Diversity advocate says he was told to “avoid posting on controversial topics.”
A former Google engineer named Cory Altheide says he left the company two years ago after managers pressured him to stop agitating for greater workplace diversity in internal company discussion forums. His memo explaining his departure was published by Gizmodo on Thursday evening.
Altheide is going public in the wake of controversy over the firing of another Google engineer, James Damore. Damore sued Google earlier this week, arguing that Google discriminates against white men. Ideologically speaking, Altheide is Damore’s opposite. Where Damore had argued that Google’s diversity policies went too far, Altheide argued that Google was doing too little to promote workplace diversity.
Altheide said that his efforts to raise this issue in internal Google discussion forums in 2015 earned him a reprimand from management. He was so frustrated by these interactions that he left the company months later. “I’ve been bullied by a senior vice president with ten thousand full time employees—arguably the most powerful SVP in the company,” Altheide wrote, referring to Google executive Urs Hölzle. “I don’t want to work with jerks.”
Altheide was active in Google’s internal diversity debates
Altheide’s saga began in August 2015, when an internal Google discussion forum called Industryinfo hosted a long-running thread called “if you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention.” The thread became so contentious that two of the most senior Google managers—Urs Hölzle and Sridhar Ramaswamy—ultimately shut the discussion down.
“I respectfully ask that everyone stop engaging on this thread,” Ramaswamy wrote. “Google is not a debate club or a philosophy class. We are a workplace and we have an obligation to make sure our discussions remain respectful.”
A few days later, Altheide writes, “I started a new thread to show, hey, look, here’s why people begin to suspect you might not be ‘just asking questions’ if you constantly only ask questions on diversity topics.” Altheide’s new post pointed to a blog run by an anonymous Google employee who subscribed to the openly racist “neoreactionary” ideology. That blogger wrote things like “blacks are not equal to whites. Therefore, the ‘inequality’ between these races is expected and makes perfect sense.”
“This is one of your coworkers,” Altheide wrote in his September 2, 2015 post. “I understand some folks can’t comprehend why Social Justice Warriors (or, as I like to call us, ‘people who care about other people’) raise their hackles when yet another diversity thread is beset by a stream of ‘reasonable, well-intentioned’ (derailing) questions. It’s because at least some of those ‘questions` are—well, let’s just say they’re not coming from a position of good faith.”
Altheide says this post earned him a surprise meeting with an HR representative and his manager. In the meeting, they pointed Altheide back to Ramaswamy’s earlier request that people stop engaging on the gender diversity thread—a not-very-subtle hint to stop posting on this kind of topic.
“I thought it was a savagely tactless analogy”
Altheide ignored these hints. Instead, he says he “continued posting (without commentary) articles of relevance to our industry about bias, discrimination, and social justice, as I believed (and continued to believe) these are important topics to address if any improvements are to be made.”
He began adding a footer to these posts to “avoid wasting time in future spurious HR investigations”:
After posting a handful of additional posts about diversity issues, Altheide was summoned to an urgent meeting with Hölzle. Hölzle is one of Google’s most senior managers, with thousands of engineers reporting to him, directly or indirectly. There were several layers of management between the two men, and Altheide says those middle managers weren’t involved in the meeting.
Hölzle asked Altheide to explain why he had been making these postings. “I don’t think anything I will say right now will be a sufficient answer for you,” Altheide said. When Hölzle insisted, Altheide said he wanted to “point out that blanket assumptions of good faith in diversity topics aren’t data driven, given that the data shows not everyone is acting from a position of good faith.”
Altheide says Hölzle told him that “if the majority of your coworkers are Nazis, it is better if you don’t know about it.” Altheide adds: “This I remembered verbatim because I thought it was a savagely tactless analogy for a Swiss man to be making.”
“From now on I request that you avoid posting on controversial topics,” Hölzle wrote in a post-meeting email. “I believe your intention is to make Google better; nevertheless I ask you to refrain from such posts since they are prone to inciting others to comment in a way which violates our policies.”
Altheide says he decided to leave Google after his interactions with Urs Hölzle.
“I’m leaving because I don’t trust Urs,” Altheide wrote in his memo. “I’m afraid of Urs. He inserted himself into what should have been a conversation with my direct manager.”
We asked Google for comment about Altheide’s memo on Thursday evening. We’ll update if we get a response.