warning and calls in from their (black and brown female) employees. Who lied to them, by saying they would amend it not to be racist and conscious about the impact, but released it nevertheless without changing a single thing. Who didn't protect said-employees from racist comments on discussion channels when the subject was brought up, who told them that they would have no issues advertising artists using other slur names. Who never apologized to them.
“I should know, I was one of them. This whole thing was traumatic for me, and my friends. So let me "lol" to their external communication. They are not able to stand for their black and brown employees internally (despite really driving forces from some employees), and never committed to support the #diversityandinclusion initiatives we were working to put in place.
“We don't need and we don't want your performative allyship. Apologize sincerely first, really do better. Acts speak more loudly than your empty words, and trust me, they speak volume!”
The campaign in reference is a 2017 promotion for the Maschine instrument which featured Príncipe artist DJ N-Fox. Some elements of the campaign have since been removed from NI channels. The issue employees had with the campaign is not with the artist or his moniker, but with the way it was handled by the company, and the way the company has responded to concerns about racism raised by its employees.
Former employee Soraya Brouwer, who worked in artist relations at NI across 2016 to 2019, outlined some of these concerns in the comments below Jessy Halison’s LinkedIn post. They include “white colleagues freely using the N-word when referring to the campaign”, the artist being “looked at through a white gaze” with “no Black people involved or consulted during the process”, and Black employees being “gaslighted by senior members of staff” when raising these issues.
Native Instruments’ CEO and co-founder Daniel Haver responded to Jessy Halison’s post on LinkedIn, writing: “I appreciate you speaking up and creating a transparent and public discussion on this topic. First, I apologize deeply for your experience as a Native employee during this time and take your feedback extremely seriously. While we have always considered diversity and inclusion an integral part of how NI operates, we have in the past let our unconscious bias make us overlook the realities of POC employees. The campaign you bring up is a fitting example of this: while we had good intentions, we did not listen to the valid concerns raised by our black and brown team members and I’m sorry for the pain this has caused to yourself, and other current and former employees.
“Our public statement and donations to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative are just small steps to use our platform to highlight racial injustice. We realize that we must do more, and that starts internally. We have committed to clear steps to create a more inclusive workplace, including unconscious bias training for all employees at all levels and a review of our current hiring and development practices. Above all, we pledge to hold ourselves accountable every day and continue to educate each other.”
Jessy Halison responded to Daniel Haver. One section of the response notes: “The problem was never the idea of the campaign or the choice of the artist. We shared examples with you of other companies who showcased the Artist and his community in a respectful manner. Instead, you tokenized them as a way to sell your product and ignored all feedback. It was deeply disrespectful and hurtful.”
Another section notes: “I had the chance to work with amazing, passionate and committed people, and I learned a lot with them at Native Instruments. I no longer work here. In fact, I almost left the technology world because of the abuse I experienced under your leadership. I want to send my support to those who are still there and willing to change it for the better.”
Jessy Halison also asked some questions, including: “Why are you only listening today, what happened between now and three years ago for you to finally listen to us? Colleagues have reported racism and sexism internally before, what happened to these reports?” and “What is NI? What is the culture you want at the company? Why are your external values so far away from the internal ones?”.
Soraya Brouwer responded to Daniel Haver, saying: “This here does not do enough, unfortunately, and we need to see specific commitments to ensure that other BIPOC employees will not endure the same in the future.”
She added: “Unconscious bias training is a step in the right direction, but it barely scratches the surface. Please be more transparent in your operations across the board. Educate your employees and your customers on the foundations of dance music, the foundations of your business. Please think about committing to highlighting more Black artists, more often, across all your campaigns and your content. Think about how you can change internally. I can list many examples of everyday racism, some overt and a lot of it covert.”
Nadia Says, who worked as an Events Marketing Manager at Native Instruments across 2016 to 2017, also commented. One section of her comment states: “I was at NI for only a year, there were racist incidents regularly, also sexist incidents, and ableism issues as well. In the end I had to quit a job I loved and was passionate about to salvage my physical and mental health.”
Alongside these comments, Soraya Brouwer referenced concerns surrounding a separate campaign involving grime artists which took place at London’s esteemed Barbican venue in 2018 (including a colleague saying it was "interesting we put those artists in such a space"), as well as the manner in which adjacent genres were discussed and presented in the company. These include genres like hip hop, trap, drill, and grime referred to as “urban” and an expansion pack borrowing from UK drill sounds first published alongside imagery of council flats.
Soraya Brouwer added: “During my time at Native, I worked with so many amazing people working on great projects and products, but it needs to be noted that the company's external messaging doesn't match the internal core values, and this LinkedIn messaging is simply not enough. I urge yourself and other senior staff at Native Instruments to stand in solidarity with your current and former Black employees, with the Black artists who represent your company image, with your Black customers who praise your range of products every day, and Black lives everywhere. Donating money is the first step but will these donations be recurring? What will you do to improve your workplace beyond the training? How can we be sure that you follow through and hold yourself accountable?”.
A number of DJs have joined this call for further response from Native Instruments.
Midland said: “As someone who uses [Native Instruments] products in almost all of my music making I would like to see the company address the points Soraya and Jessy have raised about their time at the company and work to make necessary internal changes and not just make donations and move on.”
SG Lewis said: “I hope that [Native Instruments] can make the necessary internal changes and build concrete structures to support their black employees within the company, and outline those structures publicly for users and customers to read”.
Peder Mannerfelt said to Native Instruments: “I’ve been using your products extensively for a long time. Reading this account from [Soraya] makes me question if it’s something I want to continue doing if we can’t get a proper explanation from you?!”.
Pariah asked Native Instruments: “Will you be responding publicly to incidents of racism within your own company addressed in comments by employees and ex employees in that LinkedIn thread? It was troubling to read and I’m sure many people would like to hear what you’re going to do about it.”
We reached out to Native Instruments for comment and they sent us a statement which has also been published on LinkedIn.
It states: “First, [NI’s Chief Innovation Officer and President] Mate Galic and I want to clearly express that racism goes directly against our values and what we stand for at Native Instruments. It’s our goal to create an inclusive workplace with equal treatment and opportunities for all – no matter their race, gender, age, physical ability, beliefs or sexual orientation.
“A few days ago, several current and former employees of Native Instruments publicly raised concerning accounts of their experience working at NI, in particular relating to a marketing campaign that was deeply hurtful to them. We truly appreciate and welcome them sharing this openly and transparently.
“At NI, we often feature and celebrate artists in our content and on our social media channels who are innovating music. Three years ago, we published a series of videos about a group of Black artists from Portugal doing unique work with our products that we wanted to highlight. One of the artists in the group adopts a stage name that includes an offensive term. At the time, some members of our team raised legitimate and thoughtful concerns about this, but nonetheless we made the decision to proceed with the campaign.
“We believe strongly that artists have the right to choose how they express themselves. But our actions here not only ignored the feedback from our employees, but also the history and context of the pain these terms cause. We now understand that this was a mistake and that it made our own team -- especially our BIPOC employees -- feel unvalued, unseen and excluded. We have removed the content from all of our channels, and apologize to all of our employees (past and present), followers, and customers. As the leaders of the company, we take full responsibility to learn from our past mistakes.
“We need to be active in the fight for equality and inclusion, and that starts with taking a hard look at our ways of working, our culture and our decision-making. At this moment, we are focusing on listening to and discussing actionable next steps with our team. We will remain transparent and share concrete next steps in due course about the actions we are taking to ensure an inclusive, respectful environment for our staff and broader community.”
We reached out to Jessy Halison for comment, who sent us the following statement: "Last week, Native Instruments presented themselves as a company in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and said it stood in solidarity with those fighting against racism, whilst they have a history of shutting the voices of Black people addressing racism inside the company. I realized that I could not let them, again, capitalize on our silence and let them paint a situation different from the reality lived by Black and Brown employees at Native Instruments in the past. Thinking about all of these experiences is painful and triggering. I can never translate all the pain that it created into words.
“I've read Daniel Haver's statement. It does not encapsulate the gravity of the situation. We received a similar internal statement in 2017. The conversation was never about whether the artist was or wasn't allowed to express themselves freely. It was whether Black people at the company were allowed to freely express themselves, and be recognized and respected by the company. It was about Black and Brown employees not being at the receiving end of racism in their workplace.
“I have several questions that I shared that remain unanswered, and I urge Daniel Haver to publicly respond to all the questions asked in the LinkedIn thread. Most importantly, has Native Instruments ever asked itself why BIPOC generally don't stick around at the company or settle down in senior positions?
“Without our statement on LinkedIn and the active help from the Artist community across social media, this story would have gone unnoticed again. I hope Native Instruments will address our questions publicly, and share the actions they are putting in place to combat racism in their workplace to ensure a safer environment for everyone inside and outside the company."
Soraya Brouwer also sent us an additional response to Native Instruments’ statement, writing: "The statement by Daniel Haver is deeply disheartening as it doesn't address any of the questions we asked him. We asked for accountability, and we got none. During the conversations we had with the company while we were there, it was made very clear that the Artist was never the problem. What we asked for was for Black people to be treated with human decency by Native Instruments.
“It hurts to see the focus once again being shifted. To read such a noncommital statement after three years only adds further insult to injury. We need to see an outline of how the company exactly is willing to take responsibility and learn from its past mistakes, and we need them to share a timeframe and actionable steps with their current and former employees, customers and users to read to ensure a safer environment for current and future BIPOC working at their company."