USA Today, By Jessica Guynn
June 8, 2016
SAN FRANCISCO — At the annual meeting for Google’s parent Alphabet, there was the customary talk of technology moonshots: driverless cars, cutting-edge life sciences research, 3-D printed buildings and meat made out of plants.
The buzz on social media came from a topic that did not top Wednesday’s agenda: gender diversity.
Minutes after Alphabet shareholders rejected a proposal to disclose more information about gender pay equity at Google, a shareholder stepped forward to ask whether Alphabet’s stock price was under- or over-valued by Wall Street.
“My first question is to the lady CFO,” the shareholder said.
He was referring to Alphabet’s finance chief Ruth Porat, one of Wall Street’s most powerful and influential executives, whose appointment restored confidence in Alphabet investors. He then addressed legal chief David Drummond as “Mr. Drummond.”
It could have been a teachable moment, the kind Google is supposed to excel at. The Internet giant has positioned itself as a leader in unconscious bias training, instructing employees to call out colleagues for sexism or racism. Schmidt himself was called out by a Google employee a couple of years ago during a SXSW Interactive panel on innovation for repeatedly interrupting fellow panelist, United States’ chief technology officer Megan Smith, a former Google executive.
Yet the sexist slight went mostly unacknowledged, at least by the executives on stage — Porat, who calmly answered the question, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Drummond, and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who did ask “our CFO” to respond to the question — until another investor stepped forward.
Danielle Ginach, associate director and impact manager at Sonen Capital, said into the mic: “I am sorry to put another shareholder on the spot. But Ms. Porat is the CFO, not the lady CFO.”
Ginach says she was waiting in line to ask a question about Google’s participation in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is seeking to block clean energy regulation by the Obama administration.
“I was in disbelief when he (the shareholder) said it,” said Ginach, whose San Francisco firm focuses on investments with social and environmental impact. “When it was my turn to speak, there was no way I was not going to acknowledge it. She has been a tremendous leader for Google, but her leadership aside, that was an unbelievably sexist comment. Imagine addressing the ‘man CFO.’ What is the relationship between gender and CFO?”
Google declined to comment.
The incident was just the latest as Silicon Valley comes to terms with the jarring lack of diversity in the tech industry.
Two years ago, Google kicked off a more open dialogue about diversity by publishing a report that revealed the lopsided demographics of its work force. Seven out of 10 Google employees are men and a tiny percentage are African American and Latino, a reflection of most companies in this powerful tech hub.
Google has been digging into its mountains of cash and tapping some of the world’s smartest minds to crack the code on attracting and retaining more women and underrepresented minorities. And it has a number of high-profile women in key posts such as the leaders of its two biggest initiatives: video-sharing service YouTube and its enterprise cloud business.
It has a long path ahead. In response to Ginach commending Google’s diversity efforts, Schmidt responded awkwardly.
“Speaking as your male executive chairman, I celebrate the others who are male and female in our company,” he said. “We work so closely together it doesn’t even occur to us. And that’s the best kind of diversity.”
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