- A female Google employee named Lauren tells Business Insider that most of the attention surrounding James Damore’s memo has nothing to do with how women inside the company feel.
- Lauren says she feels like she’s had great opportunities within Google, and has received support from leaders like CEO Sundar Pichai and CFO Ruth Porat.
- Regarding the memo, Lauren said, “To have us all lumped into one sort of category like that and to have such a baseless claim made about who we are, and to have it positioned as fact — as scientific fact — I don’t know how we could feel anything but attacked by that.”
Since James Damore’s memo on diversity went viral last week, there’s been a range of opinions and analysis from all sides. Was the science he cited sound? (No.) Was Google’s firing of Damore a violation of the First Amendment? (Nope.) Can Google do a better job at making conservatives in the company feel like they can voice their views? (Yes.)
But the impact on the group targeted in the memo has been largely ignored. What do women inside Google think of last week’s events?
On Friday, I spoke to Lauren, a Google product designer based in New York who has been with the company for six years. She had approval from Google to speak to the press, but I’m only using her first name because many of her colleagues have been outed on fringe websites, raising safety concerns. (In fact, it was the safety issue that caused CEO Sundar Pichai to cancel a town hall meeting Thursday that was supposed to answer questions about Damore’s memo.)
My conversation with Lauren was fascinating, so I decided to post the whole thing below. It’s the clearest response I’ve heard so far. She told me about her reaction to Damore’s memo, her thoughts on how the company’s leadership responded, some of the valid issues Damore brought up, and so much more.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. It’s a long discussion, but you really should read the whole thing.
Steve Kovach: Why did you want to talk to me?
Lauren: Mainly because I felt like no one was asking the women of Google how they felt about [the James Damore memo]. And they were a.) telling us how we should feel about it, and b.) really focusing on — there’s just a lot of think pieces on “is his firing legal” and “what does this mean for freedom of speech.” And I’m like, “What about all the women? You’re just talking to him about his side of the story and no one is asking us to respond to the claims that he made about us.”
Kovach: Did you like what YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote about the issue?
Lauren: I liked a lot what Susan wrote, but I also think he wasn’t attacking Susan, right? She’s the CEO of YouTube. She’s been at Google for a really long time. Susan was my boss for a really long time. I reported to Susan, I’ve met her, I know her.
I’ve personally worked with Susan over the years, and I have a lot of respect for Susan. I think she’s done a lot for the women at Google. But I didn’t feel like that was enough. And so I reached out— I also know [CFO] Ruth Porat and [head of Google Maps] Jen Fitzpatrick. They’re both very senior women. And I had interacted with them a fair bit back in March when I wasn’t satisfied with the way we were handling the women’s strike that was being organized for International Women’s Day. And Ruth and Jen, to their credit, really partnered with me on that and made sure that Google had an appropriate response to that situation.
Kovach: What happened?
Lauren: Sundar and everyone reacted really well to that. I went up my reporting chain, but it got to Ruth and they were like, “Yeah, we want to hear what you have to say. Let’s figure this out. Let’s make sure the women of Google feel supported in this.” And so I just reached out to Ruth and Jen yesterday and said “Look, our voice isn’t being heard. No one is asking us how we feel about it. Can we do this?” And they were really supportive. They were like, “Yeah, let’s do this.”
Kovach: You said you felt attacked by the memo. Can you describe what you mean by that?
Lauren: You’ve read the memo, right? I’m not a female engineer, but I’ve talked to a lot of female engineers. Yesterday the women in the Ads group got together with one of the directors of engineering. She organized a sort of listening session and we kind of all just sat down and talked about it. I think it’s just really hard to have someone make baseless claims about your abilities in the workplace, and I think that’s what happened. And it’s hard to not feel like that’s an attack on you personally, and on us collectively. We talk a lot about how women at Google are a minority. We’re not a minority [outside of Google], but we kind of are [inside]. But to have us all lumped into one sort of category like that and to have such a baseless claim made about who we are, and to have it positioned as fact — as scientific fact — I don’t know how we could feel anything but attacked by that.
Kovach: What came out of that session?
Lauren: There was no agenda. It was really just let’s sit down and talk about it. It was really nice to hear all the different points of view. One of the women put her hand up and said, “Look, I’m a conservative. I completely disagree with everything he said, but I’m still a conservative. And I don’t feel like I can’t voice that opinion here.” Google really does have an open culture of debate, I think.
Kovach: Some of the questions that were going to be asked at the town hall were things like “What are you going to do to make sure conservative voices are heard?” I think Sundar even mentioned “Yeah, we could do better on that front” a little bit.
Lauren: I mean, I’m not a conservative, so I’m sharing my point of view. I also don’t work in the Mountain View office, which I think is a big difference between he and I, so that’s probably why we have different points of view. I go there a lot and it’s a very different environment. I think as function of the fact that it’s a very different physical environment. It’s a business park in a suburb in the South Bay. And [Google’s New York office] is in the middle of a huge urban center. There is a significant difference in the diversity of the two offices, which is another thing.
Kovach: So you’re not hearing much from conservative people within Google?
Lauren: I’ve not personally had anyone identify as a conservative and tell me they feel their voice isn’t welcome, but it’s entirely possible that they feel that way and they don’t feel safe to say something.
Kovach: Do you think that could change?
Lauren: At Google?
Kovach: Or should it change?
Lauren: I think that after this it’s going to change. I think it has to. I think this is a huge lesson for all of us in the importance of respectful debate and being able to listen to other people’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. Because, actually, I have a lot of empathy for [Damore]. He had a point of view. He wanted to share it. I think he could have been smarter in the way he shared his opinions and beliefs. I will debate anything respectfully with anyone, but in this case he chose to do it in a way that wasn’t respectful. And I think that’s why we’ve ended up where we are.
Kovach: When did you first read about the memo?
Lauren: I was actually told about it on Sunday by one of my very good friends who is a male engineer here in New York.
Kovach: So it was after it had leaked out and became a big story?
Lauren: One of my really good friends sent me a text message and he was like, “Oh man, this thing is blowing up really hard.” And I was like “What are you talking about?” And he said “Google ‘Google’ and you’ll see what I mean.”
And I did and I was like, “Oh god.” And I kind of couldn’t bring myself to read it until Monday morning. And I did, and you couldn’t be anywhere in our office on Monday morning without people talking about it. My whole design UX team had a whole really big conversation about it at our desks. And there were various points of view, both men and women talking about how they felt about it. But it was respectful. It was like, “Okay, I see your point of view. Mine is different. Here’s why.”
Kovach: Even after this came out there were varying points of view on it?
Lauren: Oh, I mean, especially after this came out there were varying points of view. It’s really interesting to me to try to understand all the different points of view. Because I think they’re all valid. It’s just that we need to do it in a respectful way.
Kovach: Just speaking broadly, before all this happened, what has Google done to help you advance in your career?
Lauren: Everything. I’ve actually been thinking about this quite a bit. I have a very strong female reporting chain above me. I really feel like a lot of those women have been really instrumental in helping me get where I am. I’ve been promoted twice since I’ve been there. I really think that it’s both merit-based, but a lot of people have also helped me to get there. Both men and women.
Kovach: How so?
Lauren: In giving me opportunities to actually perform and to prove that I was capable of being promoted. You know, Google’s not perfect. It’s not a perfect place for women to work. But that’s pretty much everywhere, right? I don’t feel like I have any more or less opportunity as a woman here than I did at any of the other workplaces I’ve been. And I’ve worked in consulting, advertising, and now I’m in tech. I’ve worked in corporate Australia and in corporate America. I don’t see any significant difference in my experience here than what I’ve had previously. In fact, I think they might be less focused on me being a woman here in tech in the US than than there was in Australia in consulting.
Kovach: Why do you think that is?
Lauren: Australia is a very different environment. It’s very egalitarian. And they were aggressively pursuing this kind of agenda of being an employer of choice for women. So they had a lot of programs that were very specifically designed to help advance women. Because they had a terrible track record in middle and upper management of retaining women. And so I was heavily involved in those programs, but I was very junior in my career at that point. And I didn’t really understand exactly what that was all about. I feel like we talk about it less here in the New York office, at Google, but I still have just as many opportunities. I feel like the focus is less on ,”Am I a woman?” and more on, “Am I capable of doing my job?”
Kovach: So you definitely feel like it’s merit-based? You don’t feel like Google is saying, “Lauren is a woman and therefore we need to give her this opportunity over someone else.”
Lauren: Not at all.
Kovach: Part of the memo implies that. Damore seemed to feel that women were given opportunities for the sake of diversity.
Lauren: I can see how he can look at our diversity programs and our inclusion programs and feel like he is being excluded from them. I can totally see that. And that’s a fair argument for him to make. What’s an unfair argument for him to make is that women are less biologically predisposed to being capable of doing the same work as men. Unless he has significant scientific evidence to back that up, which he doesn’t.
Kovach: It seems like everyone can find their own scientific evidence. At least that’s what I’ve seen.
Lauren: It’s hard because I think he couches so much of his document as if it’s fact, when it’s actually not. There’s so little evidence in there. And it’s all really opinion. And the whole argument is couched as, “Well this is fact.” If you put some charts in a document that doesn’t make it fact.
Kovach: How do you think [Google CEO] Sundar Pichai handled the situation?
Lauren: So before I found out [Damore] had been fired on Monday, I remember saying very clearly to one of the male colleagues on my team, who I see as a complete ally and has always supported me in everything that I’ve done at Google, saying, “Well, we can’t not fire him at this point. If we don’t fire him, what message does that send to all the women at Google? That this is an acceptable thing to do. That it’s acceptable to alienate all the women at Google and say that they don’t deserve to be here?”
Kovach: Did your colleague agree with that?
Lauren: Interestingly, that male colleague was like, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe not.” And I was like, “I need you to explain to me why you think he shouldn’t be fired, because that’s why I think he should be fired.” He didn’t really have a reason. I think it was just a knee-jerk reaction to: “Do we need to necessarily fire this person?” I think a lot of us had to have an internal sort of debate about it. I think it’s easier with hindsight to look back and say, “Was that decision the right or the wrong one?” And I think at the time, for all the people involved in making that decision, it was probably quite a big debate. But I had no doubt in my mind that I thought that that’s how it should go down.
Kovach: It seems like at the very top level they were wrestling with that same question. So the firing happens Monday night. How do you think it was handled?
Lauren: I think it was handled well. They took an appropriate amount of time to make the decision. I’m glad it wasn’t a hasty decision. I’m glad it didn’t happen first thing Monday morning. I’m glad they debated it and that they talked it through. Because there are so many facets to the situation. You can’t just look at it at a base level and say ,“Well he should just be fired because he did something wrong.” Think about it from every point of view. And I believe they did. And what I love about Google is that we don’t just make these hasty decisions. We think about things from all the angles.
Kovach: Do you think the email Sundar sent to employees Monday night addressed that?
Lauren: Loved that email. Because Sundar is right. There are some people who just want to reject the whole thing, who are like, “The fact that there’s one thing in that document I disagree with— we should reject the whole thing.”
I agree with Sundar. There are issues in that document that [Damore] was perfectly entitled to raise. If you don’t agree with the way that the diversity and inclusion programs at Google work, then you’re entitled to raise that and ask if we can reconsider the way we run those programs. I completely agree with that. There are other parts of the document that I disagree with. It wasn’t appropriate to raise those issues in that particular way. So I agree with the way that Sundar handled the whole thing.
Kovach: How do you think Sundar handled canceling the town hall that was supposed to address many of these issues?
Lauren: I mean, if we think there is even one person in the company who is going to be put at risk, then yeah, we did the right thing. I’m just so incredibly disappointed that it’s come to this and that people don’t feel safe to engage in a debate about something and that they might be exposed to risk publicly like that. That’s really disappointing.
Kovach: Do you think Sundar should keep his job?
Lauren Oh yeah, of course.
My personal experience of Sundar… I have a very personal experience of Sundar, is that he is one of the most considerate, sensitive, thoughtful, and caring leaders we’ve ever had. And I really mean that. Back in March, after I escalated my concerns about the way we were handling International Women’s Day, I became sort of heavily connected to the leadership team of Google. Basically they were like, “Wow, there is a concern here and we want to help you with it.” And they did. And Sundar was a big part of that. A couple of weeks later, Ruth Porat asked me to come and speak at our weekly all-hands. She said, “Lauren we’re having a TGIF for Women’s History Month and I really want you to come and tell your story that you told me.” [Google’s weekly all-hands meetings are called “TGIF.”]
She said I want you to come tell your story because I think it’s really important for everyone at Google to hear that story from your mouth. I said, “Sure, I’ll come and do it.” And I flew out and I got up and I spoke in front of 70,000 people. And you know, it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I did it because Ruth was right, that story needed to be shared. And when I stepped off the stage… the first person I saw was Sundar and he was watching… and he turned to me because he knew I was about to come off stage and he looked me right in the eye and he was like, ‘Thank you so much for doing that.” And it was so genuine. I was like, “Oh, I mean, you’re welcome.” And he’s like, “No, I really appreciate you doing that.”
The next person who came to me was Ruth, and she just bundled me up in a big hug and she was like, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming and telling the story.” And I was like, “Ruth, absolutely you know I would do it a thousand times over if you asked me again.” It was an important thing for me to do, and so I felt nothing but support as a woman at Google who was asking for equality from my leadership team. And I don’t see why Sundar should be fired for feeling like he needed to protect 30% of Googlers.
Kovach: Do you feel like you’re paid fairly?
Lauren: I feel like I’m sufficiently and adequately and fairly compensated for what I do for the level at I’m at compared to my peers. I don’t have any personal concerns for that. But until there is a way for us to see the actual numbers I don’t think anyone should be making any claims about that.
Kovach: The Department of Labor is though.
Lauren: Well there are nuances to that as well, right? They need to have some evidence before they can ask for those numbers and they don’t seem to have that evidence.
Kovach: Google is also acting like they don’t want to give out that evidence.
Lauren: We’ve given them enough, and also I don’t want to get into debating this because it’s not my area of expertise, but their request was incredibly broad. They were were asking for a very broad bunch of information that they don’t necessarily need to make an analysis. Do I have a problem with Google protecting my personal information from the government? Not really. I kind of appreciate that.
Kovach: So what do you think happens next? What’s your feeling moving forward? How do you feel personally?
Lauren: I just feel like, and this is an issue I take not with Google, but with more broadly the way we’re all handling the situation outside of Google. I just feel like the women of Google aren’t being given a chance to respond to [Damore]. We’re not being asked how we feel about it and what we think about it, and that’s a really important part of the situation that no one is focusing on. Everyone is focusing on like freedom of speech and whether it legal or not for him to be fired. That’s part of the story, but it’s the only thing anyone is talking about right now.
Kovach: With all the outings and reactions outside of Google, do you feel safe? Do you feel threatened?
Lauren: So one of the hardest things for me last night, when I was going home and one of my girlfriends wrote me a letter, was like, these are all the things you should go in and lock down right. It was like lock down your Venmo, lock down your LinkedIn, your Twitter, your Facebook. I just deleted some of my accounts. And then I was like, “Oh man I’m going to have to go through my internal stuff.”
Kovach: What internal stuff did you lock down?
Lauren: My internal Google Plus. I literally went through my internal Google Plus and deleted a bunch of stuff.
Kovach: So you were worried someone within the company might go through your internal Google Plus page and out you?
Lauren: I bring my whole self to work normally. I’m very open and honest about who I am inside and outside of the company. I think a lot of people at Google are really open about who they are. I’ve personally worked with two transgender female engineers in my six years at Google. They’ve been directly on my team. They are some of the only female engineers I’ve worked with at Google, and they are transgender female engineers, and they are both very open about that. So yeah, there were parts of my Google existence internally that I was like I’m going to have to delete this for the fear that someone is going to take this and post publicly and screw me for speaking out against this. So that was the really hardest part of last night, when I realized I was going to have to do that. Like it was one thing to lock down my public profile, who I am online, and I’m a pretty open person online and I was like, “I’m going to have to delete internal stuff now.”
Kovach: You should see some of the stuff that’s leaking out from internal message boards like that.
Lauren: I have seem some of it. That people internally do that to other people that they work with is, to me, so disappointing. It’s not that I don’t feel safe. I feel like I’ve taken steps to protect myself now, but that I even have to think about that that might happen is so disappointing.
Kovach: That your own colleagues would do it?
Lauren: Yeah, people I trust. I have this little spiel that I say it probably once a week when I do this candidate recruiting and hiring at Google. Every single person in the last 10 minutes of an interview, When I say, “Do you have any questions for me?” asks the same question: Why Do you work for Google? Is it as great as everyone says?
And I have the same answer every time. It’s a genuine answer. I stay at Google and I love Google because of the people. I have never worked with a group of people that I love and care about and respect so much, and one of the things I love so much about Google is that I know can throw a ball at anyone and they will grab it and they will run with it and they do the best possible job with it. I can trust them to do that. I can trust them to be there for me if I need them. It’s always been such an open and caring and thoughtful community. And last night I was like, “Wow, what happened to that?” That’s really sad to me.
Kovach: Do you think a lot of that was kind of bubbling under the surface for all these years and this is the excuse for these people to come out?
Lauren: I had never seen any of it until the election. Maybe they felt that way and they felt like no one else agreed with them and then they were suddenly like, “Oh, hey, here’s my validation.” Maybe I don’t know, but I had never seen any of it until then. And Google was kind of apolitical before. We didn’t really discuss politics, and Google never really took a political stance either way externally. I was really shocked after the election when we started to sort of debate politics so much internally, and people started to have very vocal public reactions to things. We just didn’t do that.
Kovach: I’ll push back on that a little bit. Google and other Silicon Valley companies have always gone out of their way to be more progressive than, say, Goldman Sachs, or someone like that. But it does make sense that you’ve been speaking about politics more internally since the election.
Lauren: Look at this way. I was really involved in the Women’s March in January. I built an app with a non-Google friend to help women organize transportation and accommodation down in DC. I did interviews with The New York Times. I did a ton of press. And I did all of it as Lauren, not Lauren from Google. I was so careful about that because I was like, as Googlers we don’t take a political stance. That’s not how this works. We’ve been told all along we can’t speak on behalf of Google politically. That not’s what we do.
Kovach: What else would you like to say?
Lauren: I just really want us to think about why we’re not asking the women at Google how they feel about it because that to me is the root of misogyny right there. We’re not even asking them to participate in the debate about an issue that directly affects them we’re just telling them how to think and feel about it.
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