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Google Grapples With Fallout After Employee Slams Diversity Efforts

Google executives say their company is committed to inclusion, after an engineer's criticisms of its diversity efforts sparked conversations outside the company this weekend.

In a 3,300-word document that has been shared across Google's internal networks, an engineer at the company wrote that "biological causes" are part of the reason women aren't represented equally in its tech departments and leadership. The document also cited "men's higher drive for status."

The engineer's criticism of Google's attempts to improve gender and racial diversity has prompted two Google executives to rebut the lengthy post, which accused the company of creating an "ideological echo chamber" and practicing discrimination.

Danielle Brown, Google's vice president of diversity, stated, "Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company."

The document made headlines over the weekend after reports from Motherboard and Gizmodo. In it, the author equated the company's effort to attract more women to work in technology to (hypothetical, we assume) efforts to achieve gender balance in other areas, such as "the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts."

Wide sharing of the document has highlighted struggles with gender equality and the wage gap in the tech industry and particularly at Google, which was sued by the federal government earlier this year for refusing to share compensation amounts and other data.

In April, a Department of Labor official accused Google of practicing "systemic" discrimination against female employees.

But in contrast, the document's author — whose identity hasn't been publicly released but who claims to work at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters — accused Google of having "a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence."

Not enough has been done, the engineer said, to encourage a diversity of viewpoints and ideologies at Google. The author also faulted the company for offering mentoring and other opportunities to its employees based on gender or race.

It was only weeks ago that Brown joined Google as its new diversity chief; in an internal email to employees, she said that while she had intended to delay sending any company-wide messages, "given the heated debate we've seen over the past few days, I feel compelled to say a few words."

Of the lengthy document on diversity, Brown told Google employees, "like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender."

"Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data" and by taking other steps, she said.

Google maintains an online graphic of its employee demographics; here's the current breakdown:

  • Women make up 25 percent of the company's leadership
  • Women hold 20 percent of technology jobs
  • Overall, 31 percent of Google's employees are female
  • 56 percent of employees are white; 35 percent are Asian
  • 4 percent are Hispanic, 4 percent are mixed-race, and 2 percent are black

Brown also cited a separate response from Ari Balogh, a vice president in engineering who heads the department in which the employee works. In that note, Balogh stressed the importance of Google being open and inclusive, writing, "we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part."

Balogh continued, "One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful."

Another engineer, Yonatan Zunger, who recently left Google, wrote an essay in which he explored three main reactions to the post. From that essay:

  • (1) Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.
  • (2) Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.
  • (3) And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.

Addressing the engineer who wrote the document, Zunger wrote, "If you hadn't written this manifesto, then maybe we'd be having a conversation about the skills you need to learn to not be blocked in your career — which are precisely the ones you described as 'female skills.'"

As for the author's feeling that their views couldn't be discussed openly, Zunger called the author's views "fundamentally corrosive" to any organization.

Another response came from software developer Sarah Mei, who devoted a string of tweets to criticize both the document and the way its argument was presented.

"This guy almost certainly thinks of himself as a 'computer scientist', but he does exactly what you're not supposed to do as a scientist," Mei wrote. "He draws a conclusion favorable to his ego, and then works backwards from there, constructing an argument to justify it."

In another tweet, Mei said, "This google dude literally works at the company that made it _trivially easy_ to locate relevant social science research."

As for the author, the engineer who wrote the document said it was intended to prompt an honest discussion — one that could explore "blind spots" that can develop from inherent or unconscious biases.

In a footnote to the document, the author added, "Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint."

At times, the author appears to take conflicting positions.

The engineer began the document by stating, "I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don't endorse using stereotypes."

The message ended with a similar sentiment — but with the added notion, "Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the [company's] training suggests."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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