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raceAhead: Google Employees Demand Action On Diversity

June 7, 2018, 7:05 PM UTC

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.

On Point

The recall of Judge Aaron Persky might backfire, warn expertsJohn Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School, has put together a helpful thread with links to research that shows how electoral pressures influence judicial behavior. “The story is consistent: elections make judges harsher, and there may be other costs as well (like lower-skilled people becoming judges),” he tweets. One study out of Berkeley finds that sentences in Washington state were 10% longer as judges approached re-election, another from NYU showed that election pressures added 3,000 more years of incarceration over a ten year period in Pennsylvania. “We shouldn’t elect our judges,” says Pfaff. “We are basically the only country that does this, which is a pretty clear sign it’s a bad idea.”Twitter

Peter Faneuil was a slave holder. What should we do with his Hall?
Peter Faneuil was one of the richest men in 18th century America, a Boston stalwart who traded sugar, molasses, timber, and humans. The sturdy brick meeting hall named after him has been a popular tourist attraction and an important scene for speech-makers and politicos since the 1750s. But in the spirit of examining the meanings behind familiar monuments, Faneuil Hall has come under scrutiny, as Boston grapples with its reputation for unchecked racism. “Faneuil Hall insults the dignity of blacks and all Americans who believe in the civic dignity of all,” says Kevin C. Peterson, of the New Democracy Coalition. In the past, Peterson has suggested that the building be named for Crispus Attucks, an African American and first official casualty of the American Revolution.
New York Times

Indiana teacher says that calling transgender students by their preferred names violates his religious beliefs
John Kluge says his employer, Brownsburg High School, forced him to resign for failing to comply with the district’s policies regarding transgender students. But Kluge, who wants to keep his job, says that calling students by their preferred names violates his religious beliefs and his First Amendment rights. "I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," says the orchestra teacher. The school has a specific protocol for transgender name changes, which appear in the administration’s system after the student has written consent from a parent and doctor. Once that happens, all personnel are required to use that name. Kluge tried to compromise by only using transgender student’s last names, but was asked to stop that practice. The Indiana Family Institute, a conservative nonprofit, has started a letter-writing campaign in support of Kluge.
Indy Star


The Woke Leader

A new fellowship for underrepresented scholars of poverty
If you are or know a PhD-level scholar in the field of poverty, and you come from a group underrepresented in academia, this may be of interest. The Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is looking for applications from academics from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations for its inaugural Emerging Poverty Scholars Fellowship program. Qualified applicants “must show evidence of research experience in areas relevant to poverty, low-income populations, or related social policy, as well as the potential to produce rigorous research to inform policies and programs to combat poverty and/or its effects.” In addition to mentorship, the two fellows will receive $20,000 in flexible funding for the year-long fellowship. Apply by August 1, 2018.

A gay former NFL player aims to fight homophobia
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Huffington Post

A Native American mascot persists
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Chronicle of Higher Education


I turned my life all the way around in prison and decided that I am not going to just do time or let time do me. I'm going to make the most of this opportunity and I'm going to be of service to others because that's really what life is about.
Alice Marie Johnson