Google Engineer’s Anti-Diversity Memo Displays Company’s Misogynist Culture

August 9, 2017 2:20 pm

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio

A 10-page misogynist memo penned by a Google engineer slamming diversity and suggesting women are inferior as leaders has gone viral in yet another example of Google’s failure to address its internal problems regarding sexism.

Meanwhile, Google is still entangled in a lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Labor, which accuses the tech giant of not paying its female employees equal wages to their male counterparts.

The note was not rebuked by Google’s CEO, the company’s head of human resources or the chairman of the board. Rather, Danielle Brown, the company’s brand new vice president of diversity, integrity and governance, was forced to speak out about the incident.

“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” states the weekend memo, which was first reported by Motherboard and published in its entirety by Gizmodo.

The memo from the weekend also tries to paint the argument as one of free speech and suggested that it is conservatives who are shunned within the company: “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

But Google’s numbers show a clear lack of diversity in its employee ranks, which is why such programs are necessary in the first place. At Google, which has never sought to participate in the DiversityInc Top 50 competition, women make up just 25 percent of leadership throughout the company. Of the company’s tech employees, only one-fifth are women. Ethnic minorities are not well represented in tech or leadership roles, either. Google employees in tech jobs are 53 percent white, 39 percent Asian, 3 percent two or more races, 3 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Black and less than 1 percent “other.” Nearly 70 percent of Google’s leadership is white. Blacks, Hispanics and people of two or more races each make up just 2 percent of leadership roles.

Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) board of directors is about one quarter female. One of the four women on the 15-member board is Shirley Tilghman, former president of Princeton University. While working at Princeton, Tilghman hired Maria Klawe, who now serves as president of Harvey Mudd College, as a dean. When discussing salary, Klawe told Tilghman, “Just pay me what you think is right” — and then grossly underpaid her compared to the other deans.

In contrast, the DiversityInc Top 10 Companies, which consist of varying industries, ranging from accounting firm EY to AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and Abbott Laboratories, paint a different picture. Among the Top 10, women comprise 43 percent of total management and make up nearly 40 percent of the top 10 percent highest paid employees. Meanwhile, among the DiversityInc Top 10, women represent nearly 47 percent of management new hires.

To invest monetarily in initiatives that could perhaps address this problem should be of no issue to the tech giant, according to its own data. Google ended the first quarter of 2017 with $24.75 billion in revenues, with Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat boasting that “revenues [are] up 22% versus the first quarter of 2016 and 24% on a constant currency basis.”

Meanwhile, in the face of the Department of Labor’s lawsuit, Google also said it would cost too much money to determine whether or not a pay gap does in fact exist in the company. (Interestingly, the company claimed in April that it had successfully closed its gender pay gap — globally — and even provided a step-by-step guide for other companies to follow to do the same.)

The Guardian reported the lawsuit back in April, and according to the publication, a regional director with the Labor Department stated in court there are “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.”

The Labor Department filed a lawsuit against Google in January after the company did not provide its pay information as part of a compliance evaluation.

Labor Department Regional Solicitor reported to The Guardian that there was “compelling evidence” against the tech giant.

“The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry,” Herold also said to the publication. Herold added that “if the findings are confirmed, this is a troubling situation.”

The company has denied any wrongdoing.

Google is required to provide information about its pay history as part of evaluations because it is a federal contractor. But according to January’s lawsuit, the company refused to produce its records even though the Labor Department “repeatedly attempted” to access them.

In another example of poor practices, in June, shareholders for Alphabet for the second year in a row rejected a proposal that would require the company to prepare a report on its gender pay data.

Leadership Accountability

When faced with accusations of sexism engrained within the company, Google made excuses as to why it couldn’t come up with the numbers pertaining to its payroll. And when one of the company’s own engineers scripted the 10-page sexist diatribe that he (and others at the company, Motherboard reported) justified under the guise of free speech, Google hid behind its brand new head of diversity, a woman, as opposed to having its CEO address the problem.

Other companies in the face of similar turmoil have reacted very differently — and have very different results to show for it.

Sodexo (No. 6 on the DiversityInc 2017 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) in 2006 settled a lawsuit brought on by several Black employees who claimed they were not promoted at the same rates as their white coworkers. The company used the lawsuit as a lesson and made changes internally rather than make excuses for why they could not attain diversity.

Sodexo made it on to the DiversityInc Top 50 list for the first time in 2007 and has been a mainstay every year since.

In a 2010 interview with NPR, Sodexo’s SVP Corporate Responsibility & Global Chief Diversity Officer Rohini Anand explained that the incident forced the company to shift its perspective.

“It was a very painful thing for the company,” said Anand, who has served in her current position since 2006 but previously worked in other diversity roles at Sodexo. “I think it made us introspective. You never want to feel that there’s even one person in the company who feels they don’t have an opportunity to succeed.”

Related Story: Luke Visconti, CEO: What Drove Novartis to Become No. 1

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation found itself in a similar situation when in 2004 a group of women brought a lawsuit against the company claiming sex discrimination in one of its sales departments. The company lost the case in 2010.

According to Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc, both Sodexo and Novartis used these teachable moments as “the impetus” for positive change. Visconti was invited to speak at Novartis not long after the suit was settled — a move that initially surprised him, he said at the time. Shortly, though, he learned this is not unusual for André Wyss, President of Novartis Operations and Country President for Switzerland.

“I gave a general diversity presentation, but at the end I said, ‘Let’s address the elephant in the room,’ and talked about how badly everyone must feel, but that what they do — develop one breakthrough pharmaceutical after another — is important to all human kind, and that they needed to pick themselves up and get back to work for everyone’s benefit,” Visconti recalled.

The company amped up its diversity efforts under Wyss’ leadership. And in 2014, Novartis attained the No. 1 spot on the Top 50 list — and did it again in 2015.

Diversity Is Profitable for the Bottom Line, Data Shows

In the recent Google engineer’s sexist memo, the employee also writes, “We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology that can irreparably harm Google.”

And, according to the engineer, diversity programs are not a good idea and are by nature discriminatory: “Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”

But data indicates that diversity is in fact profitable.

The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, when expressed as a stock index, outperforms the rest of the market, suggesting that good judgment in one area permeates throughout an organization.

And according to a study from EY (No. 1 on the list) and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, having more female leaders in business can significantly increase profitability.

The report, “Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Study,” released last year, reveals that an organization with 30 percent female leaders could add up to 6 percentage points to its net margin.

The in-depth study analyzes results from approximately 21,980 global publicly traded companies in 91 countries from a variety of industries and sectors.

“The impact of having more women in senior leadership on net margin, when a third of companies studied do not, begs the question of what would be the global economic impact if more women rose in the ranks?” said Stephen R. Howe Jr., EY’s US Chairman and Americas Managing Partner. “The research demonstrates that while increasing the number of women directors and CEOs is important, growing the percentage of female leaders in the C-suite would likely benefit the bottom line even more.”

Responses: ‘There are many people at Google who share this guy’s views’

Meanwhile, women who currently work and formerly worked for Google responded on Twitter.

A Google employee who spoke to Motherboard said that the author of the document is not alone internally in holding that viewpoint — perhaps just more publicly outspoken.

“The broader context of this is that this person is perhaps bolder than most of the people at Google who share his viewpoint — of thinking women are less qualified than men — to the point he was willing to publicly argue for it. But there are sadly more people like him,” the employee said to the publication.

A former employee told Motherhood there is “a lot of pushback from white dudes who genuinely feel like diversity is lowering the bar” at Google.

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