Media Moves

Coverage: Diversity the top issue at Alphabet annual meeting

June 7, 2018

Posted by Chris Roush

Diversity remains an issue at Google parent Alphabet, which held its annual meeting with shareholders at its headquarters in Mountain View, California on Wednesday.

Richard Nieva of CNET had the story:

“I can confirm that for every new Alphabet board opening, we will consider a set of candidates that includes both underrepresented people of color and different genders,” said John Hennessy, chairman of the board.

The company has actively been looking to fill two independent director roles. One member, Shirley Tilghman, retired in February, and Paul Otellini, the former Intel CEO, died last year.

Even Google employees themselves stepped up on Wednesday to challenge management on diversity issues — a rarity for a company’s rank and file in such a public and formal corporate setting.

One proposal was presented by Irene Knapp, a Google engineer. She teamed up with Zevin Asset Management, which submitted the measure, to try to push Alphabet to tie executive pay to improving diversity metrics.

Seung Lee of the San Jose Mercury News reported that three different shareholder proposals addressed diversity:

In the latest salvos of the online search giant’s internal battle, three different shareholder proposals addressed diversity. One sought a report outlining Alphabet’s gender pay gap across its global operations; another aimed to tie Alphabet executives’ pay to diversity and inclusion measures; and a third called for adding more conservative thinkers to Alphabet’s board. All three proposals, along with four other shareholder proposals, were voted down in line with the company’s recommendations.

But before the votes were counted, presenters painted different pictures of life at Google: A seemingly hostile work environment for some women and minorities, or a place that values only liberal thinking and punishes conservative views.

In a rare pitch by a current Google employee in front of Alphabet’s board, Google engineer Irene Knapp said Alphabet’s diversity and inclusion initiatives have been lacking, which has “left many of us feeling unsafe and unable to do our work.”

“The chilling effect of harassment and doxxing has impaired productivity and company culture,” said Knapp. “Responses from (human resources) have been inadequate, leaving minority communities unprotected. Now we are forced to weigh the risks to ourselves before giving each other support.”

Jillian D’Onfro of reported that Zevin wants Alphabet to step up its diversity efforts and protect workers:

Zevin’s proposal challenges Google, which was one of the first major companies to publicly publish its diversity statistics, to step up its efforts and better protect employees working internally on diversity projects so that it has the talent to drive long-term shareholder value. Zevin has made similar proposals to Amazon and Apple.

“It’s not often you see employees and investors locking hands like this,” said Pat Tomaino, Zevin’s director of socially responsible investing. The Boston-based firm owns about $23 million worth of Alphabet shares, according to FactSet.

Alphabet recommends shareholders vote against the proposal because the company says it already incorporates diversity values into its business. Because of Alphabet’s dual-voting structure that gives the co-founders outsized control, the proposal likely won’t pass.

Liz Fong-Jones, an engineer who won’t be attending the meeting but is a diversity advocate within the company, acknowledged the risk of retaliation associated with supporting the proposal but said that it’s important to put pressure on management.

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