Report: Google cut back on diversity programs after lawsuit by James Damore (Update)

NBC News published a report Wednesday in which current and former Google employees claim the company has cut back on diversity initiatives in the wake of a lawsuit by former employee James Damore. In addition, the employees claim some of the Google staff who managed these programs have been given other duties as the company moves toward a reliance on outside contractors for diversity training.

Since 2018, internal diversity and inclusion training programs have been scaled back or cut entirely, four Google employees and two people who recently left the company told NBC News in interviews. In addition, they said, the team responsible for those programs has been reduced in size, and positions previously held by full-time employees have been outsourced or not refilled after members of the diversity teams left the company.

One well-liked diversity training program at Google called Sojourn, a comprehensive racial justice program created for employees to learn about implicit bias and how to navigate conversations about race and inequality, was cut entirely, according to seven former and current employees. Sojourn offered its last training to Google workers in 2018, four current employees said, and by 2019 it was cut completely…

Two other diversity training programs at Google, DEI for Managers, a primer to build skills around navigating issues of race on their teams, and Allyship 101, a program to learn about different types of oppressed groups and ways of supporting them, have also been cut, three former and current employees confirmed.

According to the people NBC News spoke to, all of this is fallout from the firing of James Damore and his subsequent lawsuit against the company:

“One of the major motivations for cutting Sojourn is that the company doesn’t want to be seen as anti-conservative,” one Google employee familiar with the company’s diversity programming said in an interview. “It does not want to invite lawsuits or claims by right-wing white employees about Google discriminating against them.”…

In January 2018, Damore sued Google for discrimination, claiming the company was biased against white men and employees with conservative politics. Two months after Damore’s lawsuit was filed, a former recruiter at YouTube, which is owned by Google, filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired after resisting an internal mandate to only hire diverse –– black, Latino or female –– candidates. Both Damore’s and the recruiter’s cases were moved to arbitration.

The arbitration between Google and Damore appears to be reaching a conclusion. Last week he and others involved in the lawsuit asked that it be dismissed. Damore’s lawyer said the arbitration agreement prevented him from discussing the agreement. But his lawyer also indicated that she believed the lawsuit had had some impact on the company. So maybe that’s what the current and former employees are seeing.

The article also points to this 2018 Breitbart report about plans to bring author Robin DiAngelo to Google to discuss “white fragility.”

“There was a meme going around that said white fragility shuts down discussions of white fragility,” a person involved with the event said in an interview, referring to a meme that circulated on an internal employee message board. The event wasn’t ultimately shut down, but additional security was provided.

For Google’s part, it admits to cutting the Sojourn program but claims the problem with it was that it was too focused on specifically American issues of race which allow them to scale the program for a global workforce. But former employees say the new material doesn’t have the same impact.

Naturally, all of the employees NBC News spoke to assume that the material being taught at Google was valuable. The assumption that everyone should be on board with Robin DiAngelo (who also spoke at Evergreen State College pre-meltdown) is one that doesn’t get challenged in this piece. But maybe it’s possible that Google implemented some changes because it was clear that their training was taking a pretty far left tack and would invite some legitimate criticism and possibly some additional lawsuits. In other words, maybe Google learned something valuable even if these former and current employees don’t like it.

Update: I can’t locate video of Robin DiAngelo’s appearance at Google, but I did find this recording from 2017 of Michael Skolnik and Kimberly Papillon giving a talk about “Implicit Bias and Microaggressions.” In the intro, Skolnik explains that he is the chairman of the board for the group that produced the Women’s March and mentions that three of the former co-chair of the Women’s March are part of his organization and “have all spoken here at Google as part of the series.” Again, maybe recent events (apart from James Damore’s lawsuit) helped convince Google that it shouldn’t invite every left-wing figure into their shop to lecture the employees.

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David Strom 3:21 PM on March 24, 2023