Google diversity culture war: Employees being harassed and threatened

Photo: Alphabet

SAN FRANCISCO — The firing of Google engineer James Damore for suggesting men are more suited to technical roles than women has triggered a culture war inside the Internet giant, with some Google employees saying the company is not doing enough to protect them from a harassment campaign that has subjected them to hateful comments and violent threats.

These employees, many of whom volunteer as diversity advocates, say they’ve been targeted by some of their own coworkers for fighting to bring greater diversity to Google’s 78,000-plus staff of mostly white and Asian men.

Their personal information and comments expressed in internal company forums have been leaked to the public and published on far-right websites, leading to mistreatment by online vigilantes. What’s more, they say they’ve been subjected to doxing on 4Chan and Kiwi Farms after screenshots were included in the 161-page lawsuit Damore filed in January alleging Google discriminates against whites, conservatives and men.

Too little action from Google management drove them to speak publicly for the first time this week when they told their stories to Wired magazine. They say they are hopeful they can pressure the company into taking a stronger stance against the growing abuse and that they can help stop this kind of intimidation and bullying from happening at other tech companies.

“What we want is for our company to be a great place to work and for everyone to be able to do their job without having to worry they are going to get a death threat in their email,” Google software engineer and diversity advocate Tariq Yusuf told USA TODAY.

Google says it has met with the affected employees and addressed direct threats.

“As we’ve said before, we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and an important part of our culture is lively debate. But like any workplace, that doesn’t mean that anything goes,” Google spokeswoman Gina Scigliano said in a statement. “When we discover code of conduct violations, we take action, including termination of employment.”

Google site reliability engineer Liz Fong-Jones, a trans woman who has been the target of a harassment campaign conducted by a group of “extremists” inside Google, says she knows “multiple” colleagues who were not contacted by human resources or who were told that the company couldn’t do anything about their concerns.

“We need to see concrete and meaningful action,” Fong-Jones said.

With its abundant perks, Google’s corporate culture is supposed to be one of the friendliest on the planet, inspiring loyalty among staffers and regularly landing the company atop lists of the best places to work.

Yet tensions have arisen over the company’s attempts to re-engineer its mostly white-and-Asian male demographics to include more women and people of color, painting a less rosy picture of work life and putting Google in the cross hairs of the nation’s increasing polarization.

Members of the far right have escalated their campaign against Google and the tech industry in recent weeks. Chuck Johnson, who was kicked off Twitter in 2015 after tweeting about wanting to “take out” civil rights activist DeRay McKesson, filed a lawsuit against Twitter on the same day that Damore filed his against Google. That week, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas also released undercover videos of Twitter employees that it said showed the company is out to quash conservative voices.

For the far right, Google, with its progressive views and policies, is an enticing target. Not only is it one of the best known companies on the planet, but Google also was responsible for kicking off tech’s push to bring more women and people of color into the industry in 2014 when it went public with its demographics, revealing that it employs few women and very few African Americans and Hispanics.

In addition to a broad range of initiatives to create a more diverse workforce and welcoming corporate culture, Google has also begun to support racial justice causes with grants from its philanthropic arm Google.org.

But good intentions have not translated into tangible progress and the company has encountered some setbacks. It’s being sued by women who allege Google pays them less than men and investigated by the Labor Department into what it says is “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire work force.” Google says its own analysis of employee compensation shows no gender pay gap.

At the same time, resistance to Google’s diversity efforts — from hiring more women and people of color to unconscious bias training — has been growing on the company’s internal message boards.

That debate blew up last August when Damore’s memo leaked and he was eventually fired. Earlier this month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he did not regret firing Damore, claiming it was not a political decision but a necessary step to make sure women at Google felt that the company was committed to creating a welcoming environment.

“It is important for the women at Google, and for all the people at Google,” Pichai said. “We want to make an inclusive environment.”

In his memo, Damore wrote that while he did not oppose diversity, efforts to increase the number of women in technology were unlikely to succeed because in general, women are more interested in people than ideas. Women are also more prone to anxiety and less tolerant of stress, Damore said.

This article was originally published in USA Today.

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