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Sundar Pichai cuts short family vacation; fires Google engineer who wrote sexist email

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“People must feel free to express dissent,” says Pichai.

Sundar Pichai (Courtesy of twitter)

Everything inside Google wasn’t fine in the absence of Sundar Pichai, who had gone for family vacation.

Sensing trouble in Google, Pichai has announced early return from vacation and prior to his re-joining, the first thing he did was to fire the engineer who wrote the sexist email to fellow Googlers.

In a strongly worded email to Googlers, Pichai said that the memo sent by a male engineer at Google crossed the limits of stereotyping women employees.

Talking about the contentious the 3,300-word manifesto, which became viral on social media after it was circulated in-house, Pichai said the email suggested “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” in the workplace.

The Indian American CEO of the search engine giant was recently elevated as one of the board directors of the parent firm Alphabet.

According to Recode, the employee who wrote the sexist email has been sacked and Google has retracted from revealing further details citing its policy to not to comment on individual employees.

In the letter to Googlers Pichai wrote: “First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.”

ALSO READ: Sexist memo of Googler: First test for Google Diversity VP Danielle Brown

“However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives,” he added.

Confronting the views expressed by the now expelled googler, Pichai wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. 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.’”

The strong words of Pichai suggested an imminent firing of the Google engineer who has been receiving both support and criticism since the email went viral.

The expulsion of the employee might not douse the fire within the search engine giant as it will open up bigger questions and wider debate over gender equality within the Silicon Valley big wigs and across.

The letter written by the Googler, which even on a peripheral look can be deemed sexist, looked as if an attack on the female VP of Diversity, Danielle Brown who took the position last month after making a departure from Intel.

Marking her take on the sexist memo, Brown wrote, “Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”

Google VP Ari Balogh had reacted to the anti-women email of the google engineer saying that “I’d like to respond to the ‘pc-considered-harmful’” post. Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way.”

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“But, in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful,” he added.

Within the walls of Google, the employees were taken aback by the sexist email, and many internal discussion groups were abuzz with talks about the class of the engineer who wrote the email.

According to CNN, some sources within Google has confirmed that there was lot many discussion about firing the engineer and at the same time, some groups supported his stating that he has to right to voice his opinion.

Concluding his email to Googlers Pichai said that there a few section of employees who are questioning whether they can safely express their opinions, especially ones that might fall into a minority.

“They too feel under threat, and that’s not OK,” he wrote. “People must feel free to express dissent.”

On the other hand, Pichai added that he has also taken into consideration some of the valid points mentioned by the Google engineer in the email such as the “portions criticizing Google’s training, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all”

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Read the full text of Pichai’s email to Googlers, sent a day before he announced his early return from family vacation to mitigate the ballooning crisis within Goggle:

From: Sundar

Subject: Our words matter

This has been a very difficult few days. I wanted to provide an update on the memo that was circulated over this past week.

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. 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.”

The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being “agreeable” rather than “assertive,” showing a “lower stress tolerance,” or being “neurotic.”

At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo — such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all — are important topics. The author had a right to express their views on those topics — we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.

The past few days have been very difficult for many at the company, and we need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree — while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct. I’d encourage each of you to make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own. I will be doing the same.

I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group — including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.

So please join me, along with members of the leadership team at a town hall on Thursday. Check your calendar soon for details.

— Sundar

Read the full text of the email sent by the Google Engineer