Friday, 15 December 2017
News Tech

Google Cancels Employee Meeting Because of Harassment Fears


Google had received hundreds of questions from employees before the meeting. The top ones involved how the company was dealing with employees being harassed for speaking out against Mr. Damore’s memo. Other concerns included how to make it clear that Google did not have lower standards for hiring women and minorities, and what it could do to make political conservatives feel more welcome.

This week, some Google workers were on the targets of online harassment after screenshots of internal message boards leaked to Breitbart News that showed employees saying they planned to blacklist people who did not support the company’s diversity efforts.

As the harassment continued, it focused on specific employees who had spoken out in favor of Mr. Damore’s dismissal. One Twitter account encouraged Google workers to expose the true identities of colleagues and “ruin their lives.”

Mr. Pichai, who was on vacation in Africa as the controversy over the memo spilled into the open, returned to California to hold a town hall-style meeting at Google headquarters in Mountain View.

“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.”

Mr. Pichai said a “vast majority” of the emails he had received supported the decision to fire Mr. Damore but he noted that some employees had raised concerns about being unable to speak freely.

Mr. Damore’s memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” and his subsequent dismissal have exposed divisions within the company. A number of employees said the memo was offensive and proved that Google still had work to do in terms of diversity. Others argued that Mr. Damore’s firing only reinforced his message that Google had created “a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

The outcry over the memo’s handling also touched a nerve outside of Google. Right-wing groups seized on Mr. Damore’s ouster as another example of what they said was Silicon Valley’s intolerant stance toward conservatives, while hailing him as a hero with the courage of his convictions.

To many in the technology industry, which has struggled to explain why women are paid less than men and promoted less frequently to leadership positions, the memo was evidence of the false justifications offered for the unequal treatment of women.

Mr. Damore has become a celebrity in the right-wing media. He participated in his first video interview about his dismissal with Stefan Molyneux, a YouTube star among the so-called alt-right whose videos include “Why Feminism Hurts Women” and “Why Feminists Hate Men.” Mr. Damore said he had grown tired of what he saw as hypocrisy in the way that Google behaved.

“There was a lot of just shaming,” he said in the interview. “‘No, you can’t say that. That’s sexist. You can’t do this.’”

After being fired, Mr. Damore said he was reviewing his options because he viewed the company’s actions as illegal. He said he had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the company of “making threats of unspecified reprisals.”

In an editorial in Fortune, Susan Wojcicki, the chief executive of YouTube, which is owned by Google, said she had faced slights throughout her career because of the idea that biological differences could explain why there were fewer women in leadership roles in the tech industry.

“But while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender,” wrote Ms. Wojcicki, one of the most powerful women at Google. “Every day, companies take action against employees who make unlawful statements about co-workers, or create hostile work environments.”

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