Why did the all-male leadership at Google fail to make a statement over the weekend?
One of the country’s largest companies had a very rough weekend, and it had nothing to do with its products or services. Instead, Google joined Amazon, Uber, and many other tech giants experiencing a self-inflicted string of massive workplace culture breakdowns.
Google’s current sh*tshow came via an inarguably sexist 3,000-word memo written by a relatively junior engineer. The memo, which covered its misogyny with sophomoric sops to diversity of intellectual discourse, was posted to Google’s internal network, a version of the company’s Google+ service used only by employees. When Vice’s Motherboard got wind of the post Saturday and wrote about it, all hell broke loose. Then Gizmodo got a copy of the actual screed, and Techmeme lit up with follow-ons from just about every outlet imaginable.
The tempest comes at a particularly bad time for Google, which is facing a lawsuit from the Department of Labor claiming the company has systemically discriminated against women. Youch.
Perhaps the most thoughtful response came from a former Googler named Yonatan Zunger, who recently left a senior post at the company to join his colleague Lazlo Bock at a startup called Humu, which as far as I can tell is dedicated to addressing many of the cultural problems inherent in workplace-related incidents like this. Zunger points out that in fact, engineering and tech is not just about how bitchin’ or fast or admired by your mostly male peers your code might be. It’s also how well you understand the human condition. And to do that, well, it helps to have the half of humans known as women around. You know, because they’re half of humanity.
But the most kickass response came from Erica Joy Baker, director of engineering at Kickstarter. In it, she demands: “Google leadership should do a post-mortem, a real one, on how the company got to this place where they’ve experienced such a catastrophic failure in their culture, assuming it is indeed viewed as such.” Damn straight!
But is it viewed as such?
By this morning, Google’s HR execs had publicly responded to the situation by releasing a carefully crafted initial statement. (I’m sure none of them enjoyed what would have otherwise been a sleepy August weekend). Danielle Brown, Google’s newly minted VP of diversity, integrity and governance (literally, she’s three weeks into the job) laid out the company’s response in a memo published by both Motherboard and Recode. In it, she treads a fine line between supporting employee’s right to voice unpopular opinions, and re-asserting Google’s policy that internal speech must “work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
This was too careful a statement, to my mind. And what I find interesting is what hasn’t been said. And who hasn’t said it. As of this writing…
Larry Page, CEO of Google parent Alphabet and co-founder of Google, has not said a word. In fact, he hasn’t said much of anything for years, even on Google+. Co-founder Sergey Brin hasn’t said anything either.
Eric Schmidt, Chair of Alphabet, has been mute. Though he has tweeted on unrelated topics since the storm hit.
This is a massive mistake. Leaders must be quick to condemn clear violations of internal policy, particularly when they also contravene hard won (and politically threatened) cultural norms. There is an incredibly important set of conversations to be had about the issues raised here; condemning the sexism of the author’s views won’t obviate that dialog.
But saying nothing and letting someone who’s been with the company for three weeks carry the entire ball? Bad move.
(While it’s impossible to know if the two things are related, the #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinions hashtag was trending on Twitter all weekend long…)
A Health Care Disaster, Courtesy of Federal Policy
A New Republic article this past weekend traces the rise of fast food franchises in poor, ethnic neighborhoods to intentional government policy that sought to encourage entrepreneurship. The piece reviews Supersizing Urban America, a new book by Chin Jou, a public health historian. Both the book and the article are worth reading, as is the core message: Public policy matters, we ignore it at our own long-term peril.
And Speaking of Government….
Google (and all tech giants) got some more bad news today, as details of a proposed new British data policy, called the Data Protection Bill, were reported by Sky News. The draft legislation considers massive fines for breaches of its stricture, which include the “right to be forgotten,” explicit consent for data use, consumer-driven editing of data, and abandonment of the Valley’s favorite tool: The default opt-out. Watch this space. It’s super important.
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