Issues around gender and diversity have been a hot-button issue for a long time, the simmering has turned to boiling now.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has canceled the company’s much-anticipated meeting to talk about gender issues today. The move came after some of its employees expressed concern over online harassment they had begun to receive after their questions and names have been published outside the company on a variety of largely alt-right sites.
“We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward. But our Dory questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites Googlers are now being named personally,” wrote Pichai to employees. “Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.”
Pichai was set to address the search giant’s 60,000 employees in 30 minutes in an all-hands meeting about a recent post by recently fired employee James Damore. In it, the software engineer claimed that women might not be as good as men at tech because of biological reasons, like “neuroticism.” In other words, they could not handle stress and high pressure as much.
Speaking of high pressure, Google is under that for sure in the wake of Damore’s blog and the reaction it has engendered from outside the company, especially among deeply conservative sites like Breitbart and others.
Wired reported earlier that conservative pundit Milo Yiannopoulos “posted on his Facebook page the Twitter biographies of eight Google employees who criticized Damore’s post.”
Sources inside Google said some employees had begun to experience “doxxing” — online harassment that can take various forms and is defined as “searching for and publishing private or identifying information about [a particular individual] on the internet, typically with malicious intent.”
Several sites like this one have been publishing internal discussion posts and giving out information on those employees.
In addition, in a move that many Googlers found already disturbing, Damore did his first major interview with alt-right YouTube personality, Stefan Molyneux (ironic, I know, since Google owns the online video giant).
In subsequent interviews, Damore said he had been “smeared” and “shamed” by top execs for his post.
hat seems a little bit of a reach since he appears to have intended to throw an atom bomb with it. For example, Damore wrote: “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
What followed was a list of those differences, including a claim that women were more social and artistic and could not take the stress of high-pressure jobs. Hence, “neuroticism,” or higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance, which he claimed was backed up by studies.
Perhaps most disingenuously, the author also claimed that he had no voice, even after penning a 3,000-word memo that he was able to send companywide and also was read by millions more.
It was probably no surprise that Pichai fired Damore earlier this week for violating Google’s Code of Conduct, noting in an email to staff that “to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
Since then, it’s been a tense time for Google and also Silicon Valley, which has been reeling for months amid sexual harassment controversies at companies like Uber and at venture capital firms. While issues around gender and diversity have been a hot-button issue for a long time, the simmering has turned to boiling now.
That has been made worse by the political environment nationwide, which has gotten rather divisive of late.
So goes the country, it seems, so goes tech.
Here is Pichai’s letter:
TL;DR Sorry for the late notice but we are going to cancel today’s Town Hall.
We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move 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.
In recognition of Googlers’ concerns, we need to step back and create a better set of conditions for us to have the discussion. 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.
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. The vast majority of you are very supportive of our decision. A smaller 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.
In the meantime, let’s not forget what unites us as a company — our desire to build great products for everyone that make a big difference in their lives. I have been in a few product discussions today and felt energized by the important things we are working on. We can, and will continue, to come together to do the very best for the people we serve.