SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 11 – Google Thursday canceled a Town Hall intended to air viewpoints on diversity, sexism and free speech, citing worker safety concerns.
“We’ll find a better way to help our employees connect and discuss these important issues further,” a Google spokesperson said in response to an AFP inquiry.
The employee gathering was scheduled to air viewpoints swirling in after the dismissal of a Google engineer over a memo defending the Silicon Valley gender gap.
The “manifesto” published as an internal memo by James Damore claimed “biological differences” were a key factor in the low percentage of women in technology jobs and sparked outcry from those claiming it perpetuated stereotypes and discrimination.
Then Damore was fired — according to media reports and his own email to the far-right news website Breitbart — which ignited backlash from those claiming Google was stifling free speech and politically conservative viewpoints.
News of the Town Hall cancelation was sent to employees in a memo from chief executive Sundar Pichai, who apologized to them for giving late notice.
Questions being posed internally by “Googlers,” along with some of their names, began appearing on outside websites, prompting safety concerns, according to a copy of the memo obtained by AFP.
“We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward,” Pichai said in the memo.
“Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.”
He said Google intends a series of internal forums in coming days to give people chances to speak freely without fear.
Pichai said that he has met with many people at Google about the controversy, with the vast majority supporting the decision to fire the author of the manifesto.
The company has not officially identified the engineer at issue, citing employee privacy.
The fresh controversy comes with Silicon Valley struggling in the face of accusations of rampant sexual harassment and discrimination affecting startups like Uber and venture capital firms investing in the sector.
Earlier this week, Pichai said employees have a right to express themselves but that the memo appeared to “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” Pichai said in his email to employees.
Damore’s firing made him a hero to the far right and those claiming political correctness has gone too far.