A Google engineer got up in front of the board and condemned the firm's 'chilling' diversity failures

GettyEileen Naughton, Google vice president of people operations.
  • A Google engineer got up in front of the board and read a damning statement about the company’s diversity failures.
  • Irene Knapp said the lack of progress on diversity has had a “chilling” effect on Google’s workforce and left staff “feeling unsafe and unable to do our work.”
  • The engineer called for executive performance goals to be tied to diversity and inclusion metrics, but it was voted down by investors.
  • Google HR boss Eileen Naughton said the company wants to increase its proportion of black, Latino, and female workers.

A Google engineer got up in front of the board and read out a damning statement about the company’s “chilling” failure to improve diversity.

Google’s parent company Alphabet held its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday and during the 75-minute event, software engineer Irene Knapp presented a proposal on behalf of investor Zevin Asset Management and “concerned employees.”

In front of CEO Sundar Pichai and former chairman Eric Schmidt, the engineer called for executive performance goals to be tied to diversity and inclusion metrics because of a failure to make progress on the issue.

“The lack of clear, communicated policies and actions to advance diversity and inclusion, with concrete accountability and leadership from senior executives, has left many of us feeling unsafe and unable to do our work,” Knapp said.

“The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture. Responses from HR have been inadequate, leaving minority communities unprotected.”

In addition to diversity measures for senior staff, the engineer also said staff expect to see progress on proposals put forward earlier this year. According to the statement, these included improving Google’s code of conduct, stamping out “malicious” leaks, and improving complaints procedures.

The engineer concluded: “Together, we are sending a strong message to Alphabet’s leadership that they must prioritise diversity and inclusion in the interest of all employees and of long-term investor value.”

Ultimately, the proposal was voted down by investors. In response to a question on diversity, Google Vice President of People Operations, Eileen Naughton, said the company wants to increase its proportion of black, Latino, and female workers.

“We are working hard against both hiring and also progression and development of talent and retention of talent. That is a firm leadership commitment,” she said.

Diversity is a hot-button issue at Google, particularly after the company fired engineer James Damore last year for writing a much-debated memo suggesting biological differences between men and women might explain gender inequality in the tech industry.

Irene Knapp’s full statement is below:

My name is Irene Knapp and I am an engineer at Google. On behalf of Zevin Asset Management and concerned employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries, I hereby move Proposal Number 8. Integrating executive performance measures with diversity and inclusion metrics will further our company’s values, address long-term human capital risks, and make it clear that diversity and inclusion are a business priority throughout the organisation.

Diversity and inclusion are key components of business sustainability and success. McKinsey & Company research shows that companies in the top quartiles for gender and racial/ethnic diversity were more likely to have above average financial returns.

Yet, at Alphabet, diversity and inclusion activities by individual contributors and managers alike – including mentorship, outreach, and community building – have been met with a disorganized array of responses, including formal reprimand. The lack of clear, communicated policies and actions to advance diversity and inclusion, with concrete accountability and leadership from senior executives, has left many of us feeling unsafe and unable to do our work.

The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture. Responses from HR have been inadequate, leaving minority communities unprotected. Now we are forced to weigh the risks to ourselves before giving each other support. This backwards response is tied to immediate retention issues, as entire support networks shut down in fear.

The proposed metrics will incentivise long-term progress on diversity and inclusion. However, Alphabet must also immediately address human capital risk by improving its code of conduct, by cracking down on malicious leaks that have intimidated individuals, by publishing to employees a manual formalising the procedures for HR investigations, and by finding a solution for bad-faith HR complaints. We are hopeful that executives are finding ways to implement these solutions, as concerned employees requested two months ago.

It is our belief as investors, as engineers, and as technical professionals, that a lack of executive leadership around sustainability, diversity and inclusion fundamentally hurts the quality of products Alphabet can deliver to users. As a company that aims to focus on the next billion internet users and bring the convenience and power of information access to them, Alphabet must credibly integrate diversity and inclusion into its strategy.

Today, it is clear that Alphabet shareholders are listening to employees’ experience, and standing with us as we all challenge our company to be better. Together, we are sending a strong message to Alphabet’s leadership that they must prioritise diversity and inclusion in the interest of all employees and of long-term investor value.

Here is a video of the speech:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGMRzb8Cd_o?start=17.07

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