Tech

Inside Google’s Microaggressions Newsletter: Pronoun Problems, Soy Police, And A Deaf Person Told To Watch Her ‘Tone’

J. Arthur Bloom Deputy Editor

Google’s anonymous bias reporting newsletter, “Yes, At Google,” has been known about for some time, but details have been few and far between. For the first time, The Daily Caller can reveal what gets talked about on the monthly microaggressions report.

Googlers who choose to do so may receive the “Yes, At Google” newsletter. The listserv’s description says it is a “curated monthly newsletter of anonymized incidents of micro-aggressions & micro-corrections, collected from the anonymous form at go/yes-at-google. Anyone can join, but membership is required to view posts (see go/yag-faq). Contact fos-diversity-council@ with feedback or to get involved.”

The newsletter began in 2016 as the private initiative of one Googler. It grew over time and its existence was first reported by Bloomberg in May 2017. At that time, about 20% of the company’s workforce was on it and it went out weekly. Today it is a monthly newsletter with an editorial board.

The editor of the newsletter is Heather Cain, the leader of Google’s Respect@ program. Respect@ is a human resources initiative begun in 2015 which, according to the New York Times “includes a way for employees to anonymously report complaints of inappropriate behavior by co-workers.”

“In ~August 2017, Heather Cain who co-leads the Respect@ and go/respectadvisors initiatives, came on board to program manage the effort,” reads a document shared with The Daily Caller.

“She developed the educational scenarios we shared in past issues, and set up an Editorial Board of various functions including HRBPs, Equity Diversity, Inclusion and Integrity (EDII), Benefits, REWS, Communications etc. to help drive fixes based on submissions. She helped the YAG editors by providing a sounding board, followed up on serious issues that required deanonymization (a requirement of workplace monitoring policy), and chased down follow-ups. She did all this in addition to her actual job.”

In other words, the “Yes, At Google” program has gone from being a bottom-up initiative to one with significant backing from company management. (EXCLUSIVE: Documents Detailing Google’s ‘News Blacklist’ Show Manual Manipulation Of Special Search Results)

So what does it look like? The three newsletters shared with the Daily Caller cover the summer of 2018. Each of them has a theme. The theme of the June and August newsletters is ‘workplace environment,’ and the theme of the July newsletter is ‘thoughtful discourse.’

The newsletters provide insight into both genuinely troubling human resources issues and the prevalence of left-wing discourse within the company. Most items are submitted by Googlers, except where otherwise noted.

In particular, there are three instances at the New York office that seem to indicate a pro-PRC bias on the part of certain employees there. A Taiwanese flag was vandalized and criticism of the company’s cooperation with the Chinese government was tarred as racist. Selections from the three newsletters are provided below.

June 11, 2018

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 3: The Google logo adorns the outside of their NYC office Google Building 8510 at 85 10th Ave on June 3, 2019 in New York City. Shares of Google parent company Alphabet were down over six percent on Monday, following news reports that the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to launch an anti-trust investigation aimed at Google. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A deaf person told to watch her “tone”

“Reminded today by my manager that I need to be more aware of my tone when interacting with others as sometimes it’s often not appropriate given the situation. Fact: I am deaf and rely on Cochlear implants to ‘hear.’ I cannot differentiate tones.” (RELATED: Google Fires Republican Engineer Who Spoke Out Against ‘Outrage Mobs’)

Biased against Cardi B?

“A leadership-level manager asked that product screenshots not include images of the rapper Cardi B, because she used to be a stripper. Since we regularly feature artists with dubious and illegal past careers and arrest records it felt like Cardi B was singled out because she is a woman (who used to work in a profession that is 100% legal and who has never been arrested). This felt uncomfortably like sexism and classism baked into our product.”

Are parents part of Google’s workplace diversity?

“At a monthly team meeting with our VP, we were asked to share our thoughts about diversity. I mentioned that part-time, especially for working parents, could be a good option and that the options for it were not yet widely understood. For example, there is a lot of confusion in the general Tech organization about how part-time factors into calibration, promotion, etc. I was shocked that my director and a few L7s in the org seemed to take this very personally and lectured me about about the difficulty of part-time and how it doesn’t apply to everyone.”

“A couple folks approached me after the session and said they felt sorry for me because of the way everyone in the meeting had ‘attacked’ me. My VP just stepped back and did not say anything. While I personally felt OK, I feel this is just indicative of how sensitive Google is about certain topics. Also, even when we ask for opinions, we aren’t willing to accept criticism. Personally, I feel that part-time is about as non-sensitive a topic as it’s possible to have, in the area of diversity.”

Veterans at Google feel besieged

“The recent backlash at Google against have contracts with the DoD is having very negative effects on the Veterans’ community. Fellow Googlers are posting memes and comments about how the DoD is evil and immoral. While holding healthy political discussions at Google is an awesome part about working here, it can go too far. It is not reasonable for those who claim the military is evil to not understand that those connotations apply to those who have served as well.”

“This applies to not just US military, but all those who have served their own countries. I really can’t think of another group that has been treated this way without management saying something in defense. Google prides itself on being an inclusive community, but to many vets it seems that we are an excluded group.”

Feeling anxious or experiencing financial difficulties? You might be a workplace shooter

“Understandably, everyone wants to feel more safe at Google after the terrible event at the San Bruno YouTube office. I’m glad that GSRS is working to increase our actual safety. Unfortunately, the portion of their “go/BeSafe” site focused on active shooter situations goes horribly, horribly wrong. Their list of ‘potentially violent behaviors by an employee’ basically suggests that Googlers should be afraid of coworkers who experience ANY of the following: financial difficulties, relationship struggles, anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic health issues, autism, or virtually any mental health issue. Encouraging Googlers to fear and distrust each other is not going to reduce workplace violence.”

A note appended to this complaint states that the list of ‘potentially violent behaviors’ was removed.

Racism and misogyny at Google

“I am active sometimes in diversity groups. I am SO scared of doxxing that when I had to go on call I made sure I got a corp number just so I didn’t have to list any personal numbers publicly at Google. Because of this only my manager has a number that people can consistently reach, and other teammates only have my number that I carry exclusively when I am on call.”

“There has been a steady stream of people who are like me (aka. in the same minority groups as me and/or with similar values to me) leaving the company, and that is hitting me hard. It’s very hard to feel like you belong when everyone like you is disappearing.”

“As an ABP (female, latinx) I get tasks like ‘please send flowers to _____.’ or ‘It’s ____’s birthday can you get/do XYZ…’ I have day to day tasks I need to get done and feel like there’s little room to say when these requests come my way.”

“I was in town visiting my team in SVL and working in the shared work space just across from a group of our TLs. They gossiped extensively about the ICs in my office, and whether the ICs were dating or otherwise involved with one another. They speculated about the social relationships of ICs in our office.”

“When one manager asked on a mailing list how to deal with male employees over-explaining things to a female report, another manager blamed the over-explaining on diversity training, claiming that male engineers on his team never treated women condescendingly before diversity training made them think that Google was hiring less qualified women and minorities to achieve diversity goals.”

“I am a female manager based offshore. In my team, I am often told I have to be very careful with my questions as it may be misconstrued as being ‘too strong.’ However, we have a male manager who makes comments about one team being ‘useless’ and I am told to accept who he is because he used to be a lawyer and because ‘that’s just how he is.’ This same manager also generalizes and makes judgments about people who are not native speakers, and again I am often told that he is ‘just like that’ and that he is one of the favorites of senior management. I have asked valid questions and I was told to shut up, he made judgments and people celebrated his leadership. I was so positive when I joined Google but now I dread every day and I just feel so powerless and unprotected.”

“A European colleague at lunch was telling a story; he was once visiting the US ended up in an area that looked really dodgy. One of the criteria he used to describe the situation, was that there were black people standing in front of parked cars playing music. This was in an EMEA office. Thankfully nobody on the lunch table was black, but I still felt hurt hearing this. Several trainings at Google say we should be calling these instances out, but honestly you just feel so shocked and tongue-tied when you hear that, you don’t know what to say or how to react.”

July 23, 2018

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – MAY 22: An RV sits parked next to Google headquarters on May 22, 2019 in Mountain View, California. As the price of rent continues to skyrocket in the San Francisco Bay Area, a number of RVs have appeared on the streets near the Google headquarters in Mountain View. The Mountain View police department logged nearly 300 RVs parked on city streets that appeared to be used as a primary residence. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Google Project Manager: West Virginians ‘breed with their cousins’

“While discussing family-friendly activities around the Pittsburgh office, my PM joked that one could go to West Virginia and watch people breed with their cousins. A few weeks prior, a different colleague commented that poor people shouldn’t have children. This PM took a softer stance but agreed that poor people should plan better. I am from West Virginia, and my sister still lives there in poverty. I am helping her regain custody of her newborn child on top of supporting her through opioid withdrawal. I compartmentalize well, but I’m already struggling to stay productive without these interactions.”

Gays have it ‘so much easier’

“You gays are so lucky. Your life is so much easier, you don’t have to fake respecting women.”

Manager: half-Indian Googler ‘looks exactly like a stereotypical terrorist’

“I am half Indian and have a beard. During a technical discussion, a peer manager suddenly asked me ‘how do you ever make it through airport security?’ I knew what he meant, but a coworker asked him to clarify, and he said ‘well, he looks exactly like a stereotypical terrorist.’ He’s not wrong, some people do think I look like a terrorist and I do face discrimination because of my race. I’m happy to discuss these issues and my experiences with coworkers but this was the wrong time to ask about it and he asked in a very insensitive way, I was particularly dismayed because he is a manager and should have some more awareness about this.”

Discrimination against the differently-abled

“A car was parked in a way that blocked a ramp. There’s no way for the driver to know how many peoples day this ruined.”

“A coworker loudly exclaimed that whoever designed the cafe menu for the day must have been schizophrenic. His tone was so disparaging that it startled me. I was very relieved to see that our team member who has schizophrenia(and who sets a few desks away) was not at her desk at the time.” (RELATED: Meet The Five Google Staffers Who Circulated The Petition To Drop Kay Coles James)

Respect and civility are ‘problematic’

“The original name for this theme was ‘respect and civility,'” the newsletter’s editor wrote. “Why did we change the name? Respect and civility are important but can be problematic when they get in the way of important conversations. There is also a different understanding of what can be ‘expected’ when interacting with each other within different communities. For example, some communities think civility is a baseline and respect is earned so you can’t demand someone to be respectful. Others feel that respect is a fundamental way of interacting with peers and a  call for civility is essentially only used to tone police someone. We have chosen the word ‘thoughtful’ to replace them in order to encourage everyone to consider how they communicate using a more neutral term.”

“… It’s OK for a team to ask for a respectful community in order to get the information they need to help improve the product. In other cases, calling for ‘respectful’ or ‘civil’ conversations doesn’t work, e.g. when it’s used as tone-policing to shut down uncomfortable sensitive conversations. It is most often used by people in positions of power this way.

“Here’s a submission that highlights this: ‘I’m frustrated that the yes-at-google editors are talking about ‘civil’ rather than ‘respectful’ discourse as the goal. I’ve had many incredibly disrespectful things said to me that were perfectly civil in tone, and had my own tone policed as ‘uncivil’ when I responded in frustration. Propagating the notion that we need to be ‘civil’ to each other at work, rather than ‘respectful’ is a recipe for people being tone-policed, or baited with provocations into being punished, with nothing happening to the person engaging in the provocation.'”

Backlash over James Damore

“Google leadership’s statements about incidents like the Damore memo have reinforced the idea that ‘both sides are equally right’/we must tolerate intolerance.’ I think this has poisoned the internal discourse and allowed people with intolerant views to shift the culture in negative ways.”

HR monsters

“A recent Goomics depicts HR as a monster. I strive to make Google a better place to work every single day as a person who works in HR, and this is super hurtful. Why I am working so hard on behalf of Googlers who think of me as the monster?”

Sexism at Google

“A male SWE sent an email to everyone on the project and many senior people, publicly calling into question the project of a female SWE. When she took him aside privately to state that she had felt disrespected by this, he said she was too emotional and he was just stating facts.”

“A small group of people have made industryinfo@discussions so predictably unpleasant and unproductive that I have no idea why anyone is participating on that list anymore. I’ve seen women vocally quit the list over the last few months because threads have become so blatantly misogynistic. It is really unfortunate there’s no moderated space to discuss news about Google with a broad audience. There are a lot of voices we’re not hearing because the default venue is so toxic.”

“I was struggling for years to get promoted from L4 to L5. I kept being told I didn’t have leadership skills and wasn’t influencing without authority, and that my style of communication was too direct. Eventually, a manager explained to me that for women of color ‘influencing without authority’ means ‘watch your tone and don’t make the guys in charge uncomfortable.’ I understood and watched every word I said. I was promoted.”

“There are internal threads on mailing lists where people are politely discussing whether men or women are more disposable (excluding non-binary people entirely) and whether women are more likely to be addicted to drugs and if women will have more value if they have children.”

A very zen manager

“When I told my manager I felt excluded from the team I was told to ‘search within yourself for the problem’ when I told my manager essentially that I found that answer unacceptable I was told that I was too sensitive.”

Pronoun problems

“Someone I know has been effectively pressured into not using their preferred pronouns in work communications because some members of their team find it unclear or confusing. The person has tried to open a dialogue to find ways to make communications clearer while still using their preferred pronouns, but has had these efforts shut down.”

Pro-Chinese Lego vandalism

“The Taiwanese lego flag in the NYC office has been vandalized a couple of times (once intentionally destroyed and replaced by the letters CN, and once blocked by a Chinese flag). Similar things also seem to happen to other country flags. Despite political differences, I would hope Googlers and their guests respect other people’s countries and flags.” (RELATED: Applause At Google’s All-Hands Meeting As Company Drops Heritage Foundation President)

August 20, 2018

People gather at a Google stand during the Consumer Electronics Show, Ces Asia 2019 in Shanghai on June 11, 2019. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

The ‘natural order’ at Google

“A fellow Googler told me it was my responsibility to make other care about racism and unless I could show how it impacted them personally I would have to get used to the ‘natural order of things.'”

Straw spat

“The ableist plastic straw ban fad has reached Google. The food team is at least wiling to hear perspectives from disabled Googlers, but this is yet another example where disabled Googlers have to advocate just to maintain the status quo of partial inclusion.”

No respect for elders

“My teammates constantly talk about being “soooo old.” I’m 5+ years older than they are. I’m proud of my experience and not embarrassed about my age, but hearing this makes me think they are.”

“A colleague referred to their team member as age-related diversity hire. When I asked to clarify, they mentioned the person in reference had great accomplishments in the past, but are now working on unimportant projects and just on the team to keep it diverse.”

The travel ban

“I ran into a coworker of mine in a European office. I told them I was sad I hadn’t gotten to see them at our recent US offsite. They said that they weren’t able to make it, without elaborating. I asked them why, and they said it was because of the US travel ban. I should have recognized that their original evasive answer meant that it was something they didn’t want to talk about, rather than forcing them to disclose something sensitive.”

Flirting gone wrong

“I’m a TVC and I’ve not completed my first month here. Last week in a cafe a man approached me while I was eating breakfast to tell me that he felt ‘compelled’ to tell me how he was attracted to me. I was wearing my wedding ring at the time (always). Then a few days later a different man who I’ve caught staring at my before, makes up a very thinly veiled excuse to talk to me in the lobby. Then the next day he pings me on google chat with another flimsy excuse to talk. Opening with ‘struggled to get your idap. Had to track your location, lol’ … it’s nothing to laugh about and I don’t see anything funny about this. I’m here to work and I don’t feel respected because of my gender.”

“I’m a 27 year old woman. I was grabbing a dessert at a cafe (Masa) and a man walks up to me and tells me ‘Do you know how many calories are in there? That’s going to all go here (points at the hips).’ I was so shocked I had nothing to say to him.”

“Anti-harrassment anti-discrimination training includes two examples of men flirting with women as inappropiate behabvior and zero examples involving any other gender configuration. This unthinkingly normalized that dynamic and derives any other.” (RELATED: Google Engineer Who Called Sen. Blackburn A ‘Terrorist’ Belongs To Cult Led By Former Porn Star)

Pride pronoun problems

“The Pride TGIF speakers didn’t say their pronouns like they did last year, and it generally seemed like trans people were pretty much forgotten about in public discussions.”

“We had an external workshop facilitator in our office this week, and they misgendered some employees. During a break, I mentioned this to the facilitator, as respectfully and unobtrusively as I could. The facilitator was open to this feedback, and in the afternoon session asked a person for their name rather than using a presumptive pronoun.”

“I wasn’t as unobtrusive as I thought because since then 2 individuals -not including misgendered employees- thanked me for bringing it up. I’m not writing because I want credit, I’m writing because I think it’s AWESOME that we’re getting to the point that multiple googlers in a room will pick up on an issue like this and support addressing it, whether they are directly affected or not.”

The soy police

“A coworker approached me to say that he noticed I consumed a lot of soy products (I’m a vegetarian) and that he was worried my testicles would shrink, my testosterone would fail, and estrogen would rise. It was inappropriate to begin with, but also cast people with lower testosterone as less masculine or manly.”

More pro-Chinese activism at the New York office

“There’s been a recent thread on a Google group about Google entering the China ecosystem. Many Google employees have debated their values and opinions on whether or not we should enter the market. However, there are many others that see China as an oppressed country that do not provide basic human rights to their citizens and are not open to truly hearing the other half of the discourse. When faced with earnest comments from other (predominantly Chinese) coworkers, one particular person had claimed that since they had Chinese friends and in-laws, they understood how morally incorrect it was to engage with the Chinese government in business deals. If someone had prefaced their opinions with ‘I have [race] friends, therefore…’, the community would have been infuriated. Moreover, this person disclosed that they are on the hiring community and are now going to question why people want to join Google now that this information is publicly reported. Claiming to be heavily biased towards an implied race of people makes me deeply uncomfortable about our hiring committee and the fact that this person felt confident enough to announce this in our (internal, but basically) public forum.”

“On August 6th, 2018, I first learned about the posters in the NYC offices with a Chinese national flag in the center. The following message was printed on the poster ‘Google’s Mission: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful available as determined by your government for your safety and best interests. Say no to dragonfly.’ A national flag represents a lot more than just its government. Many Chinese people, including many Chinese Googlers, identify with the Flag of China, regardless of their views of the government. Casting a national symbol in such a negative light made me and many of my colleagues uncomfortable and feel unsafe. Despite the best efforts of the NYC facilities team, the offensive poster kept showing up three days later, on August 9th, 2018.”

And last but not least

“I have to read ‘global slave’ every time I mail or submit code.”

A spokesperson for Google declined to comment for this story.

If any Googlers would like to share more of the “Yes, At Google” newsletters with the Daily Caller, this reporter can be reached at bloom@dailycaller.com