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She was a top DEI manager at Facebook and Nike. Then the feds showed up at her door

Robin L Marshall—Getty Images

By now, you’ve likely heard about the case of Barbara Furlow-Smiles.

For those not yet in the know, here’s a quick recap: Furlow-Smiles held prominent DEI roles at Nike and Facebook (now Meta) and was allegedly in the running for a role at Pixar before news broke that she’d been accused of stealing $5 million to fund a high-priced luxury lifestyle. In May, a judge sentenced her to five years in prison and ordered her to return the stolen funds.

At first glance, this seems like any other white-collar scheme. But in a deeply riveting and colorfully written feature, my colleague Lila MacLellan uncovers the humanity behind the crime and explores what led someone who, by many accounts, seemed to live comfortably—and made her name in a field that’s perceived as more values-driven and moralistic than others—to steal millions of dollars earmarked for underrepresented people.

While the insider backstory is a fascinating one, MacLellan also teases out the racial elements and potential hypocrisy in how punishment is meted out to Black people. MacLellan spoke to several of Furlow-Smiles’s friends and former colleagues who argue that while the ex-DEI head is rightfully being held accountable for her crimes, her sentence is too harsh for behavior they view as rampant at large firms, especially in tech.


“White executives commit wrongdoing and walk away with a multimillion-dollar package,” one professional friend of Furlow-Smiles told MacLellan. The rules, however, are different for people of color. “They can do whatever they want to do, but if you're Black, you keep your nose clean.”

The importance of a healthy organizational culture is also an undercurrent in this tale. Furlow-Smiles’s lawyers allege that she got caught up in what they describe as Facebook's move-fast and win-at-all-costs mentality.

Meta declined to comment on its history with Furlow-Smiles, instead directing Fortune to a Department of Justice press release about the case. Nike did not respond to a request for comment.

Read the full article here. I’ll get you started:

It was a cool, mostly cloudy Thursday in late October when two men in suits turned up outside the Portland home of Barbara Furlow-Smiles, a DEI executive between jobs. According to a sentencing memo that would be filed by her lawyers months later, Furlow-Smiles knew she was in trouble because, let’s face it, “no one wears suits in Oregon.”

Ruth Umoh

This story was originally featured on