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Amid cultural crisis, Google looks for a new head of HR

February 11, 2020, 1:12 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Angela Merkel’s succession plan falls apart, Brandless shuts down, and Google is looking for a new head of people. Have a terrific Tuesday. 

– A tough gig at Google. It’s not often that an executive’s career trajectory aligns so directly with a fundamental shift in the business world, but that’s what happened with Google head of people operations Eileen Naughton, who will step down later this year, the company said Monday.

Naughton has held the top HR job for four years, a period that saw Google and its Silicon Valley brethren go from the envy of employees everywhere—with pampering and perks and a ‘change the world’ mission—to hotbeds of worker activism, as emboldened staffers demanded that their work be used for what they deem “good.”

Naughton has been on the front lines of the evolution, as Fortune‘s Danielle Abril reports:

“[She] has had to deal with intensifying employee anger over the company’s alleged handling of sexual harassment claims, the firing of employees who organized protests against the company, and the elimination of weekly all-hands meetings at which employees confronted executives about sensitive topics (the meetings are now monthly, and the permitted topics are limited). She’s also had to manage worker complaints about the company’s decision to work on secret projects like a censored search engine for China and a lack of employee diversity.”

Google says Naughton is stepping down to be closer to her family and that she’ll eventually take another role within the company. And she will help Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and CFO Ruth Porat find a replacement.

No doubt her successor will have an enormous job. During Naughton’s tenure, she helped grow Google’s workforce more than 65% to nearly 119,000 globally. Whoever gets the gig will oversee a department with the goal of being “champions of Google’s colorful culture”—a culture that still seems steeped in crisis. As Danielle reports, despite Naughton’s responses to staff grievances, current and former employee activists are still publicly airing their concerns.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Succession chaos. Angela Merkel's carefully considered succession plan is falling apart in Germany. Her anointed heir as Chancellor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, will resign as leader of the Christian Democrats, meaning that she won't be a candidate for Merkel's job. Kramp-Karrenbauer had been at the center of a controversy over a branch of her party working, against her wishes, with a far-right party to choose a state premier. Now the Christian Democrats will need a new leader, and that politician may refuse to accept the job without also becoming Chancellor—which means Merkel may step down sooner than expected. Politico

- Election win. In more global politics, the party Sinn Féin declared victory in Ireland's general election. Sinn Féin was historically associated with the Irish Republican Army and the violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland; the party did especially well with voters under 34, who may not have personal memories of the period. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for lawmakers to work with the party, which today favors the reunification of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to form a coalition government. Guardian

- Foundation focus. For the 20th anniversary of their foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates announced that gender equity will officially be a prominent issue in the organization's work going forward. Melinda Gates has already committed $1 billion to causes that support gender equity through her firm Pivotal Ventures, but this work will be through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Fortune

- Bye, Brandless. Brandless, the startup that aimed to sell generic-brand products online, is shutting down. Founded by Tina Sharkey, who vacated the CEO role in 2019, Brandless has faced a year of turmoil since. It's the first SoftBank Vision Fund-backed startup to shutter entirely. Protocol 

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: PayPal SVP Leah Sweet joined GoDaddy's board of directors. Former Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia will oversee a cultural overhaul effort at Lloyd's of London following the insurance market's bullying and harassment allegations. Old Navy president and chief creative officer Nancy Green joins the board of Allbirds. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Lagarde's ECB. In her three months in its top job, Christine Lagarde has already reshaped the culture of the European Central Bank. Meetings start hours earlier to leave more time for debate, policymakers have to put their phones away (as does Lagarde—her predecessor was known for being on his iPad during meetings), and proposals are handed out earlier to give more Governing Council members the opportunity to provide input. Her changes are meant to counter some of the dissent the ECB experienced before she took over. Reuters

- Suit, countersuit. Defamation lawsuits brought by men accused of sexual misconduct against the women who made those allegations are growing more and more common. From President Trump's lawsuit against E. Jean Carroll to Dr. Luke's lawsuit against Kesha, Mother Jones looks at the phenomenon here: Mother Jones

- No-go on NDAs. In the U.K., the government agency that has overseen #MeToo claims told companies not to use non-disclosure agreements to "hide a problem or brush it under the carpet." The agency had previously discouraged companies from preventing whistleblowers from talking to the police, but has extended that guidance to interactions with the media or civil courts. The decision comes after the high-profile situation of former London assistant to Harvey Weinstein Zelda Perkins, who broke her NDA and shared how it prevented her from talking about her experience with friends, family, a therapist, or attorneys. Bloomberg

ON MY RADAR

Translating for Bong Joon Ho at the Oscars: Aspiring director Sharon Choi New York Times

Was Jeanne Calment the oldest person who ever lived—or a fraud? The New Yorker

2020 continues to belong to women in their 50s Vogue

Whitechapel mural will celebrate the lives of Jack the Ripper's victims Guardian

PARTING WORDS

"They gave their lives to the union, and made it possible for other women to have this career and be mothers and have our benefits."

-Sara Nelson, president of the world’s largest flight-attendant union Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, on the women who preceded her, who couldn't have families and keep their jobs with airlines