Staff claim Google cut diversity initiatives over fear of conservative backlash

14 May 2020388 Views

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It has been claimed that Google scaled back diversity and inclusion efforts to avoid being perceived as ‘anti-conservative’.

Eight current and former Google employees have alleged that the company has rolled back diversity and inclusion initiatives, fearing that it may be perceived as “anti-conservative”, according to a report by NBC News on Wednesday (13 May).

The sources told the news outlet that a number of internal diversity and inclusion training programmes have be scaled back or cut entirely since 2018. They said the teams responsible for these programmes have been reduced in size, and positions previously held by full-time staff have been outsourced or not refilled after members of the diversity teams left the company.

Commenting on the claims, a spokesperson from Google told Forbes: “Any suggestion that we have scaled back or cut our diversity efforts is false. Diversity, equity and inclusion remains a company-wide commitment and our programmes have scaled up to match the pace of Google’s growth.”

The programmes

Seven of the current and former employees told NBC that a “well-liked” programme called Sojourn, which offered comprehensive training on implicit racial bias and how to navigate conversations about race and inequality, was cut entirely. The last time the programme ran was in 2018, according to four of the sources.

They said they believe the programme was cut due to the company’s fear of backlash from conservatives. One anonymous employee told NBC: “One of the major motivations for cutting Sojourn is that the company doesn’t want to be seen as anti-conservative. It does not want to invite lawsuits or claims by right-wing white employees about Google discriminating against them.”

However, in response to the allegation, Google’s chief diversity officer, Melonie Parker, said that the company is “maturing” its programmes and denied scaling back on inclusion efforts. She told NBC that the company is focusing on creating a “scalable solution across the globe” for its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Google acknowledged it had ended Sojourn, but said it was not in reaction to conservative criticism.

The current and former employees said that two other diversity training programmes, DEI for Managers and Allyship 101, had also been cut. They claimed that throughout 2019, employees who worked on diversity training programmes were transferred to human resources support roles or had their work taken away entirely.

Google did not confirm or deny that these programmes were cut, but told NBC that the concepts were folded into another manager training programme.

Backlash against inclusion initiatives

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In 2017, Google fired James Damore, the author of a controversial internal memo that criticised the company’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive environment, claiming that women were unsuited to work in engineering for biological reasons.

The company said that Damore had violated its policies against “advancing harmful gender stereotypes”, with CEO Sundar Pichai commenting: “To suggest that a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to work [at Google] is offensive and not OK.

“It is contrary to our basic values and 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,” he continued.

“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’.”

In January 2018, Damore sued Google for discrimination, claiming that the tech giant was biased against white men and employees with conservative politics. Last week, he asked the court to dismiss his lawsuit.

Diversity at Google

At the beginning of May, Google published its latest annual diversity report, showing “modest gains” in representation for women and people of colour, with the workforce remaining disproportionately white, Asian and male.

The report showed that the percentage of black people hired in the US grew from 4.8pc in 2018 to 5.5pc in 2019. The company saw a drop in the number of Latinx hires, falling from 6.8pc in 2018 to 6.6pc in 2019. The number of women hired also decreased, from 33.2pc in 2018 to 32.5pc in 2019.

In the report, Google said that it has been running all job postings through a bias removal tool, which has led to an 11pc increase in applications from women.

At the time, Parker said that the company plans to move forward on its 2020 diversity goals and will continue to focus on representation and creating an inclusive culture across the company. She said that small percentage gains represent “thousands of jobs” for underrepresented groups.

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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