Google’s parent company Alphabet voted down a proposal from some of its own employees that would have tied executive compensation to diversity goals. This happened Wednesday at a shareholders meeting. Reuters reports:

Alphabet Inc’s shareholders, including top executives, voted down several proposals on Wednesday, defeating campaigns to tie pay to diversity goals and to get the Google parent to provide more data about efforts to moderate user-generated content.

Alphabet management, which effectively has voting control of the company, had moved against the proposals…

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

Eileen Naughton, who leads Google’s HR operations, said the company remains committed to an internal goal to reach “market supply” representation of women and minorities by 2020, which could help bring hiring in line with the diversity of the candidate pool.

The Hill linked to this proposal document which claims Google has an “inclusion crisis” which the company’s efforts so far have not been able to solve:

  • Our Company remains predominantly white and male, especially in technical and leadership roles.
  • Over the past four years, the Google division has only improved representation of women in its workforce by one percentage point (from 30% to 31%). In the same period, positions for all underrepresented people of color in the Google workforce have only increased from 9% to 10%.
  • Among Google’s top 31 executives in 2016, there was only one underrepresented person of color and only four women.

To solve this problem the proposal recommended tying executive pay to improved diversity:

Alphabet should consider linking a portion of executive compensation to its own chosen diversity and inclusion metrics. This would demonstrate that senior executive management actually oversees the inclusion strategy in a way that is accountable, transparent, and oriented around success. Linking executive compensation to sustainability and diversity metrics would also improve Alphabet’s chances of addressing the challenges discussed above.

According to James Damore’s lawsuit against Google, he heard HR director Eileen Naughton (quoted above) cheerleading for a 50-50 workforce at Google:

During the March 30, 2017 TGIF meeting, either Porat or Naughton pointed out and shamed individual departments at Google in which women comprised less than 50% of the workforce. Alternatively, they applauded and praised departments, such as the sales department, where women comprised more than 50% of the workforce.

During the event, Porat and Naughton also discussed that when looking at groups of people for promotions or for leadership opportunities on new projects, Google would be taking into
account gender and ethnic demographics. They then mentioned that Google’s racial and gender preferences in hiring were not up for debate, because this was morally and economically the best thing to do for Google.

It certainly sounds as if, behind the scenes, Naughton is looking for diversity that reflects the breakdown of men and women in society, i.e. roughly 50-50. The fact that Google isn’t remotely close to that, especially for tech jobs, suggests there is a problem. But notice that in her statement today Naughton doesn’t talk about 50-50 diversity, she says the company is aiming for “market supply” representation. What does that mean?

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what Naughton means but my best guess is that it means Google can only hope to hire as many women engineers as there are women graduating with appropriate degrees. At present, there are a lot more men than women graduating with computer science degrees. According to this recent story at Wired, the percentage of women going for CS degrees has actually declined since the 80s and is now at about 20%. According to Google’s diversity page, their tech workforce is currently 80% men and 20% women (in 2017). So maybe they’re already pretty close to market supply representation?

The really interesting question is the one that got James Damore fired: What if the market supply of women in the field is always going to be lower than the market supply of men? I don’t mean it can’t be higher than 20%, but maybe it’s never going to be 50-50 simply because men and women are interested in different careers. We’ll probably never see a 50-50 split in nursing either because a lot more women seem interested in that field.

You have to wonder if the Google executives who voted down this proposal today already know that. They had a chance to put their money where their mouth is on diversity and they balked, almost as if they think they can’t actually do a whole lot better than they are at the present moment.