Google cancels staff meeting to address diversity imbroglio

The Google logo atop an office building in Irvine, California.
The Google logo atop an office building in Irvine, California. PHOTO: REUTERS

CALIFORNIA (BLOOMBERG) - Alphabet Inc.'s Google cancelled an all-hands meeting to address gender issues and the firing of an engineer who stirred controversy with a memo about hiring practices, citing concerns over staff safety.

In a memo to employees on Thursday afternoon (Aug 10), Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said he cancelled the meeting after questions to be asked at the meeting were posted online, raising concerns that employees identified in the leak would be harassed.

"In recognition of Googlers' concerns, we need to step back and create a better set of conditions for us to have the discussion," Pichai wrote. "So in the coming days, we will find several forums to gather and engage with Googlers, where people can feel comfortable to speak freely." A Google spokeswoman declined to comment further.

James Damore, a software engineer for the company, wrote an internal memo saying that women are biologically less suited than men to be engineers. It also decried Google's efforts to diversify its workforce. Google fired him on Monday, saying that the memo violated the company code of conduct and advanced "harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace". Damore has said that Google executives had "shamed" him for the views expressed in the memo.

The memo and firing has placed the company in the centre of a maelstrom of political controversy. Several commentators, some representing the far right, have blasted the company's decision, accusing it of suppressing free speech.

On Thursday, Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican Congressman from California, joined the online fray in support of Damore. "If Silicon Valley continues with its illegal hiring practice Congress must investigate #googlememo," he wrote on Twitter.

Ken Grubbs, a spokesman for Representative Rohrabacher, did not return a request for comment. Google has denied Damore's charge that its hiring practices are illegal.