Google CEO Sundar Pichai has given a public defence of the importance of diversity in the technology industry and called on more women to enter the field.
“You belong here and we need you,” the executive said.
His public remarks at a coding event aimed at girls, first reported by The Verge, come after a week of controversy sparked by an internal memo written by a Google employee criticising the Californian tech company’s diversity policy and arguing biology may be behind the gender divide in tech.
After the memo went viral, its author James Damore was fired, and he has now now filed a labour complaint against Google.
Pichai was due to address Google employees in a company-wide meeting on Thursday — but it was cancelled after some questions were leaked in advance, along with the identity, political leanings, and sexual orientations of the questioners. “Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall,” the chief exec wrote in a memo explaining the cancellation.
At the coding event on Thursday, Pichai gave a strong defence of the role of women in tech. “At Google, we are very committed to building products for everyone in the world, and I think to do that well we really need to have people internally who represent the world in totality,” he said. “And that’s how we think about it. So it’s really important that more women and girls have the opportunity to participate in technology, to learn how to code, create, and innovate.”
He added: “I know the journey won’t always be easy, but to the girls who dream of being an engineer or an entrepreneur, and who dream of creating amazing things: I want you to know that there’s a place for you in this industry, there’s a place for you at Google. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You belong here and we need you.”
Though Silicon Valley is largely liberal in its politics, women remained underrepresented (at Google and elsewhere), particularly in technical roles. This incident has the potential to ignite a culture war in the industry, with many on the right coming out in support of Damore, who gave his first major interviews to right-wing YouTubers. Many Google employees also believe he should not have been fired.
Damore told Bloomberg News that he felt like the company had “betrayed me in some way,” and that it was trying to smear him.
Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube (which is owned by Google), has also been critical of Damore’s memo, writing in a column for Fortune: “What if we replaced the word ‘women’ in the memo with another group? What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles? Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments or would there be a universal call for swift action against its author? I don’t ask this to compare one group to another, but rather to point out that the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.”
Pichai also weighed in when the decision was made to fire Damore, writing: “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
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