It’s no secret that Google has some serious internal issues with systemic racism and sexism, but now it’s surfaced that when employees report incidents of workplace discrimination to HR, they’re often met with this baffling response: Get therapy.
That’s according to nearly a dozen current and former Google employees who spoke with NBC News, including two prominent Black women, Timnit Gebru and April Curley, whose shady ousters last year earned Google widespread condemnation.
Gebru, who formerly co-led Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, claims she was fired after criticizing the company’s diversity protocols and attempts by management to censor research critical of Google’s products. Before her departure, Gebru told NBC that she repeatedly raised concerns about how women were mistreated at Google. But when human resource specialists responded to her complaints, they simply encouraged her to seek out mental health resources.
“They’re like, ‘Well, if there’s something wrong with you, here are all these therapy resources,” Gebru told the outlet. “And I would respond that no amount of support system is going to get rid of Google’s hostile work environment. I have friends. I go dancing. I have hobbies and therapy already.”
Curley was quietly fired from her role as a diversity recruiter in September. A Twitter thread disclosing her termination and detailing her experience with the blatant racism throughout Google’s company culture later went viral. During her six years there, she said she reported two managers for allegedly mistreating her and her team and faced pushback for speaking out, which included a $20,000 pay cut in 2019 along with a formal warning about her work performance. When she told HR about her concerns, instead of addressing her coworkers’ inappropriate behavior, they suggested she take a medical leave of absence to tend to her mental health, per NBC.
Nine other current and former Google employees the outlet spoke with said they had similar experiences after reporting sexual harassment and racist comments to HR. They also received the same suggestion—to take medical leave to address their mental health—when raising concerns about alleged retaliation or advocating for equal pay among Google’s white and Black employees. Another 12 current and former Google employees confirmed to NBC that this is common practice at Google’s human resources department.
Of the workers that opted to take medical leave, several said they returned to find they had new managers or had been reassigned to other departments. Since Google ties promotions and raises to management’s performance reviews, these employees claimed they missed out on opportunities because their new managers hadn’t known them long enough to adequately gauge their performance.
One current employee who spoke with NBC on the condition of anonymity said she reported a manager who had dismissed her concerns about Google’s failure to address widespread racial disparities in the workplace. When the employee, a Black woman, complained to HR, they suggested she either coach the manager about where they went wrong or take medical leave and get mental health treatment.
“It felt belittling. I wasn’t in shock because I had heard it before. I had watched other leaders in the organization take these mental health leaves and then disappear,” she told the outlet. “It was clear that they weren’t going to take me seriously.”
Claire Stapleton, a former employee who organized a walkout in 2018 to protest how Google handled accusations of sexual assault and harassment, said she complained about being demoted after the protest to HR and was told to try mindfulness techniques to improve her relationship with her manager. Their other suggestion? You guessed it: to take medical leave to work on her mental health.
In a statement to NBC, Google said it’s committed to supporting its employees that come forward about workplace mistreatment:
“We have a well-defined process for how employees can raise concerns and we work to be extremely transparent about how we handle complaints. All concerns reported to us are investigated rigorously, and we take firm action against employees who violate our policies.”
Google declined to comment on several allegations in NBC’s report, but did say the company offers a range of ways for employees to raise concerns and it investigates all retaliation reports.
“If an employee wants to explore a leave of absence or have a workplace accommodation, Google’s Benefits team will work with the individual on next steps,” a company spokesperson told the outlet.
Google has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into diversity efforts over the years. But so far, the results have been dismal, going by the company’s diversity reports. (In all fairness, its competitors in Silicon Valley haven’t been doing too hot either). Between 2019 and 2020, the percentage of Black hires at Google rose by less than 1% while the percentage of Latino and Native American hires actually decreased. Last month, the company agreed to pay $3.8 million to settle allegations of “systemic compensation and hiring discrimination” brought by over 5,000 women and Asian engineers.
Google recently said it’s rolling out new procedures to handle sensitive employee exits and revising its diversity policies, according to Axios. The decision came after an internal investigation into Gebru’s firing, the results of which Google declined to reveal. Based on these latest allegations, though, Google has a hell of a lot of work to do. Might I suggest therapy? Maybe then Google’s management can manifest some diversity policies with teeth.
Update: 3/8/2021, 4:03 p.m. ET: A Google spokesperson shared the following statement with Gizmodo:
“If someone raises a complaint, our first priority is to investigate their concerns and we take firm action when we find policy violations. At the same time, we know that being the subject of, and reporting, misconduct is hard, so we provide Google-funded resources for employees who may want additional care and support through the process. We think this is the right thing for an employer to do to support people making complaints, but to be clear, these resources are in no way a substitute to Google investigating and addressing the matter they have reported. We’ve set out this process publicly here.”