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Google’s parent company rejects employee-backed plan to link executive pay to diversity goals

Shareholders also voted down another plan to recruit conservative board members.

Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Shareholders and executives at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, rejected a plan Wednesday to tie CEO and executive pay to diversity and inclusion efforts. They also voted down a proposal requesting the company seat conservative board members.

The two bids, which were presented at Alphabet’s annual shareholder meeting, reflect simmering workplace tensions at Google, which faces multiple lawsuits from former employees, including one accusing the company of discriminating against women and another accusing Google of discriminating against conservative white men.

A Google engineer, Irene Knapp, presented the first diversity proposal at the meeting on behalf of shareholder Zevin Asset Management. The plan would tie Alphabet’s executive compensation to gender, racial, and ethnic diversity goals related to employee recruiting and retention.

“At Alphabet, diversity and inclusion activities by individual contributors have been met with a disorganized array of responses, including formal reprimand,” Knapp said during the shareholder meeting, according to Reuters. “The chilling effect … has impaired company culture.”

The plan was voted down.

The second proposal called for more ideological diversity on Alphabet’s board. It was presented by Justin Danoff from the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank, which argued that board members with conservative views would help avoid “groupthink.” Google has two open board seats.

”Diversity is not what someone looks like,” Danoff said, according to CNBC. “It’s the sum of what they think, they feel, and they believe, and at this company it appears that thinking and believing in conservative policies is verboten.”

His proposal was voted down too.

The battle over diversity efforts at Google

Google employees and Alphabet shareholders have challenged the company to address the persistent lack of women and people of color in the company’s US workforce compared to the national population.

In January, Gizmodo published a memo written in 2016 by a former Google engineer who said he was silenced by Google HR executives for posting pro-diversity comments and articles in internal discussion groups. In the memo, the former engineer, Cory Altheide, said VP of ads and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy shut down one thread with this:

Debates around topics like product excellence can support a wide variety of viewpoints and are great to have. I don’t think the same can be said for debates around sensitive issues such as gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation.

Women at Google have also complained about alleged gender discrimination at the Silicon Valley tech giant.

Four women who worked at Google are suing the company for violating equal pay laws, arguing that the company paid women less than men for the same work, assigned them to lower-paying jobs, and promoted them less often.

Google denies those allegations, but the Labor Department’s findings seem to support the women’s claims. Auditors for DOL said they found “systemic compensation disparities against women” across the entire company. The agency is investigating the company’s pay practices as part of a routine pay audit it performs on federal contractors.

Conservative male employees accuse Google of discrimination too

The company is also facing a lawsuit from former engineer James Damore, based on allegations of “reverse discrimination,” against conservative white men.

Damore was fired in August after an anti-diversity memo he wrote went viral. In the memo, Damore claimed that women are less biologically suited to be engineers than men. He pointed to these biological differences as a possible explanation for why few women work as engineers at Google, and to question the need for diversity programs.

Damore and another fired engineer have since filed a discrimination lawsuit against Google. The complaint, filed in January, claims that “employees who expressed views deviating from the majority view at Google on political subjects raised in the workplace and relevant to Google’s employment policies and its business, such as ‘diversity’ hiring policies, ‘bias sensitivity,’ or ‘social justice,’ were/are singled out, mistreated, and systematically punished and terminated from Google, in violation of their legal rights.”

Google has denied all the discrimination complaints and says the company is already doing a lot to recruit more diverse job candidates.

Google’s head of HR, Eileen Naughton, said the company is committed to reaching its goal of having a “market supply” representation of women and minorities by 2020, according to the Hill.

The latest shareholder meeting shows that it may not be a smooth road to get there.