Economy First Look

Google VP rejects employee’s challenge to its diversity programs

An employee's online memo highlights tensions in the workplace over company programs that are implemented to increase employee diversity. 

The sign marking the Google offices is lit up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on June 27, 2017. The vice president of the Internet giant denounced an employee’s memo challenging diversity improvement programs.
Brian Snyder/Reuters/File
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  • Barbara Ortutay
    Associated Press

Google's new head of diversity has rejected an internal commentary from a male employee who suggested women don't get ahead in tech jobs because of biological differences.

The dueling memos come as Silicon Valley grapples with accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is also in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation into whether it pays women less than men. Google, Facebook, and Uber have said they are trying to improve hiring and working conditions for women.

Danielle Brown, who joined Google as a vice president a few weeks ago, said Google is "unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success."

"Strong stands elicit strong reactions. Changing a culture is hard, and it's often uncomfortable. But I firmly believe Google is doing the right thing, and that's why I took this job," Ms. Brown wrote in a memo to employees.

The employee memo, which gained attention online over the weekend, is titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." It begins by saying that only honest discussion will address a lack of equity. But it also asserts that women "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas" while more men "may like coding because it requires systemizing."

The memo, which was shared on the tech blog Gizmodo, attributes biological differences between men and women to the reason why "we don't have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership." It criticizes Google for offering mentoring and other programs for women and minorities and for what it calls "special treatment" of job candidates who are women or underrepresented minorities.

The employee was described in news reports as a software engineer. The employee's identity has not been released.

Google, like other tech companies, has far fewer women than men in technology and leadership positions. Fifty-six percent of its workers are white and 35 percent are Asian, while Hispanic and Black employees make up 4 percent and 2 percent of its workforce, respectively, according to the company's latest diversity report.

While the issue of diversity is getting a lot of attention in Silicon Valley, these numbers are barely changing . But the companies say they are trying, by reaching out to and interviewing a broader range of job candidates, by offering coding classes, internships and mentorship programs and by holding mandatory "unconscious bias" training sessions for existing employees.

But, as the employee memo shows, not everyone at Google is happy with this.

This story was reported by The Associated Press

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