KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Is The Memo Controversy A Pivot Point On Diversity For Google?

Aug 9, 2017
Originally published on August 9, 2017 3:47 pm

Google fired a male employee after he wrote an incendiary memo about women at work. But now what?

The tech giant has a poor track record when it comes to diversity. A new leader at Google could have the solution — if her bosses want to listen.

At the center of this storm is the company's new chief diversity officer, Danielle Brown. Just a few weeks into the job, she's been out front. In her own memo, she rebuked the controversial post by the fired male employee, saying simply: "It advanced incorrect assumptions about gender."

She also said diversity is a "fundamental part" of Google's values. "We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we'll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul," she wrote.

But what Google does next — what commitment it makes, if any, to look more like the rest of America — remains to be seen. What Brown did just before coming to Google may provide a clue.

Brown talked with NPR last year, while at the chipmaker Intel. "I think maybe two or three specific things that explain our success," she said, "The first thing is accountability. Setting these goals, communicating the goals, tying pay to the goals, I think that's been key."

She was at an important place, at an important time. Intel had decided to do something no other tech giant had done before: publicly state how many women and underrepresented minorities it wanted to recruit, and how many it managed to retain. Of all new hires, Intel told the world, at least 40 percent have to be women or underrepresented minorities.

"I think publishing the data, showing our employees the data, and regularly looking at and talking about our data — transparency really helps us see where we're hurting, where we need to fix, and jibe in with quick solutions," she explained.

Google has thrown money at the diversity problem — more than a quarter-billion dollars, according to Axios. But this company, which values metrics so much has not publicly stated any measurable goals when it comes to diversity hiring or employee retention.

In its latest diversity report, Google said 31 percent of its employees are women and that women represent 20 percent of the company's tech workers, up from 17 percent three years ago.

But Google hasn't disclosed the numbers of new hires or of exits, by gender and race. And the company has little to show for its efforts thus far.

This heated moment could be a teachable one. The lesson from Intel, Brown explained when she was that company's diversity czar, was: Public pressure and scrutiny makes goals more real.

"We did make tremendous progress on women this year," she said at the time. "And specifically what we were able to do this year is help really narrow the gap in female representation."

NPR requested an interview with Brown, to talk about her plans at her new company. A Google spokesperson declined NPR's request and said: "I can't tell you what the strategy is going to be. I can't say one way or the other if Danielle is going to try to mimic her work at Intel. But the spirit of her success record — that's something we'd like to have here."

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Google fired a male software engineer after he wrote an incendiary post about women at work. He claimed that biology in part explained why there were more men than women in the tech field. And he slammed Google's diversity program as discriminatory. But the tech giant does have a poor track record when it comes to diversity. A new leader at Google could have the solution if her bosses want to listen. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: At the center of this storm at Google is the company's new chief diversity officer, a woman named Danielle Brown. Just a few weeks into the job, she's been out front. In her own memo, she rebuked the controversial post by the fired male employee, saying simply, it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. She also said Google is committed to diversity. But what Google does next, what commitment it makes - if any - to look more like the rest of America, remains to be seen. What Brown did just before coming to Google may provide a clue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DANIELLE BROWN: Yeah, so I think maybe two or three specific things that explain our success.

SHAHANI: This is Brown talking with NPR last year while at the chip maker Intel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BROWN: The first thing is accountability. Setting these goals, communicating the goals, tying pay to the goals - I think that's been key.

SHAHANI: She was at an important place at an important time. Intel had decided to do something no other tech giant had done before - publicly state how many women and underrepresented minorities it wanted to recruit and how many it managed to retain. Of all new hires, Intel told the world, at least 40 percent have to be women or underrepresented minorities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BROWN: Transparency. I think publishing the data, showing our employees the data, and regularly looking at and talking about our data. And we talk about this a lot. I think that transparency really helps us see where we're hurting and where we need to fix and jibe in with quick solutions.

SHAHANI: Google has thrown money at the diversity problem - more than a quarter-billion dollars. But this company which values metrics so much - it's all about the data - it has not publicly stated any measurable goals when it comes to diversity hiring or employee retention. Google hasn't disclosed the numbers of new hires or of exits by gender and race. This heated moment could be a teachable moment. The lesson from Intel, Brown explained when she was their diversity czar, was public pressure. Scrutiny makes goals more real.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BROWN: We did make tremendous progress on women this year. And specifically, what we were able to do this year is help really narrow the gap in female representation.

SHAHANI: NPR requested an interview with Danielle Brown to talk about her plans at her new company. A Google spokesperson declined NPR's request and said, quote, "I can't tell you what the strategy is going to be. I can't say one way or the other if Danielle's going to try to mimic her work at Intel. But the spirit of her success record, that's something we'd like to have here," end quote. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.