Google Fixes Rules for Inviting Guest Speakers to Its Offices

Alphabet’s Google this week introduced rules on inviting guest speakers to its offices, days after canceling a speech by an Indian historian who disparaged marginalized groups and their concerns, according to company emails seen by Reuters.

The policy released Thursday is Google’s latest effort to maintain an open culture while addressing the rift that has emerged as its workforce grows.

Employees at Google and other major technology companies have in recent years clashed and protested over politics and racial and gender equality. Also, Alphabet, Apple, and Amazon are all facing union drives that require companies to adopt sustainable policies.

Google’s speaker rules, seen by Reuters, cite product risks from certain conversations and ask employees to “consider whether there is a business reason to host the speaker and if the event directly supports our company’s goals.”

It requires avoiding topics that may “disrupt or undermine Google’s culture of belonging” and reiterates that speakers are prohibited from addressing political candidates and voting initiatives.

“We’ve always been proud to host external speakers at Google, as they provide great learning and networking opportunities for our employees,” Google spokesman Ryan Lamont told Reuters. The revised process “will ensure that these events are useful and contribute to a productive work environment.”

An email introducing the policy to management said it consolidates and clarifies a patchwork of guidelines.

More scrutiny threatens the free-flowing, university-like culture that Google has cherished since its founding. But a workplace that’s considered more inviting can attract a diverse workforce that can help Google develop products with broad appeal.

In recent years, internal disputes spilling over into public view have led Google to increase content controls on workplace message boards and reduce the frequency of company-wide meetings.

Competitors like Meta also have policies for inviting speakers.

At Google, speakers have included former US president Barack Obama, celebrity chef Ayesha Curry and basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It went up

Controversy over speakers has dogged Google since at least April, when it said internal disagreements prompted it to cancel a speech by Indian author Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who represents people marginalized by apartheid.

Members of the Hindu inner circle complained about Soundararajan, describing his speech as inflammatory, which he called a crime.

At least one of the critics suggested inviting Rajiv Malhotra to strike a balance, according to an internal message. Malhotra, a tech entrepreneur-turned-author who described himself as a dissident, called activists like Soundararajan “snakes” and criticized affirmative action policies that promote grassroots groups.

The Hindu group at Google eventually arranged for Malhotra to speak about India’s positive influence around the world, according to the invitation. But organizers canceled on Nov. 10, the day before a scheduled talk at Google’s Silicon Valley offices, according to a follow-up announcement.

Some employees have complained to senior management about Malhotra, according to the complaint letter. A linked document organized by the Alphabet Workers Union, a labor organization that has been urging Google to name caste in its non-discrimination policies, noted that Malhotra described homosexuality as a medical condition and Islam as a destructive force.

Malhotra told Reuters he supports marginalized communities but opposes “discrimination in a way that divides communities and makes them vulnerable to foreign colonial rule.”

Allowing his speech after canceling Soundararajan’s would have been controversial, according to messages among staff.

The speakers’ new policy says workers “must submit a proposal and have it approved” by a “multi-functional” review team. Applications are due at least 12 weeks before the event.

“Wait for a response before contacting the speaker and/or their representative,” it said. “Failure to follow this process is a violation of Google policies.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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