Amid the continued fallout from the so-called “anti-diversity” memo that got one heretical employee fired, and as a group of female employees gear up to sue the company over gender discrimination, Google decided it was time to hold a company-wide meeting to talk more about diversity. But the meeting, scheduled for Thursday, was abruptly canceled over “safety” concerns about participants’ being “outed” online by “right-wing” trolls. Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s emailed announcement of the cancellation is a fascinating glimpse not only into the Google exec’s mind but the increasingly chaotic internal dynamics of the company.
“Sorry for the late notice but we are going to have to cancel today’s Town Hall,” wrote Pichai in an email Thursday. “We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and moved forward. But our Dory questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites Googlers are now being named personally. Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be outed publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.”
Having established that (right-wing) online trolls have thwarted their diversity gathering, Pichai explains that the leadership has decided it would be best to “step back” and consider their next move, which will likely involve splitting up so as to be less easy targets for Google’s enemies.
“In recognition of Googlers’ concerns, we need to step back and create a better set of conditions for us to have the discussion,” he wrote. “So in the coming days we will find several forums to gather and engage with Googlers, where people can feel comfortable to speak freely. We’ll share details soon.”
Having established the need for creating safer spaces for “frank, open discussion,” Pichai sums up conversations he’s had with Googlers on the firing of James Damore and the diversity dilemma, which, though he presents it in as positive a light as possible, reveals a company in turmoil.
“Over the past two days, I have had the chance to meet with so many people here, and I have read each of your emails carefully,” he wrote. “The vast majority of you are very supportive of our decision. A small percentage of you wish we would do more. And some are worried that you cannot speak out at work freely. All of your voices and opinions matter…and I want to hear them.”
Is it surprising that after having just fired an employee for expressing views that clashed with the company that the “vast majority” of employees the CEO talked with were “supportive” of the decision? Pichai notes that some “wish we would do more,” which seems to suggest that some want the company to be even more aggressive about their “diversity” policies. Pichai also admits that some feel they “cannot speak out at work freely,” which hopefully didn’t take him by surprise after having just smeared and fired someone for doing just that.
Pichai concludes his email by urging employees to “unite” behind Google’s mission “to build great products for everyone that make a big difference in their lives.”
Despite the optimistic tone of the email, it’s clear that Pichai is in a bit of a panic. Here’s the full email:
The Wall Street Journal provided some examples of the kinds of questions that were supposed to be discussed in the canceled diversity meeting:
A sampling of some of the most popular questions as of Tuesday, according to employees, reflects the spectrum of views on the memo and its fallout. One question asks how Google will protect female employees who have been harassed online for criticizing the memo. Another asks whether Google lowers the bar for diversity candidates. Some questions complain about how conservatives aren’t welcome at Google. And one asks how Google plans to stop leaks to the press.
A person familiar added that an additional top question was: “What can we do to clarify for the entire company that there is one hiring bar,” regardless of race or gender?
There are “definite mixed feelings” inside the company, one employee said. “There are people of all political stripes, and there’s outrage at the extreme of both ends of the spectrum and more sanity in the middle.” Moderate liberals at the company don’t believe the memo threatens the rights of women at the company, while moderate conservatives don’t think his firing means they can’t express themselves, this employee said. “But ultimately the loudest voices on the fringes drive the perception and reaction.”
Below is Pichai’s initial company-wide email response to Damore’s heretical “anti-diversity” memo in which the CEO declares the company’s commitment to “support the right of Googlers to express themselves,” but then explains that he’s firing Damore because his “offensive” opinions made people “feel judged”:
This has been a very difficult time. I wanted to provide an update on the memo that was circulated over this past week.
First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”
The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being “agreeable” rather than “assertive,” showing a “lower stress tolerance,” or being “neurotic.”
At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo—such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all—are important topics. The author had a right to express their views on those topics—we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.
The past few days have been very difficult for many at the company, and we need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree—while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct. I’d encourage each of you to make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own. I will be doing the same.
I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group—including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.