A nixed event to be hosted by Google News has potentially revealed gaps in its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
To honor the Dalit History Month in April, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of the US-based social justice organization Equality Labs, was scheduled to speak about caste-based discrimination in newsrooms at an internal Google News event. This event, which had been planned for three months, was abruptly postponed shortly before its scheduled date, according to a report in The Washington Post.
“During this time, opponents to caste equity internally circulated disinformation about Soundararajan and Equality Labs to derail the civil rights event until its ultimate cancellation,” Equality Labs said in a press release on June 2. According to The Washington Post, this disinformation included claims that Soundararajan and Equality Labs were “anti-Hindu” and represented “Hinduphobia,” terms commonly used by India’s right-wing supporters to discredit any criticism against Hinduism.
Conversations on caste
In a letter to Sundar Pichai, the Indian-origin CEO of Google’s parent Alphabet, Soundararajan said that the postponement came as a surprise because Google had previously hosted her for a talk on caste bias during its Cloud Next Summit in Oct. 2021, which was open to the public.
Soundararajan and Equality Labs had also led many conversations about caste prejudice after George Floyd’s murder in 2021 at many of Silicon Valley companies such as Netflix, Adobe, and Airbnb, according to Equality Labs. These discussions revolved around the systemic injustice faced by people from the lower-caste Dalit community even thousands of miles away from their homeland.
“I cannot find the words to express just how traumatic and discriminatory Google’s actions were towards its employees and myself…” Soundararajan said in the press release.
Google’s response to the canceled talk
Tanuja Gupta, a project manager at Google News, resigned over this issue, according to The Washington Post. In her June 1 letter accessed by The Washington Post, Gupta said she had invited Soundararajan for a talk because employees at Google had complained about caste discrimination at their workplace.
But two days before the scheduled talk, seven employees sent emails to the leadership team and to Gupta, alleging that their own lives were “at risk” because of the discussion. Some complaints, according to Gupta’s emails accessed by The Washington Post, copied language from popular disinformation websites that propagate the idea that Hindus, a majority in India, are being marginalized.
While noting that caste discrimination had “no place” at Google, Shannon Newberry, Google’s spokesperson, said in a statement to The Washington Post, “We also made the decision to not move forward with the proposed talk which—rather than bringing our community together and raising awareness—was creating division and rancor.” It is not yet clear when or if the talk will be rescheduled.
Gupta said she chose to resign because of how her coworkers were treated and eventually silenced by the company. “The reality is that these are not isolated events, this is a pattern,” she wrote.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the report was first published in the Wall Street Journal, not The Washington Post.