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Google Marches Again

Yesterday, with very little warning, 2,000 Google and Alphabet employees staged a walk-out at least eight offices across the country protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The photos and videos that employees were encouraged to post using the hashtag #GooglersUnite clearly show an emotional event. Both Google co-founder Sergey Brin and CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the crowd at the company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., along with Soufi Esmaeilzadeh, an Iranian-born Canadian citizen and product manager at Google, who was on a plane from San Francisco to Zurich when the company learned of the executive order.

It was one of the strongest responses to President Trump’s executive order to date, and even more remarkable because it offered an unusually public look at the collective spirit of a notoriously private company.

It’s been fascinating to watch Google evolve into a company that expresses its views, and I have no unified leadership theory to explain it. (Sorry.) But I know from reporting that it is making a real difference to employees, particularly when upper management shows up and bears their souls. And this bodes well for the dream of a more inclusive culture at the search giant.

While reporting a recent story about Google’s efforts to diversify, David Drummond, Alphabet’s chief legal officer, told me about an earlier march that struck me as being an important precedent for yesterday’s event. It got no real press, had no hashtag moment. But it made an impression.

From the story:

It was a Thursday in July 2014, the week that a jury found Florida neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman not guilty of murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, hoodie-wearing teenager. The case inspired a heated national debate on racial profiling and criminal justice—as well as the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter—and the decision left plenty of Googlers of color deeply unsettled, Drummond among them.

There was a spontaneous “hoodie march” around campus, and Drummond joined in. Wearing a Google hoodie, he addressed the crowd of about 100 through a bullhorn before leading them along Mountain View’s Charleston Road and into Google’s weekly all-hands meeting, at which top executives publicly field questions from employees with no topic off limits. Cofounders Page and Sergey Brin were onstage when the group arrived, and Drummond, still holding a bullhorn, asked his two bosses to stand down while he spoke. “It was sort of in an old-school civil rights way,” says Drummond, who has been with the company since 2002. “We felt we needed to come together as a company, and we did.”

One of the organizers of the hoodie march was a young woman named Rachel Spivey with a crazy-long job title: Internal Community Advocate, Black and Latino Communities for the Global Diversity & Inclusion Lab. I asked her how the march came together and what she thought it meant. Her response, by e-mail:

“In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I found myself grieved for the loss of his life, frustrated by the failings of the criminal justice system. I leveraged the powerful support of the Black Googler Network to organize a Hoodie March across Google’s campus. The march was led by our executive sponsor, David Drummond, who led protest chants and encouraged us to use our voices to amplify issues that impact the Black community…The march culminated during our weekly global TGIF [all-hands] meeting, where over 100 Googlers flooded the stage wearing their hoodies. Our founders were already presenting, but when they saw what was happening, they donned hoodies in solidarity. It was a moment where Googlers stood up for their convictions and marked the beginning of the company’s efforts to accelerate racial justice.”

The emphasis at the end is mine, though the donning of the hoodies was a nice touch. Inclusion thrives when people are given a real voice, and it matters when those with position power join in. Issues of race and immigration are complex. Google, like other companies, have a mixed record on both. But to bring yourself to your boss’s attention with a heavy heart and a bullhorn is no small thing. When they listen and respond, it strengthens your voice and amplifies your experience. To build on a thousand small things is a model for change worth studying.

On Point

Trayvon Martin’s parents are considering a run for political officeThe move is in response to the Trump presidency, which is threatening to undo the work on racial justice that Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin have been doing since their son was murdered five years ago. USA Today broke the news, and has a posted a lengthy video interview with the pair, who have published a new book, Rest In Power: A parent’s story of love, injustice and the birth of a movement. “Since Trayvon’s death, we saw how divided the country is on these issues and we saw how the country can come together,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father.USA Today

President Trump fires acting attorney general, saying she “betrayed” his administration
The punch was clear: Sally Q. Yates, who had served as deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, announced that Justice Department lawyers would not defend the President’s executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries. Then the counterpunch: At 9:15 pm last night, Ms. Yates received a hand-delivered letter informing her that she was fired. “Thank you everyone for supporting and standing by,” Yates tweeted.  “I took and upheld oath to defend the constitution not to someone’s personal likings.”
New York Times

African Union chief to Trump: You took us as slaves, but not as refugees
The strong remarks came during a two-day summit in Ethiopia of the 53 African Union states; Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the AU could expect “very turbulent times” after President Trump’s election. The Muslim ban impacts three AU countries, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. “What do we do about this? Indeed, this is one of the greatest challenges to our unity and solidarity.” Also in attendance was the UN Secretary General, who praised African countries who took in refugees. “African nations are among the world’s largest and most generous hosts of refugees,” he said.
Independent

Boy Scouts of America reverses transgender ban, welcomes back New Jersey boy
It’s a major shift in policy, and it already has one happier camper: An 8-year-old boy who was forced out of Cub Scouts last year because he was born a girl has been asked to rejoin the organization. It was his dismissal that began a heated, national debate on the Boy Scouts gender policy. “Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application,” the organization said in a statement issued yesterday.
USA Today

Architects vow to build a more inclusive profession
After fourteen months of work, AIA’s Equity in Architecture Commission, a panel of architects, educators and diversity experts, has published 11 recommendations organized into five “keystone” areas of focus: Leadership development; culture; excellence in architecture; education and career development; and marketing, branding, public awareness and outreach. Many of the 11 recommendations will be familiar, but one stood out: Commission better research, now. “[We] now ha[ve] extensive data on demographic trends within the profession. But it can’t always answer the question of why those trends occur. There’s a need for more specific understanding of the issues and implications in the quest for full equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
AIA

The Woke Leader

A student essay contest on white privilege is getting mixed reviews
The contest was sponsored by the diversity council for the town of Westport, Conn., a predominantly white and wealthy suburb of New York City. The contest was intended to promote a wide-ranging discussion on the unintended consequences of privilege, and it has achieved that goal – online complaints have come from as far away as Singapore. Offended residents say the question implies that race somehow plays a role in the “good life” which is enjoyed there. The controversy has left the head of the diversity council, a retired, black former IBM vice president, scratching his head. People think “all of a sudden we’re race-baiting or trying to get people to feel guilty,” he says. “That’s not at all what it’s about.” Westport ranks among the country’s wealthiest zip codes and is 93% white, she wrote, sipping tea.  
ABC

What does it mean to be white?
One of the enduring problems of talking about race is the default position that white people don’t have one. More specifically, that by being the racial ideal for power, beauty, leadership, etc, white people don’t have a way to speak about themselves and their own lived experiences, while addressing the messy reality of that status. Writer and professor Eula Biss grew up in a multi-racial family and has been wrestling with the language around race for a long time. She uses the word “complacent” as an example. “[O]ne of the privileges of being white, is that you can coast through your experience, you can coast through your life without having to think about what your race means to other people, and what your existence in a community means to the people around you.”
On Being

Kurt Lewin, the founder of social psychology, was a refugee
Psychology Today asks the poignant question: What if the U.S. had not Kurt Lewin in? Lewin was the only member of his immediate family to escape death in Nazi concentration camps. He went on to, among other things, create an influential theory of psychology called “the interactionist perspective,” a more inclusive alternative to the “nature vs nurture” theory of personality development. The author trace’s Lewin’s influence over time through a professional genealogy that describes his a wide-reaching impact on the field of human understanding. “One refugee and another and many others set in motion critical influences that made you who you are. The you that you now know would not exist without them,” he says.
Psychology Today

Quote

I came here to the US at age 6 with my family from the Soviet Union which was at that time the greatest enemy the US had, maybe it still is. It was a dire period, the cold war, as some people remember it. It was under the threat of nuclear annihilation. And even then the US had the courage to take me and my family in as refugees.
—Sergey Brin