Google surprised many of its workers Thursday after the company suddenly canceled a town-hall meeting in the wake of the firing of a worker who had written the controversial leaked memo on diversity.
In an email to employees, CEO Sundar Picahi said some workers had expressed concerns they would be “outed” for their questions about the company and the firing, The Wall Street Journal reported. The names of some workers who posed questions in an internal online forum reportedly leaked on multiple right-leaning websites and social media.
“Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall,” Picahi added.
The fired engineer, James Damore, wrote a memo criticizing Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for “alienating conservatives.” The parts that drew much of the outrage made such assertions as women “prefer jobs in social and artistic areas” and have a “lower stress tolerance” and “harder time” leading, while more men “may like coding because it requires systemizing.”
Google’s code of conduct says workers “are expected to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination.” Picahi said Damore violated this code.
Damore later spoke out about the company’s culture. “There was a lot of just shaming and ‘no, you can’t say that, that’s sexist,'” he said in the interview posted online. “There’s just so much hypocrisy in a lot of things they are saying.”
The fallout comes as Silicon Valley faces a watershed moment over gender and ethnic diversity.
Blamed for years for not hiring enough women and minorities — and not welcoming them once they are hired — tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber have promised big changes. These have included diversity and mentoring programs and coding classes for groups underrepresented among the companies’ technical and leadership staff. Many tech companies also pledge to interview, though not necessarily hire, minority candidates.
Initially shared on an internal Google network, the memo leaked out to the public over the weekend, first in bits and pieces and then in its 10-page entirety.
It took a life of its own as outsiders weighed in. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took to Twitter to offer Damore a job. One conservative group, Americans for Limited Government, criticized what it called Google’s politically correct culture and left-wing bias. Others called for a Google boycott.
Known for its motto, “don’t be evil,” Google is broadly seen as a liberal-leaning company, something Damore criticized in his manifesto. Liberals and tech industry leaders came to Google’s defense and denounced Damore’s claims as baseless and harmful.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.