Google Engineer's Criticism Of Diversity Programs Sparks Controversy

Aug 7, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week's All Tech Considered begins with a critique of diversity initiatives at Google. A senior software engineer wrote that critique and it went viral over the weekend. NPR's Laura Sydell reports some women at the company didn't go to work today because of it.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The critique called Google an ideological echo chamber. It laid waste to the company's current attempts to bring in more female engineers. The author, whose name has been withheld, says we need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism. He then went on to argue that women were less biologically suited to be engineers.

KELLY ELLIS: I know women who are actually taking sick days today.

SYDELL: Kelly Ellis is a former software engineer at Google. She still has a lot of friends who work there. Ellis actually left the company in 2014, she says, because she was sexually harassed.

ELLIS: For me, it's unfortunately completely unsurprising because I saw similar language when I was at Google.

SYDELL: Since Ellis left Google, it became the target of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor. It has accused the company of systematically discriminating against women. The company has denied this charge. Internally, Google has increased mandatory participation in programs aimed at unconscious biases. About 20 percent of Google's technical jobs are filled by women. Google's newly hired vice president of diversity, integrity and governance, Danielle Brown, sent out a memo in response to the current dustup.

Brown says Google attempts to create an inclusive environment that tolerates dissent. But she also said that it needs to work alongside principles of equal employment found in the company code of conduct and anti-discrimination laws. Twitter has been filled with responses to the controversy. Some have called on Google to fire the senior engineer. Former Googler Ellis thinks that is what Google should do because even though he's not a manager, his opinions could impact female engineers.

ELLIS: The main input to Google's performance review process is peer review, your peers writing feedback on your work.

SYDELL: The law is a little unclear as to whether Google could fire the employee. Generally, political speech is protected under labor laws. But the fact that this particular employee could have an impact on hiring and payment might leave him open to being terminated. Google is known as a place that likes to work through problems by using research and facts. It may sit the employee down and point out that in countries like Iran, 70 percent of the engineering and science graduates are women.

Sources inside Google have told NPR that various managers have directly written notes to their employees saying that regardless of what this particular engineer thinks, their employees should continue to stick with Google's anti-discrimination policies. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.