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NetApp, Pure Storage CEOs: Racial Injustice Can No Longer Be Tolerated

Both NetApp CEO George Kurian and Pure Storage CEO Charles Giancarlo called on employees and society to take action to build a society fair to all in the wake of racial violence sparked to the recent killings of black Americans by police.

The top executives of the two leading storage-focused vendors are pleading with employees and others to proactively reach out and find ways to overcome racial injustice in the aftermath of the killing of an African American man by a white police officer in Minnesota and ensuing global protests.

NetApp CEO George Kurian (pictured, left) and Pure Storage CEO Charles Giancarlo (pictured, right) used internal employee meetings followed up with social media postings to echo many of their peers in the IT industry in trying to find a way to get the U.S. to move past the racial injustices that have been so evident in the past couple weeks.

It is important for the tech industry to acknowledge that racial issues in the U.S. are still prevalent, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering west at General Datatech, a Dallas-based solution provider which partners with both storage vendors.

[Related: Michael Dell On Racial Injustice: "I've Always Believed Diversity Is Power"]

Much of corporate America tends to not get involved so directly in politics, but the current racial violence is different, Woodall told CRN.

"It is coming down to the definition of America itself," he said. "America is a social contract that people participate in willingly. And it has proven so far that it works. But it hasn't been fair to people of color. Our society expects certain classes--and for now that mainly means Black America--to be treated differently. And it's happening now with a series of tragedies."

Kurian Tuesday held an all-hands internal NetApp meeting to discuss the racial injustice, and later via a blog post said that the crisis now being seen in the African-American community is a stark contrast to the coming together of so many Americans to help each other in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"It is, therefore, so much more tragic that at precisely the time when we are called upon to be our very best, we are witness to multiple acts of unspeakable cruelty and social injustice, particularly against the African-American community in the United States," he wrote.

Recent acts of racial violence are just the latest examples of the long-standing inability of Americans to confront their shared history, which results in continued tolerance of intolerance and perhaps encourages it to continue, Kurian wrote.

"These past few weeks, we have been witness to Ahmaud Arbery being murdered for simply jogging, of kneeling, the centuries-long gesture of piety and peaceful protest being turned into the grotesque weapon of murder of George Floyd, and of Breonna Taylor gunned down in her own home," he wrote. "Tragedy befell these innocents solely because they were blessed to have different skin. And they were treated brutally differently as a result; that is injustice."

For Kurian, the racial attacks bring into focus not only the minority employees of NetApp, but also his own situation as a man who was born in India but is raising two children in the U.S. including a 16-year-old son.

"This week, after the George Floyd tragedy, [my son] and I had to have the talk that we know all African-American fathers and mothers have to have with their young sons; the talk that many of us in the privileged majority do not ever have to have," he wrote. "And, I worry for his safety and for the safety of all the employees in my care, particularly our African-American employees."

Kurian wrote that NetApp will remain a sanctuary to any African-American employee who is hurting, feels unsafe or needs support.

"[NetApp is] a place where you can be yourself and be loved, celebrated, developed, encouraged, and respected precisely for who you are," he wrote. "And where you have a group of teammates who are going to stand by your side as a protective wall of light against the darkness. A sanctuary where there is no place whatsoever for intolerance and injustice. You have my promise and the commitment of our entire leadership team to continue to work on building the safe, open, caring, and unbiased environment that we all cherish; we will continue to strive to turn intent into action."

Kurian also asked NetApp employees to reach out to African-American colleagues, or Asian colleagues impacted by negative response from the COVID-19 pandemic, or women, or any other colleagues whose voices are not always heard.

"Take a moment to be silent and to listen to them and to hear how things that we might take for granted are not their experience," he wrote. "For it is in listening, that we can begin to really understand, and from genuine understanding comes empathy. And from empathy begins the journey to root out intolerance, bigotry, and injustice in all its forms."

Pure Storage's Giancarlo followed up an email he sent Friday to Pure Storage employees with a statement posted Tuesday on LinkedIn that compares the current race-related crisis to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in that both have exacerbated pre-existing conditions and made them worse.

It is time to build a society that can move beyond the violence minorities face to build opportunities for all citizens, Giancarlo wrote.

"What we can all understand and see in front of our eyes is that violence begets violence," he wrote. "Only by leading a peaceful society, with equal opportunities for all, equal and gentle justice, and with a reasonable safety net for people who are in need, can we reduce the civil strife that we are seeing today. Leaders need to lead the way with science and evidence-based policies and with true care for those in their governance. The U.S. Constitution was specifically designed to protect minority rights - all of our governmental institutions, federal and local, should be focused on the same goal. The current treatment of African American, minority and immigrant communities in the U.S. is frankly unacceptable and needs to change."

A low tolerance society will be a violent and unjust society, Giancarlo wrote.

"The sentiment that I have shared with my Pure team is that, while we alone cannot change the entire world, we can change ourselves, we can change the company, and we can change the individual communities we live in," he wrote. "We can be examples of the proper care, concern and inclusivity with our fellow humans that we seek in our societies. We only have one life to live in this world, let’s live it well."

The statements from the two storage vendor leaders show an understanding of what white privilege means, what it means to live as a black American, and the difference, and that it has to stop," he said.

The death last week of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police became a spark for the recent violence because citizens saw a nine-minute murder, Woodall said.

"We saw a man lose his life while begging for help," he said. "We saw a lack of leadership on both side. Maybe what we're seeing is accumulated stress. I don't know. But I'm glad to see leaders like Charlie and George say they will treat people equally and will back up their words with action."

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