By Ellen McGirt
Updated: June 7, 2018 3:05 PM ET

Diversity and inclusion took center stage at the Alphabet annual shareholder meeting yesterday, as a Google engineer stood in front of the board, CEO Sundar Pichai, and other senior leaders and read a damning statement that laid bare the fact that some employees thought the company’s commitment to diversity was insufficient.

“The lack of clear, communicated policies and actions to advance diversity and inclusion, with concrete accountability and leadership from senior executives, has left many of us feeling unsafe and unable to do our work,” said Irene Knapp. (Alphabet is the parent company of Google.)

A proposal, presented by Knapp on behalf of shareholder Zevin Asset Management and “concerned employees,” called for Alphabet’s executive compensation to be tied to gender, racial and ethnic diversity metrics in employee recruiting and retention.

Liz Fong-Jones, a long time Googler who supported the proposal, said it was time for leadership to get serious. “Executives can be motivated by money,” Fong-Jones told Bloomberg. “There needs to be a clear signal from the shareholders that they value inclusion.”

The statement also conjured the ghost of James Damore, the engineer who lost his job after he published an anti-affirmative action screed in which he explained why women were less suited than men for certain tech jobs. The memo created a firestorm inside the company, and later triggered a wave of online abuse, after internal conversations refuting Damore’s position were leaked. “The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture. Responses from HR have been inadequate, leaving minority communities unprotected,” said Knapp.

But another proposal came from Justin Danoff from the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank, who called for more ideological diversity on Alphabet’s board.

“Diversity is not what someone looks like,” Danoff said. “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.”

Both were voted down.

While shareholder proposals don’t typically fly with Alphabet leadership, it’s been rare for employees to be this vocal about the shortcomings of the famously secretive search giant. But the quest for culture change seems intense. Last year, for example, a group of Googlers created an employee-run message board that lets staffers anonymously submit allegations of racist, sexist or otherwise unwelcome behavior which is then compiled into a weekly e-mail report.

Tariq Yusuf, a privacy engineer in Google’s Seattle office, was part of the group of employees who helped formulate the proposal. “One of the reasons we partnered with Zevin is that it advocates building in the values that Alphabet purports to support,” Yusuf told CNBC. Alphabet “can do a better job of putting its money where its mouth is to some degree,” he added.


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