Google Searches for Answers in Diversity Crisis

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In reading about the recent “leaked” email incident at Google, I asked our CEO Jim Satterfield what he thought of the response from Google. His thoughts are included in the below.

If you have not seen the email that started a very animated conversation, in a nutshell: Google employee James Damore was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes” via this internal email. The 10-page document titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” calls for the company to replace its diversity initiatives with ones that promote “ideological diversity,” condemning Google’s diversity efforts and claiming men are biologically more predisposed to working in the tech industry than women.

Wojcicki Response to James Damore Google Manifesto

Portion of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s comments

The release of the internal document was quickly followed by first, Google employees voicing their outrage over the document, and then the media, both traditional and social through leaks, comment sharing and screenshots. The document first went viral internally, being shared on an internal network and Google+. The document was then reported by Motherboard, and Gizmodo obtained the text in full.

In an internal memo to Google employees, CEO Sundar Pichai said that he had cut his family vacation short to return to work and tackle the issues raised in what some are deeming a “manifesto.”

Peers are commenting as well.  YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote a reaction piece that is being widely distributed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch and according to a variety of media outlets, the email author and former employee James Damore calls his dismissal illegal and says he is “exploring all possible legal remedies.” Of course he is.

Wired first reported on the challenge of communication in this regard, noting that Google Executives seemed to be “caught off-guard” and may not be completely aligned in their responses.

Google recently announced a new head of diversity – Danielle Brown, previously at Intel – in response to gender pay-gap allegations; the US Department of Labor has claimed that the company was withholding documentation related to a compliance audit, and that it has been systematically underpaying its female employees.

Brown’s response to this internal memo incident states, in-part, that “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

CEO Sundar Pichai’s full response memo reads:

This has been a very difficult time. I wanted to provide an update on the memo that was circulated over this past week.

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being “agreeable” rather than “assertive,” showing a “lower stress tolerance,” or being “neurotic.”

At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo—such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all—are important topics. The author had a right to express their views on those topics—we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.

The past few days have been very difficult for many at the company, and we need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree—while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct. I’d encourage each of you to make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own. I will be doing the same.

I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group—including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.

In a crisis, you don’t have Time. For. Anything.

If you don’t prepare in advance, you will not have the ability to optimize conversations and messages to the marketplace. There’s no getting out in front of a racehorse that’s left the barn.

As this Google incident illustrates, the rate of change is one of the biggest exposures organizations, management and employees face today. Individuals and organizations in even the most technologically sophisticated environments like Google, are no longer able to forecast what vulnerabilities and threats exist in the very technologies they create and use.

In today’s instant media and digital landscape, how much time do you have to respond to a risk or threat? None.

  • You must identify threats before they become crises
  • Your organization’s exposures are unique
  • Your intelligence network design must be customized to address your identified risk profile
  • Intelligence is not a just a search or a single piece of information (although Google may argue this point)
  • Waiting until it is too late is not an option

When we talk about crisis management, we’re really talking about consequence management.  When a crisis occurs, what are the consequences faced by the organization?

Given that, we know organizations have frameworks, processes and plans to run their businesses. This operational approach provides brand consistency and provides a proven business model. This planning focuses on maintaining quality and building a profitable business when everything goes right. The same operational planning requirements exist when things go wrong; you don’t run other aspects of your operation without planning, so why is crisis consistently neglected?

While most enterprise-level organizations such as Google have Crisis Communication plans in place, I wonder if they have one for “When someone internally does something or says something really offensive.”

That would be a good start. An organization’s reputation, brand, legacy and profitability hang in the balance during a crisis. If you plan in advance for the questions: “What should we do now?” and “What should we say now?” making good decisions and implementing them may see your company exit stronger from the crisis.

Crises have impacts – for good and bad. Every crisis is a combination of opportunity and danger from its onset. Initial critical decisions, crisis communications, monitoring of events, and subsequent adjustments made to strategies and actions as events develop determine what it ultimately becomes.  It is your organization. It is your people. It is your brand. It is your reputation.

  • The consequences of any crisis will be changed, amplified, modified, etc. by your response
  • Consequence management is the process of steering the outcome to the best possible place
  • Consequence management can only be done by predicting the vulnerability or threat, developing a plan and continually monitoring and updating that plan to maximize performance

We want you to Crisis STOP™: Slow the process, control panic, identify the immediate concerns, provide direction and lay the foundation for consequence management. The opportunity for organizational spokespersons to speak with one voice is far greater with planning.

You will face a crisis within your organization. The moment a crisis occurs should not be the time you stop and think “we should have a crisis plan for this.”

Today is the day to start thinking about your crisis plan.


Google Manifesto’ Firing Highlights What You Can and Can’t Say at Work


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