Diversity was a hot-button topic at Alphabet’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.
Two proposals called for an increase in diversity within the company, though from vastly different perspectives.
In an unusual move, a Google engineer presented the first proposal on behalf of Zevin Asset Management. The proposal, which was voted down, called for Alphabet’s executive compensation to be tied to gender, racial and ethnic diversity metrics in employee recruiting and retention. The engineer who presented it, Irene Knapp, said in a prepared statement that internal diversity and inclusion activities had been “met with a disorganized array of responses, including formal reprimand.”
Knapp also referenced a “chilling effect” that harassment and doxxing had on productivity and company culture, referring to the responses that followed the lawsuit filed by fired Google engineer James Damore.
Damore was fired after his internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts went viral. The suit in January, accusing Google of discriminating against white, male and conservative employees, included many employee names and profile pictures.
Knapp’s statement challenged Google to improve 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.”
Immediately following Knapp’s presentation, Justin Danoff from the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank, presented a proposal calling for more ideological diversity on Alphabet’s board.
Danoff spurned Damore’s firing and recommended that Alphabet hire conservative board members to avoid “group-think.”
Alphabet is currently looking to fill two board seats.
“Diversity is not what someone looks like,” Danoff said. “It’s the sum of what they think, they feel, and they believe, and at this company it appears that thinking and believing in conservative policies is verboten.”
That proposal was also voted down.
The two presentations are representative of an internal turmoil that Google has faced in the last year. The company has been hit with a spat of opposing lawsuits, which argue that it is either not doing enough or going too far in its push for diversity.
Here’s the full statement from Knapp:
My name is Irene Knapp and I am an engineer at Google. On behalf of Zevin Asset Management and concerned employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries, I hereby move Proposal Number 8. Integrating executive performance measures with diversity and inclusion metrics will further our company’s values, address long-term human capital risks, and make it clear that diversity and inclusion are a business priority throughout the organization.
Diversity and inclusion are key components of business sustainability and success. McKinsey & Company research shows that companies in the top quartiles for gender and racial/ethnic diversity were more likely to have above average financial returns.
Yet, at Alphabet, diversity and inclusion activities by individual contributors and managers alike — including mentorship, outreach, and community building — have been met with a disorganized array of responses, including formal reprimand. 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.
The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture. Responses from HR have been inadequate, leaving minority communities unprotected. Now we are forced to weigh the risks to ourselves before giving each other support. This backwards response is tied to immediate retention issues, as entire support networks shut down in fear.
The proposed metrics will incentivize long-term progress on diversity and inclusion. 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. We are hopeful that executives are finding ways to implement these solutions, as concerned employees requested two months ago.
It is our belief as investors, as engineers, and as technical professionals, that a lack of executive leadership around sustainability, diversity and inclusion fundamentally hurts the quality of products Alphabet can deliver to users. As a company that aims to focus on the next billion internet users and bring the convenience and power of information access to them, Alphabet must credibly integrate diversity and inclusion into its strategy.
Today, it is clear that Alphabet shareholders are listening to employees’ experience, and standing with us as we all challenge our company to be better. Together, we are sending a strong message to Alphabet’s leadership that they must prioritize diversity and inclusion in the interest of all employees and of long-term investor value.
We urge our fellow shareholders to support Proposal Number 8.