Ex-Google executive hammers company over diversity
A former Google executive on Thursday unleashed a barrage of criticism over the tech giant’s diversity efforts, painting Google as hypocritical and insincere over its public claims that it is trying to cultivate an inclusive workplace.
Ross LaJeunesse, a trusted Google veteran who launched a bid for Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-Maine) seat after the company allegedly pushed him out last year, is publicly criticizing Google for disregarding his complaints about the mistreatment of minority employees during his decadelong tenure.
LaJeunesse penned a Medium op-ed divulging his struggles at Google on Thursday morning, making him the most senior executive yet to publicly raise concerns about retaliation and mistreatment at the Silicon Valley behemoth. He is claiming that he was effectively fired after pushing for a human rights framework within the company for years. In a statement, a Google spokeswoman said LaJeunesse’s former job was “eliminated as part of the broad reorganization of our policy team,” which affected many employees.
The stories from LaJeunesse come as Google is facing an escalating wave of allegations and multiple labor complaints from employees who say they were punished for engaging in employee activism at the company.
In a follow-up interview with The Hill on Thursday morning, LaJeunesse detailed several instances in which he said Google’s expansive human resources department disregarded his reports about racist comments and insensitive exercises. Ultimately, he says Google pushed him out of his job.
“There was no other way of explaining what had happened to me, other than my consistent advocacy for human rights,” LaJeunesse said.
Last year, the former executive-turned-politician said he was quietly ousted from Google’s Diversity and Inclusion Council after he started raising concerns about a “diversity” exercise that left himself and two women of color feeling extremely uncomfortable.
The exercise, run by Google’s human resources department, asked employees to split off into groups according to their identities — including “brown people,” “homos” and “Asians.” LaJeunesse, who came out as gay when he was 20 years old, said he ended up speaking out when the exercise devolved into employees shouting pejorative statements about gay people in the “homos” room.
He said the employees were asked to “come up with a list of stereotypes and shout them out into the room,” resulting in a group of people shouting, “Promiscuous! Love to party!”
“I’m probably the most senior person in the room and I stopped it,” LaJeunesse, who was the head of Google’s global head of international relations in Washington, D.C., recounted. He said he warned the group: “This has gone off the rails, these are stereotypes only.”
Later, he spoke to a woman of color who felt so hurt by the exercise that she began to cry, he said. As a South Asian woman, she told him, she wasn’t sure which room she would be welcomed into — and found that she was not welcomed in the “brown people” room.
And another woman, who identifies as a Latina lesbian, allegedly told LaJeunesse, “I thought this was Google and you guys knew how to do this stuff. That was f—ed up.”
For months, LaJeunesse pressed the human relations department to hold a follow-up conversation about the experience and learn from any mistakes. But the department did not hold any comprehensive conversation, instead opting to have one-on-one conversations with the women that felt like “ticking a box.”
A few months later, LaJeunesse discovered that he had been removed from Google’s diversity and inclusion council when the company sent him a bonus with a note that read, “Thanks for your service on the diversity and inclusion council.” No one spoke to him about it directly.
In a statement to The Hill, a Google spokeswoman did not deny any of LaJeunesse’s allegations about specific complaints he raised, but said Google “rigorously” investigates allegations of discrimination and misconduct.
“Discussions that make anyone feel like they don’t belong have no place at Google and we absolutely want to hear about and address any concerns,” the spokeswoman said. “All instances of inappropriate conduct reported to us are investigated rigorously, and over the past year we have simplified how employees can raise concerns and provided more transparency into the investigations process.”
It’s only the latest in a string of complaints from a former employees who say Google has retaliated against workers after they raised concerns about minority mistreatment within the company. In December, a group of four Google workers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging they were fired for participating in legally protected labor organizing, including efforts to defend colleagues who faced pushback from management when they brought up instances of discrimination.
At the end of last year, Google also fired a transgender engineer who created a pop-up notification that automatically notified her coworkers about their labor rights.
Google has claimed those employees were fired for violating company policies.
The company offered LaJeunesse another job after it reorganized the policy team last year, but he claims the position was a clear demotion intended to “buy my silence.”
Now, he is running for Collins’s position in Maine. In an interview, he compared Collins, a vulnerable GOP senator with a raft of primary challengers, to Google, claiming both represent “abuses of power” in his mind.
“I’m not running as a way of getting back at Google,” he said. “Google markets itself as a company you can believe in and trust. People do. Why I decided this story needs to be told is because I think that was true at one point — but it’s not true anymore.”