• Retaliation recriminations. The drama inside Google continues. Fortune’s Beth Kowitt writes about an internal letter that circulated within the tech giant yesterday, in which long-time employees Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, key organizers of last year’s walkout and other protests, say the company has retaliated against them. (In a statement to Fortune, Google denied the allegations, saying: “There has been no retaliation here.”)
A quick refresher of what’s at stake: About 20,000 Googlers participated in the November walkout to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment. And that’s just one example of how Google employees have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with its actions and policies. A more recent one occurred earlier this month when the company disbanded its artificial intelligence ethics council after employees voiced concerns over the inclusion of the president of conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, citing what they described as her “vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant views.”
Stapleton, a 12-year Google vet, wrote that she was demoted two months after the walkout, told she would lose half of her reports, and that an approved project was no longer on the table. It wasn’t until she got a lawyer involved that Google backtracked on her demotion.
Whittaker says that not long after Google announced that it would disband the A.I. council, she was told in order to stay at the company, she would have to abandon her work on A.I. ethics at Google—and leave the A.I. Now Institute, an outside organization she co-founded.
The situation puts Google—once again—at the forefront of the changing nature of the relationship between employees and their companies. In a #MeToo world, a growing number of workers feel not just empowered, but actually responsible for holding their employers accountable for their actions on issues like sexual harassment, diversity, and ethics. If even Google, which has long been known as one of the most open and democratic companies on the planet, is indeed applying this kind of pressure to employees who don’t toe the company line, I think we can expect to see these kinds of clashes become a major theme in corporate life in the months and years to come.