Alphabet makes big promises about racial equity. But it lacks accountability

Good morning, Data Sheet readers. Tech writer Danielle Abril here filling in for Adam. 

I’ve been watching the growing number of tech companies and CEOs publicly denouncing racial injustice and offering their support for the black community. Most top leaders seem to understand that the time for change is now. And in the tech industry, much change is desperately needed. 

But when all the public outrage has died down, one important question remains: How many companies will actually follow through with their promises of change?

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has sent two emails to his employees expressing his support for racial equity. The first one came a couple of weeks ago after the rise of nationwide protests following the death George Floyd, a black Minneapolis resident who was killed by a white police officer kneeling on his neck. 

In that email, Pichai said that he recognized that the “black community is hurting” and announced a $12 million corporate donation that would go to organizations that address racial inequities. He also said that recent events “reflect deep structural challenges” and promised to develop initiatives and product ideas to support “long-term solutions,” without providing much detail. 

On Wednesday, Pichai sent a second email in which he committed to increasing the number of black and minority senior leaders at Google by 30{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} within the next five years. He also said the company plans to address diversity issues related to hiring, retention, and promotion at Google and to work on creating a “stronger sense of inclusion and belonging” for black employees. 

He added that Google is working on product features that could help people find black-owned businesses on Google Search and Google Maps, for example.

While these promises are steps in the right direction, critics say it all sounds too familiar. For years, Google, Facebook, Apple, and others have promised more diversity and improving their products to serve all people. And so far, their results are far from impressive.

To their credit, several big tech companies tried to move the needle. They’ve created employee programs, paid closer attention to how they develop products, and hired passionate chief diversity officers to lead the charge. 

But ultimately there’s still no accountability for diversity problems at companies like Google. Unlike missing revenue projections, there is no penalty for failing to hire more minorities or improving the culture at their campuses. 

The good news is that the current movement is rattling executives, who may not have considered making some of these changes otherwise. The bad news is it’s going to take a lot more than money and a few promises to create a company culture that not only welcomes a diverse group of employees but includes, supports, and empowers them.

Danielle Abril


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This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

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