After Coca-Cola Backlash, LinkedIn Removes Diversity Lesson Telling Employees to 'Be Less White'

After a whistleblower complained that Coca-Cola was asking its employees to engage in diversity training offered by LinkedIn Learning that encouraged them to "try to be less white," the social media firm has removed the program.

"The Confronting Racism course featuring Robin DiAngelo is no longer available in our course library, at the request of the 3rd party content provider we licensed this content from," LinkedIn vice president of corporate communications Nicole Leverich told Newsweek in an email on Monday.

"We provide a wide variety of learning content, including more than 270 courses on the topics of diversity, inclusion and belonging," Leverich said. "We will continue to add new courses to help people learn the skills they need to be more successful in their career, including the foundational skills we all need to be effective allies and help build a more equitable future."

Coca-Cola has been criticized on social media since Friday when Karlyn Borysenko, who is an organizational psychologist and YouTube commentator, tweeted screenshots of the LinkedIn course.

Borysenko received the tip from whistleblowers at Coca-Cola who said employees were "required" to take the online course, though other companies were similarly asking their staff to engage in the course, as well.

"The real story is that Coca-Cola is one of probably thousands of companies that are having their employees do these courses," Borysenko told Newsweek. "Why did LinkedIn produce content asking people to be less white? Why are they still hosting this? Coca-Cola is a drop in the bucket."

Late Monday, LinkedIn said the course is no longer on its platform. LinkedIn did not say how many companies were using the lesson or how many times the controversial video had been viewed.

In four days, Borysenko's tweet had been viewed by 23 million people while a follow-up YouTube video had more than 100,000 views.

The now-removed Confronting Racism course included a slide that instructed students to be "less white, less arrogant, less certain, less defensive, less ignorant and more humble."

The lesson also informed viewers that "in the U.S. and other Western nations, white people are socialized to feel that they are inherently superior because they are white," and it cites vague "research" claiming that children as young as 3 "understand that it is better to be white."

While Coca-Cola told Newsweek that the lesson wasn't mandatory for employees, Borysenko said multiple employees at the company say that it indeed had been—at least until Friday, and at least one employee provided her an email she says backs up the assertion.

"I can understand sometimes there's miscommunication between management and employees ... but the messaging I've seen does use the word 'required.' Everything I've seen says it was part of the coursework, but then it was removed over the weekend once the news broke," Borysenko told Newsweek.

Coca-Cola told Newsweek that the video and images "are not part of the company's learning curriculum." Coca-Cola said it has a "Better Together" training initiative that includes access to the LinkedIn diversity lesson but that it "was not part of the company's curriculum. We will continue to listen to our employees and refine our learning programs as appropriate."

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola sent an additional statement to Newsweek that read: "The video in question was accessible on a third-party platform and was not part of the company's curriculum, so it was not required. Our overall diversity, equity and inclusion training is required and received input from employees reflecting a wide range of backgrounds, views and expertise."

Coca-Cola sign
A Coca-Cola sign hangs over a vending machine at the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets shopping mall on November 24, 2020 in Central Valley, New York. Gary Hershorn/Getty

Feb. 23, 2021: Story updated to include an additional statement from Coca-Cola and to clarify LinkedIn Learning is an educational initiative from LinkedIn.