Google says caste discrimination has no place in its workplace. It also has a very clear policy against retaliation and discrimination
Widespread caste bias has spread from India through the diaspora and arrived inside Google, headed by its Indian American CEO Sundar Pichai, according to the Washington Post.
Google had planned to host a talk in April about caste bias by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder and executive director of Equality Labs — an Oakland, California, based nonprofit that advocates for Dalits, or members of the lowest-ranked caste —for Dalit History Month.
But the talk was canceled despite a direct appeal to Pichai after Google employees began spreading disinformation, calling her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu” in emails to the company’s leaders, the Post said citing documents posted on Google’s intranet and some unnamed employees.
Read: Former employee sues Google for discriminating against white men (January 9, 2018)
Tanuja Gupta, a senior manager at Google News who invited Soundararajan to speak, resigned over the incident, the Post said citing a copy of her goodbye email posted internally Wednesday.
In Gupta’s goodbye email, she questioned whether Google wanted its diversity efforts to succeed. “Retaliation is a normalized Google practice to handle internal criticism, and women take the hit,” she wrote according to the Post.
Gupta was one of the organizers behind the 2018 Google Walkout, in which 20,000 Google employees around the world briefly walked out of their offices to protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment, it said.
In a statement cited by the Post, Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry wrote, “Caste discrimination has no place in our workplace. We also have a very clear, publicly shared policy against retaliation and discrimination in our workplace.”
“We also made the decision to not move forward with the proposed talk which — rather than bringing our community together and raising awareness — was creating division and rancor,” Newberry wrote.
Many Indians have moved to the United States to work in tech companies, and several Big Tech CEOs are of Indian origin, including Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Twitter’s Parag Agrawal, the Post noted
Some unnamed employees cited by the Post allege the patterns of discrimination have been replicated within Silicon Valley companies.
Soundararajan, who is Dalit, spent years convincing policy teams at social media companies to include caste as a protected category in their hate speech policies, the Post said.
After the Google Walkout, Gupta went on to successfully advocate for ending forced arbitration both in Congress and inside Google, where she is also known for her work on diversity, the newspaper said.
Last September, Gupta was approached by two Google employees about the caste discrimination they had witnessed at the company, she wrote in her departure note, according to the Post.
That prompted her to invite Soundararajan to present at a speaker series Gupta hosted on diversity, equity and inclusion for Google News.
But two days before Soundararajan’s presentation, seven Google employees sent emails to company leaders and Gupta “with inflammatory language about how they felt harmed and how they felt their lives were at risk by the discussion of caste equity,” according to Gupta’s emails cited by the Post.
Some of the complaints “copied content from known misinformation sites to malign the reputation of the speaker,” Gupta’s emails said.
Google had previously vetted Soundararajan to give a similar talk, but executives postponed her presentation to the Google News team. Then the controversy within Google migrated to an 8,000-person email group for South Asian employees, the Post said citing three unnamed current employees.
After Gupta posted a link in the email group to a petition to reinstate the talk, respondents argued that caste discrimination does not exist, that caste is not a thing in the United States, and that efforts to raise awareness of these issues in the United States would sow further division.
Soundararajan told the Post, Pichai has not responded to letter she sent him in April. Google also declined to comment, it said.