Google seems to be taking hits from all sides these days, and the announcement of another “diversity” lawsuit directed at the firm by an ex-employee only adds to the escalating mix.
The specific events related to these suits all postdate my consulting inside Google some years ago, but I know a lot of Googlers — among the best people I know, by the way — and I still have a pretty good sense of how Google’s internal culture functions.
Google is in a classic “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” position right now, exacerbated by purely political forces (primarily of the alt-right) that are attempting to leverage these situations to their own advantage — and ultimately to the disadvantage of Google, Google’s users, and the broader community at large.
This all really began with Google’s completely justified firing of alt-right darling James Damore after he internally promulgated what is now widely known as his “anti-diversity” memo.
The crux of the matter — as I see it, anyway — is that while Google’s internal discussion culture is famously vibrant and open (I can certainly attest to that myself!) — Google still has a corporate and ethical responsibility to provide a harassment-free workplace. That’s why Damore’s memo resulted in his termination.
But “harassment” (at least in a legal sense) doesn’t necessarily only apply to one side of these arguments.
To put this into more context, I need only think of various corporate environments that I’ve seen over my career, where it would have been utterly unthinkable to have the level of open discussion that is not only permitted by Google but encouraged there. At many firms today, Google’s internal openness in this regard would still be prohibited.
Many Googlers have never experienced such more typical corporate workplaces where open discussion of a vast range of topics is impractical or prohibited.
Yet even in an open discussion environment like Google’s, there have to be some limits. This is particularly true with personnel issues like diversity, that not only involve complex legal matters, but can be extremely sensitive personally to individual employees as well.
The upshot of all this — in my opinion — is that “public” internal personnel discussions per se are generally inappropriate for any corporate environment given the current legal and toxic political landscapes, especially with evil forces ready and willing to latch onto any leaks to further their own destructive agendas, e.g. as I discussed in “How the Alt-Right Plans to Control Google” — https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/09/29/how-the-alt-right-plans-to-control-google — and in other posts.
Personnel matters are much better suited to direct and private communications with corporate HR than for widely viewed internal discussion forums.
This isn’t a happy analysis for me. Most of us either know victims of harassment or have been harassed one way or another ourselves. And it’s clear that the kinds of harassment most in focus today are largely being encouraged by alt-right perpetrators, up to and including the sociopath currently in the Oval Office.
But in the long run, acting compulsively on our gut instincts in these regards — however noble those instincts may be — can be positively disastrous to our attempts to stop harassment and other evils. How and where these discussions take place can be fully as important as the actual contents of the discussions themselves. Insisting on such discussions within inappropriate environments, especially when complicated laws and “go for the jugular” external politics can be involved, is typically very much a losing tactic.
Overall, I believe that Google is handling this situation in pretty much the best ways that are actually possible today.