Google parent faces backlash over rejecting diversity plan
Google still has questions to answer about inclusion and workplace
An employee and investor initiative to promote greater diversity at Google
was voted down at the latest shareholder meeting of Google’s parent
company, Alphabet. The request would have tied executive compensation to
In a statement read to the board
, software engineer Irene Knapp pitched the change. She said, in part:
Diversity and inclusion are key components of business sustainability and
success. McKinsey & Company research shows that companies in the top
quartiles for gender and racial/ethnic diversity were more likely to have
above average financial returns.
Yet, at Alphabet, diversity and inclusion activities by individual
contributors and managers alike — including mentorship, outreach, and
community building — have been met with a disorganized array of responses,
including formal reprimand. The lack of clear, communicated policies and
actions to advance diversity and inclusion, with concrete accountability
and leadership from senior executives, has left many of us feeling unsafe
and unable to do our work.
The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and
company culture. Responses from HR have been inadequate, leaving minority
communities unprotected. Now we are forced to weigh the risks to ourselves
before giving each other support. This backwards response is tied to
immediate retention issues, as entire support networks shut down in fear.
Concerns about diversity and inclusion at Google are nothing new.
Google has been embroiled in clashes that have to do with race, gender and
diversity. Last August, it got national attention for the 3,000-word Damore
memo, which argued that the gender gap in the tech industry in part exists
not because of sexism, but because of “biological” differences between men
CEO Sundar Pichai eventually fired Damore
, prompting criticism from conservatives.
Employees recently have been speaking out about Google, including the
company’s business relationship with the Defense Department.
Google has faced other cultural controversies recently, too. Employees have
challenged the company’s decision to take part in Project Maven, a Defense
Department initiative aimed at developing better artificial intelligence
for the US military. Googlers were divided over their employer’s role in
helping develop technology that could be used in warfare. More than 4,000
employees reportedly signed a petition addressed to Pichai demanding the
company cancel the project. Last week
Google said it wouldn’t renew the Maven contract
or pursue similar contracts.
Some employees say executives aren’t doing enough to stop harassment.
Sentiment has been growing internally that executives aren’t doing enough
to address workplace harassment, said Liz Fong-Jones, a longtime employee
who’s backed a petition to create better policies and procedures, including
cracking down on “malicious leaks that have intimidated individuals.”
Leaders might be more attuned to employee requests for more diversity, but
analysts say the proposal had little chance of advancing.
While executives this year are more attuned to grievances, particularly
those from employees, Zevin’s diversity-pay proposal never had much chance
of passing, given that Google’s billionaire co-founders
have more than half the voting power. In opposing the plan, the company
said in a filing that it won’t “enhance Alphabet’s existing commitment to
corporate sustainability,” noting that Page collects a salary of just $1. A
spokeswoman said the firm had no comment beyond the statement in the
Some have praised Knapp’s statement to the board:
I applaud @Google’s employees for pushing for accountability from Alphabet’s leadership to make a stronger commitment to the recruitment and pay equity of minorities and women. #CBCTECH2020https://t.co/m66aK5Jrs6
— G. K. Butterfield (@GKButterfield) June 7, 2018
Employees have tweeted their support, as well:
We’re standing in solidarity with the many, many, many Google employees over the years who have made diversity and inclusion a priority here. It has taken all of us to make it to this point. https://t.co/jURnYuqfPC
— Amr Gaber (@amrtgaber) June 6, 2018
Some call the employees’ move a sea change for Silicon Valley, where
employees are becoming activists.
Corporate communicators should note: Employees are vital to external
messaging. If all your stakeholders aren’t happy, in today’s climate their
grievances have a good chance of making headlines.
How would you advise Google to convey its commitment to diversity, PR Daily readers?