Google CEO Sundar Pichai canceled a companywide town-hall meeting to discuss diversity that was scheduled for Thursday just days after an engineer was fired for writing a memo suggesting that women in tech are biologically inferior to men.
The controversial memo, which was written by a white male engineer, surfaced on Monday, sparking a firestorm of backlash. It also reignited public discussions around the lack of gender and racial diversity at Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley. (Google is currently under a federal investigation for allegedly discriminating against its female employees.) In response to the memo, Pichai released a statement saying that the employee was fired because his views contrasted with the company’s mission.
“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” Pichai wrote in a memo that was sent to the Google staff.
Pichai also planned to hold a town-hall in due to the controversy, however, a number of Googlers expressed fear that they would be singled out or publicly shamed if they spoke out at the town-hall. “We had hoped to have a frank open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward,” Pichai said in an email that was sent shortly before the town-hall was supposed to begin Thursday afternoon, reports Variety. But some employees were “concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.”
Instead, Pichai promised that the tech company would eventually provide a safe space for employees to express themselves sometime in the future. “In recognition of Googlers’ concerns, we need to step back and create a better set of conditions for us to have the discussion. So in the coming days we will find several forums to gather and engage with Googlers, where people can feel comfortable to speak freely,” read his email.
Nevertheless, Pichai made another effort to quell Google’s latest diversity crisis in a speech he delivered during a coding event for girls on Google’s campus Thursday, where he emphasized the importance of hiring women in tech.
“I want you to know there’s a place for you in this industry,” Pichai told the young women who happened to be finalists in an app-building competition. “There’s a place for you at Google. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You belong here, and we need you.”
He added, “It’s really important that more women and girls have the opportunity to participate in technology, to learn how to code, create, and innovate.”