California investigating how Google treats Black women employees

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State civil rights investigators in California have launched a probe into how Google is treating Black women employees.

Lawyers and analysts working for California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as recently as November are interviewing Black women who have worked at Google, according to anonymous sources and emails exclusively obtained by Reuters.

The outside of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif is pictured in this Sept. 2015 photo. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Some of the workers have filed formal complaints against the company, according to Reuters.

News of the investigation comes about a year after Google parted ways with Timnit Gebru, a Black woman and prominent artificial intelligence ethics researcher who has been critical of the company’s work environment for Black employees.

Gebru’s departure from Google came after she and some of the company’s artificial intelligence leaders disagreed about a research paper she coauthored and was ordered to retract from consideration at the 2021 Conference on Fairness, Accountability and Transparency held in March, according to CNN Business.

TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2018 - Day 3
Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco. (Credit: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Gebru’s Dec. 2, 2020 Twitter thread accusing her superiors of firing her sent shockwaves through the tech world. Google has maintained Gebru resigned and was not fired.

After her tweets went viral, former Google diversity recruiter April Curley launched her own Twitter thread accusing her bosses of firing her for encouraging the company to hire more HBCU computer science grads.

Curley claimed her superiors believed HBCU computer science graduates weren’t skilled enough to work at the company, a claim that Google has denied repeatedly.

Both women’s accounts of their experiences at Google have led to widespread criticism and resignations from other tech employees at the company who disagreed with how Gebru’s situation was handled.

Google told theGrio on Tuesday that its goal is to “ensure that every employee experiences Google as an inclusive workplace.”

In the wake of the police murder of George Floyd last summer, the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai set a goal to improve leadership representation of “underrepresented groups” by 30 percent by 2025, according to Google’s 2020 and 2021 diversity reports.

Just 8.8 percent of Google’s employees were Black in 2021, up from 5.5 percent last year, according to the company’s latest public demographic data released in June.

“Since first announcing our racial equity commitments, we’ve been focused on building sustainable equity for Google’s Black community,” the company told theGrio via email Tuesday.

Google said 2020 was its “largest year ever” for hiring “Black+” employees in the U.S., “both overall and in tech roles.” The company said its Black+ employee population “includes all Googlers who identify as Black, plus those who identify as Black and any other race.”

“We’ve also made investments in our retention programs and practices to help Black employees grow and thrive at Google,” the company said. “We’ll continue to focus on this important work and thoroughly investigate any concerns, to make sure our workplace is representative and equitable.”

DFEH officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment from theGrio.

TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2018 - Day 3
Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Earlier this month, Gebru announced the launch of her own independent research institute, known as the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR).

Gebru told the Washington Post her vision for DAIR is to influence the big tech industry to adopt ethical AI rules and practices while operating independently outside of it.

“I’ve been frustrated for a long time about the incentive structures that we have in place and how none of them seem to be appropriate for the kind of work I want to do,” Gebru told WaPo.

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