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Google CEO Sundar Pichai cut his vacation short to address the flap over fired engineer

Key Points
  • Fired Google engineer created a public relations firestorm just as CEO Sundar Pichai was about to start a family vacation.
  • The missive also came soon after the company hired a chief diversity officer to boost its ranks of women and minorities.
  • It cost the man a job he'd held at Google for 3½ years.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai cut his vacation short to address the flap over fired engineer

Memo in reply to the former Google engineer who wrote that diversity memo: Don't cause a public relations crisis when the boss is trying to take a family vacation.

Google fired James Damore after he posted a memo to an internal message board that started as a straightforward complaint about company practices but veered into remarks about innate biological differences between men and women that Google management later ruled were sexist and offensive to his co-workers.

The memo created a firestorm the same weekend that CEO Sundar Pichai was preparing to take a family vacation after returning from a work trip to Africa.

His lengthy communication also came soon after the arrival at Google of Danielle Mastrangel Brown, vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, who until June held that same post at Intel, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Google hired Brown to boost its efforts to hire more women and other minorities, so few of whom work at the internet giant that the U.S. Department of Labor has taken it to court over the issue.

Damore's LinkedIn profile shows that he did well enough as a Google intern in the summer of 2013 to get hired in December of that year as an engineer, a position he held until this week.

He also has a notable educational and professional background, according to the LinkedIn profile, with time spent at institutions like Harvard, MIT and Princeton.

He may be less familiar, though, with the Tao Te Ching, the 2,500-year-old book of philosophy revered in parts of Asia for nuggets of wisdom like this: "In action, watch the timing."

At the end of his prepared remarks on a July 24 conference call, Pichai took the time to say this:

"I want to express a very sincere thank you to every Googler who worked tirelessly this quarter to bring all of our technology and products to the world."

That was right after he revealed that he would be traveling to Africa for a "'Google for Nigeria'" event to announce new products for Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa," a trip Pichai called "another highlight for me."

Details on Pichai's decision

Upon returning from that trip, according to a memo he sent to Google employees and posted on Google's corporate blog, Pichai planned to vacation in California with his family.

Instead, he will on Thursday lead an all-hands meeting to discuss the incident, whose memo Pichai described as "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" at the company.

"I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there's a lot more to discuss as a group — including how we create a more inclusive environment for all."

In his memo, Pichai laid out in detail what was unacceptable in Damore's post:

"To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects 'each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.'"

Pichai did so even while he credited Damore with raising important topics:

"So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo — such as the portions criticizing Google's trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all — are important topics."

"The author had a right to express their views on those topics — we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions."

In the end, however, Pichai concluded by expressing an ideal that Damore's memo fell short of.

"We need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree — while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct," Pichai wrote.

Alphabet did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Damore could not be reached for comment.