“The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture,” said Irene Knapp, a Google engineer who spoke on the proposal at the shareholder meeting. “Responses from HR have been inadequate, leaving minority communities unprotected.”
In a statement opposing the proposal, Alphabet’s board of directors said the requests were not in the best interests of the company and its stockholders.
The statement also said that since 2004, Alphabet’s chief executive Larry Page “has received a base salary of $1 per year and declined any additional compensation,” meaning the proposal would do little to “enhance Alphabet’s existing commitment to corporate sustainability.”
“Alphabet has long supported corporate sustainability, including environmental, social and diversity considerations,” the statement said. “We are committed to incorporating these values in our business and have promoted them in our practices.”
Still, investors and Google employees behind the proposal said it would also apply to a group of senior executives beyond Page.
Alphabet executives did not directly respond to the proposal when it was presented at the meeting. But later, Eileen Naughton, head of Google’s HR operations, answered a separate question about diversity by saying the company has a “stated objective” to improve the representation of minorities and women and to develop and retain talent among underrepresented groups.
The proposal sought to link diversity and inclusion metrics to executive pay and called attention to the lack of gender and racial diversity within company ranks. The proposal said that over the past four years, Alphabet’s Google division had improved representation of women in its workforce by only one percentage point — from 30 percent to 31 percent. In the same period, positions for all underrepresented people of color at Google increased from 9 percent to 10 percent.
“It’s this lack of diversity at the office and in leadership that perpetuates the myth that only certain kinds of people deserve a spot in the tech world,” said Amr Gaber, a Google software engineer. “This is why we need policies and actions that close the gaps between our values and our lived experiences as employees, and upend the racism and misogyny entrenched in the industry.”
The proposal suggested that Alphabet take additional steps to enforce policies against harassment, formalize procedures for human resource investigations and boost transparency around those processes. The proposal was backed by Zevin Asset Management, which describes itself as a socially responsible investment firm.
Last year, an engineer at Google wrote a memo charging that “genetic differences” might explain “why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.” The memo went viral, and its author, James Damore, was fired from the company for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”
The memo renewed debates around diversity in the workplace and throughout Silicon Valley. And some workers at Google who discussed the memo internally had their identities and questions leaked online.
Speaking at the meeting, Knapp referenced fears among employees about reaching out to one another in times of crisis. And Gaber said he and his colleagues want Alphabet to “crack down on malicious leaks that have intimidated individuals.”
“Now we are forced to weigh the risks to ourselves before giving each other support,” Knapp said at the meeting.
Zevin Asset Management, which holds stock on Alphabet, handles investing for a range of clients. Pat Miguel Tomaino, director of socially responsible investing at the firm, said the firm focuses on diversity and inclusion in tech because “women and underrepresented minorities are still very, very far behind in terms of representation in technical jobs.”
Tomaino said Zevin Asset Management had already been concerned about “a lack of senior accountability” at Alphabet, including for diversity and inclusion initiatives, before the Damore memo last fall, and then watched as the saga unfolded into the winter.
“From the outside,” Tomaino said, “we were able to see that executives were not able to adequately respond to concerns among their own employees about the inclusion situation at Alphabet.”