Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Markets | By Otis Pena

Alphabet faces pressure over diversity at shareholder meeting

Alphabet faces pressure over diversity at shareholder meeting

Google software engineer Irene Knapp, who presented the proposal at the meeting on behalf of Zevin.

But Alphabet heads voted down the proposals, prompting pushback from employees concerned with the company's ability to hire and retain talent, which could eventually damage Alphabet's ability to innovate.

"The lack of clear communicated policies and actions to advance diversity and inclusion with concrete accountability and leadership from senior executives has left many of us feeling unsafe and unable to do our work", Knapp said.

The proposed metrics will incentivize long-term progress on diversity and inclusion.

For the past year, Google's campus has been a frequent battleground between warring ideologies, with left-leaning employees demanding more workplace diversity and conservatives demanding more tolerance of their views, led by former employee James Damore.

"The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture. Responses from HR have been inadequate leaving minority communities unprotected", Knapp added.

In past months, Google was sued for alleged age discrimination by 250 would-be employees; for alleged wrongful termination by a disabled, queer, transgender engineer Tim Chevalier; and for alleged discrimination against white men and conservatives by Damore, who was sacked after his internal memo on the scarcity of women in tech went viral. Last August, it got national attention for the 3,000-word Damore memo, which argued that the gender gap in the tech industry in part exists not because of sexism, but because of "biological" differences between men and women. This backwards response is tied to immediate retention issues, as entire support networks shut down in fear. However, Alphabet must also immediately address human capital risk by improving its code of conduct, by cracking down on malicious leaks that have intimidated individuals, by publishing to employees a manual formalizing the procedures for HR investigations, and by finding a solution for bad-faith HR complaints. Google reported that the median gender pay gap for its United Kingdom operations was near 11 percent, but has not published similar information on its global operations, according to Brown.

It's just the latest example of Google employees openly clashing with the company.

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Last month, Google backed away from its artificial intelligence partnership with the Pentagon after dozens of employees resigned.

Google didn't specifically address those controversies on Wednesday, but Pichai mentioned the company's responsibility in getting those kinds of things right. "We are asking ourselves all those questions".

Google remains committed to an internal goal of reaching "market supply" representation of women and minorities by 2020, human resources chief Eileen Naughton told Reuters.

"I can confirm that for every new Alphabet board opening, we will consider a set of candidates that includes both underrepresented people of color and different genders", said John Hennessy, chairman of the board.

On Wednesday, those issues were in full view again at Alphabet's annual meeting with shareholders at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. Google's most recent diversity report, from June of past year, showed the tech giant overwhelmingly employs white men, with 69% of its workforce being male and 56% of its workforce being white.

"Facebook's recent data scandals should be a warning to all Alphabet shareholders as well", Abigail Shaw, with NorthStar Asset Management, said at the meeting introducing a proposal to about Alphabet's corporate governance.

"Alphabet shareholders need to heed the warning that poor governance can, and likely will, result in an eventual downturn in shareholder value", she said.

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