Five takeaways from the diversity-memo imbroglio
Google’s Code of Conduct is at the center of another Silicon Valley workplace discrimination firestorm. In contrast to the sexual harassment scandal that erupted earlier this year, following a blog post by a former Uber engineer – a female – the latest controversy involves a male software engineer at Google, who posted a memo questioning the company’s diversity policies and claiming the lack of women in technology jobs may be due to biological causes.
In an email to staff, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that while employees have the right to express their opinions, portions of the engineer’s memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” As a result, the employee was fired.
“It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination,” Pichai said.
Danielle Brown, Google’s new vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, responded in a memo saying, “part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
Pichai then called for a company-wide meeting to address questions and concerns but canceled it when some employees reported being harassed and bullied online after their names and the questions they submitted for the meeting were published on a variety of websites. Pichai’s follow-up letter to employees, published in Recode, promised to find other forums to “gather and engage with Googlers, where people can feel comfortable to speak freely. We’ll share details soon.”
While Google’s diversity-memo firestorm is still simmering, consider these five takeaways that can apply to any organization actively committed to promoting diversity and inclusion and addressing gender bias:
- Develop a comprehensive diversity and inclusion policy as part of your Code of Conduct and provide guidelines for keeping political and other hot-button discussions in the workplace civil and legal.
- Update your Code of Conduct training so it accurately reflects your diversity and inclusion policy, corporate culture and expectations for maintaining a respectful and harassment-free workplace.
- Clearly communicate to all employees, contractors and third parties that violations of your Code of Code and anti-discrimination and harassment policies can result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
- Take a proactive approach to workplace bullying – whether it occurs online or off. Establish specific policies to protect employees from bullying, include examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior and provide avenues for employees to report incidents of bullying.
- Put a process in place so that you can quickly investigate and resolve complaints of abusive conduct.
As we’ve seen in several high-profile examples this year, diversity and gender equality are complex workplace issues, which can generate strong debate. That is not likely to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, many organizations have implemented diversity and inclusion programs as part of a strategic objective to foster a safe and productive workplace for all employees. Your Code of Conduct training can be a powerful tool to support your diversity efforts by educating staff on the value of diversity, equality and inclusion and reinforcing your expectations that all employees, regardless of their job title, must comply with anti-discrimination and harassment laws and uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior.