Google CEO Sundar Pichai Thursday abruptly cancelled a planned companywide meeting intended to air concerns raised by a former employee’s broadside against Google’s diversity programs. The move came just minutes before the meeting was to start, as the company that aims to organize the world’s information struggles to deal with reverberations from the memo and its decision to fire the author.
Thursday’s town-hall meeting was supposed to allow Pichai to address employee questions about James Damore’s polarizing missive and his subsequent dismissal. But in a companywide email sent less than 45 minutes before the meeting was to start, Pichai said he had cancelled it because proposed questions submitted by Google employees had “appeared externally” and some employees feared for their safety if they were ” ‘outed publicly’ for asking a question.”
“TL;DR Sorry for the late notice but we are going to cancel today’s Town Hall,” Pichai wrote. The abrupt cancellation is unusual for Google, which prides itself on being transparent with employees, but has generally been able to keep internal divisions within its walls.
Earlier Thursday, WIRED reported that Google employees had submitted more than 520 questions for the planned session, some critical of Damore’s reasoning and conclusions, and others concerned that he had been fired for speaking his mind. More than 5,000 Google employees had used an internal tool to rank the questions they most wanted Pichai to answer.
Damore’s 10-page missive cited purported principles of evolutionary psychology to argue that women are not well-suited to be good engineers. Damore also complained that Google’s liberal bent and training programs have created an ideological echo chamber that makes it difficult to discuss such issues inside the company.
The resulting firestorm rippled across Google and Silicon Valley, leaving the company scrambling at times to keep pace. On Saturday, Google’s new vice president of diversity, integrity and governance sent a companywide note criticizing some of Damore’s statements but affirming Google’s commitment to tolerating a variety of political views. Then, on Monday, Damore was fired, shortly after Pichai said he had violated the company’s code of conduct by perpetuating gender stereotypes. Since then, some on the right have embraced Damore as a victim of Silicon Valley liberal groupthink. Damore himself has filed a complaint with federal labor officials and has threatened to sue the company under California law.
Here is the text of Pichai’s companywide email:
TL;DR Sorry for the late notice but we are going to cancel today’s
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