Google Blasted Sexist Memo but Resisted Giving Feds Data on Discrimination

Google fired the author of a memo it says is sexist, but the company is being sued by the federal government for failing to provide data on wage discrimination.

Software engineer James Damore lost his job Monday after a 10-page memo he wrote went viral. Damore wrote that the tech gender gap exists because of biological differences between men and women. The memo lists traits like “neuroticism” and “higher agreeableness” that Damore says causes women to struggle in tech. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that the memo promoted “harmful gender stereotypes.”

Over the past couple of years, Google has ramped up efforts to improve diversity. Google first published a diversity report in 2011 where they claimed to be “changing the face of the technology industry.” The report highlighted sponsorships for women’s tech conferences and recruitment efforts targeting minorities. This past March, Google opened a coding program in partnership with historically black college, Howard University

Women make up 20 percent of Google’s technical jobs, like software development, and engineering. In contrast, women made up roughly 25 percent of tech jobs nationwide, according to a 2016 report from National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Google’s problem with diversity goes beyond hiring.

The Department of Labor sued Google in January when the company initially resisted to release data on its wages as requested by a standard audit that applies to all government contractors. The audit reviews employee information to measure corporate compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

The government originally asked Google to provide job history, salary history, and contact information for employees at Google’s headquarters in 2015. Over the next year, Google released portions of the requested data.

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The data showed “systemic disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” testified Janette Whipper, regional director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the watchdog arm of the Department of Labor.

Google sets salaries based on the going rate at other companies, but allows negotiation depending on prior salary or competing offer, the company’s human resources department told Labor Department auditors during a visit to Google’s headquarters in 2016.

In light of the findings, the government pressed Google for additional salary information to pinpoint how far back the disparities stretched. Google pushed back arguing that the expanded request would place a heavy burden on the multibillion-dollar company, according to documents filed in the Labor Department’s administrative court. 

Google initially said that the request would cost $1.5 million and take more than 150,000 hours. They later lowered both numbers during court to $100,000 dollars and 400-500 hours. The Department of Labor argued that with a net operating profit of nearly $28 billion last year, Google could easily comply. Google ultimately spent $500 thousand dollars and 2,300 hours gathering data.

The Office of Administrative Law Judges released a series of recommendations last month that narrows the requests for data. The judge also denied the Labor Department’s request for employee contact information, citing privacy concerns and said that Google acted “in good faith.”

Google cited the ruling as a win and wrote on the company blog that they agree to provide a smaller sample of data.

“We invest a lot in our efforts to create a fair and inclusive environment for all our employees—across all genders and races,” Google wrote on its blog.

The drive for wage transparency from Google extends beyond the government’s lawsuit. Erica Baker, a former Google engineer, created a spreadsheet for salary information then shared it with her coworkers in 2015. Employees successfully used the spreadsheet to bargain for higher salaries, she said in a series of tweets.

On Tuesday, a group of 60 current and former employees are considering a lawsuit against Google for gender-based wage discrimination, The Guardian reported.

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