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Google amends rules for guests after rift over controversial Indian speaker

Alphabet Inc’s
Google has tweaked its rules for inviting guest
speakers to its offices, days after it cancelled a talk by an
Indian historian who has disparaged marginalised groups, especially Muslims, and
their concerns, according to company emails seen by Reuters news agency.

The policy released on Thursday is Google’s latest effort to
preserve an open culture while addressing divisions that have
emerged as its workforce has grown.

Workers at Google and other big tech companies in recent
years have clashed and protested over politics and racial and
gender equity.

Also, Alphabet, Apple Inc and Amazon.com
Inc all face union organising drives whose demands
include that the companies adopt progressive policies.

The Google speaker rules, seen by the Reuters news agency, cite risk to the
brand from certain talks and ask workers to “consider whether
there’s a business reason for hosting the speaker and if the
event directly supports our company goals.”

READ MORE: India’s low-caste women raped by men from dominant castes

‘Productive work environment’

It calls for avoiding topics that could be “disruptive or
undermine Google’s culture of belonging” and reiterates that
speakers are barred from advocacy of political candidates and
ballot measures.

“We’ve always been proud to host external speakers at
Google, as they provide great opportunities for learning and
connection for our employees,” Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont told
Reuters.

The updated process will “ensure these events are
useful and contribute to a productive work environment.”

An email introducing the policy to managers said it unifies
and clarifies a patchwork of guidelines.

Greater scrutiny threatens the free-flowing, university-like
culture Google has prized since its inception. But a workplace
viewed as more inviting could attract a more diverse workforce
that might help Google develop products with broader appeal.

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

Rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc also have
policies for inviting speakers.

READ MORE:
‘Anti-caste rap’: A hip-hop revolution in the making in India

READ MORE: How the caste system impacts lives of South Asians in the UK

‘Violation of Google policies’

Disputes over speakers have roiled Google since at least April when it said internal rancour prompted it to cancel a talk on India’s socio-religious rigid caste system by author and Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who advocates for people disadvantaged by caste prejudice.

Dalits (formerly untouchables) are at the bottom rung of the Hindu caste ladder and often face widespread mistreatment in India.

Members of an internal Hindu group had complained about Soundararajan, describing her rhetoric as inflammatory, a charge she calls bigoted.

At least one of the critics suggested inviting for balance Rajiv Malhotra, according to an internal message.

Malhotra, a self-described contrarian author, has labelled activists such as Soundararajan as “snakes” and criticised affirmative action policies that promote lower caste groups.

The Hindu group at Google eventually scheduled Malhotra to speak about India’s positive global influence, according to an invitation, but organisers cancelled on November 10.

A linked document organised by Alphabet Workers Union, a labour organisation that has been petitioning Google to name caste in its non-discrimination policies, noted Malhotra had described Islam as a “destructive force.”

READ MORE: A silent invasion: How Hindutva infiltrated US politics

READ MORE: Twitter hate: 86 percent of anti-Muslim content comes from US, UK, India

Malhotra told Reuters he supports marginalised communities but opposes the “politicising of bias in ways that divide societies and make them vulnerable to foreign colonisation.”

Allowing his speech after cancelling Soundararajan’s would have amounted to a contradictory standard, according to messages between employees.

The new speaker policy states that workers “must submit a proposal and have it approved” by a “cross-functional” review team.

“Await a response before making contact with the speaker and/or their representative,” it says. “Failure to follow this process is a violation of Google policies.”

READ MORE: Experts: Islamophobia in West fuels hatred against Muslims in other regions

Row began after Hindu groups in Google got a talk by Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan cancelled, which followed cancellation of invitation to Rajiv Malhotra, author who labels people like Soundararajan “snakes”.

New rules reiterate that speakers are barred from advocacy of political candidates and ballot measures.
New rules reiterate that speakers are barred from advocacy of political candidates and ballot measures.
(Reuters Archive)

Alphabet Inc’s
Google has tweaked its rules for inviting guest
speakers to its offices, days after it cancelled a talk by an
Indian historian who has disparaged marginalised groups, especially Muslims, and
their concerns, according to company emails seen by Reuters news agency.

The policy released on Thursday is Google’s latest effort to
preserve an open culture while addressing divisions that have
emerged as its workforce has grown.

Workers at Google and other big tech companies in recent
years have clashed and protested over politics and racial and
gender equity.

Also, Alphabet, Apple Inc and Amazon.com
Inc all face union organising drives whose demands
include that the companies adopt progressive policies.

The Google speaker rules, seen by the Reuters news agency, cite risk to the
brand from certain talks and ask workers to “consider whether
there’s a business reason for hosting the speaker and if the
event directly supports our company goals.”

READ MORE: India’s low-caste women raped by men from dominant castes

‘Productive work environment’

It calls for avoiding topics that could be “disruptive or
undermine Google’s culture of belonging” and reiterates that
speakers are barred from advocacy of political candidates and
ballot measures.

“We’ve always been proud to host external speakers at
Google, as they provide great opportunities for learning and
connection for our employees,” Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont told
Reuters.

The updated process will “ensure these events are
useful and contribute to a productive work environment.”

An email introducing the policy to managers said it unifies
and clarifies a patchwork of guidelines.

Greater scrutiny threatens the free-flowing, university-like
culture Google has prized since its inception. But a workplace
viewed as more inviting could attract a more diverse workforce
that might help Google develop products with broader appeal.

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

Rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc also have
policies for inviting speakers.

READ MORE:
‘Anti-caste rap’: A hip-hop revolution in the making in India

READ MORE: How the caste system impacts lives of South Asians in the UK

‘Violation of Google policies’

Disputes over speakers have roiled Google since at least April when it said internal rancour prompted it to cancel a talk on India’s socio-religious rigid caste system by author and Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who advocates for people disadvantaged by caste prejudice.

Dalits (formerly untouchables) are at the bottom rung of the Hindu caste ladder and often face widespread mistreatment in India.

Members of an internal Hindu group had complained about Soundararajan, describing her rhetoric as inflammatory, a charge she calls bigoted.

At least one of the critics suggested inviting for balance Rajiv Malhotra, according to an internal message.

Malhotra, a self-described contrarian author, has labelled activists such as Soundararajan as “snakes” and criticised affirmative action policies that promote lower caste groups.

The Hindu group at Google eventually scheduled Malhotra to speak about India’s positive global influence, according to an invitation, but organisers cancelled on November 10.

A linked document organised by Alphabet Workers Union, a labour organisation that has been petitioning Google to name caste in its non-discrimination policies, noted Malhotra had described Islam as a “destructive force.”

READ MORE: A silent invasion: How Hindutva infiltrated US politics

READ MORE: Twitter hate: 86 percent of anti-Muslim content comes from US, UK, India

Malhotra told Reuters he supports marginalised communities but opposes the “politicising of bias in ways that divide societies and make them vulnerable to foreign colonisation.”

Allowing his speech after cancelling Soundararajan’s would have amounted to a contradictory standard, according to messages between employees.

The new speaker policy states that workers “must submit a proposal and have it approved” by a “cross-functional” review team.

“Await a response before making contact with the speaker and/or their representative,” it says. “Failure to follow this process is a violation of Google policies.”

READ MORE: Experts: Islamophobia in West fuels hatred against Muslims in other regions

Source: Reuters

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