Google still has questions to answer about inclusion and workplace equality.
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 diversity benchmarks.
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 and women. 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 Larry Page and Sergey Brin 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 filing.
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?