Google CEO Pichai calls off staff diversity meeting after Googlers voice safety fears

Google is searching for an answer to the fallout from that anti-diversity memo.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google CEO Sundar Pichai: "We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion."

Image: James Martin/CNET

Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday canceled a companywide meeting over the explosive memo written by software engineer James Damore, who was subsequently fired for promoting "harmful gender stereotypes".

Pichai called off the meeting 30 minutes before its scheduled start because staff were worried they'd be 'outed' for asking a question.

Damore's memo on an internal message board argued that biological differences between men and women explained why few woman had leadership roles at Google. Essentially, women couldn't stomach the demands of a high-pressure role, the memo said.

He also argued that Google's culture was biased against people with politically conservative views, and questioned its diversity training.

While his views on gender were seen by many as offensive, there is some support for his criticism of Google's tolerance for diversity of opinion and the transparency of its diversity programs.

Google's firing of Damore has made him something of a free expression martyr among conservatives.

In an interview with two right-wing YouTube personalities, Damore said he wrote the memo after attending a "secretive" Google diversity program.

"There was a lot of just shaming. 'No, you can't say that. That's sexist. You can't do this'," he said.

The decision to cancel the meeting came after the names of Google employees who criticized Damore were made public. Wired reported that on Wednesday alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos "posted on his Facebook page the Twitter biographies of eight Google employees who criticized Damore's post".

On Thursday, the highest-ranking question on Dory, a system for Google staff to vote on questions, was from an employee who was worried they would be harassed or threatened if their opinion was leaked to outsiders.

"We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward," wrote Pichai.

"But our Dory questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites Googlers are now being named personally. Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be 'outed' publicly for asking a question."

The Verge reported that just after cancelling the meeting, Pichai spoke at a coding event for young women.

"I think to do that well we really need to have people internally who represent the world in totality. And that's how we think about it. So it's really important that more women and girls have the opportunity to participate in technology, to learn how to code, create, and innovate," said Pichai.

"I know the journey won't always be easy, but to the girls who dream of being an engineer or an entrepreneur, and who dream of creating amazing things: I want you to know that there's a place for you in this industry, there's a place for you at Google. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You belong here and we need you."

Previous coverage

Google fires anti-diversity engineer

While CEO Sundar Pichai has emphasised the importance of employees feeling safe to express their views, Google has fired the engineer responsible for the internal memo arguing that biology is the cause of gender inequality in the tech industry.

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Arguing the gender gap in tech is due to biological differences, a Google engineer's memo has sparked outrage.

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