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A senior Google exec allegedly personally intervened to block an employee from discussing diversity

Business Insider | Jan 12, 2018, 11.24AM IST

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Google Senior VP Urs Hölzle

  • In a newly-released memo from January 2016, a former Google engineer alleges that Senior VP Urs Hölzle personally intervened to stop him from sharing topics related to diversity.
  • "If the majority of your coworkers are Nazis, it is better if you don't know about it," Hölzle allegedly said.
  • Another Google Senior VP had previously intervened to quell a contentious email thread on women in tech, the memo alleges.
  • The memo's release follows a lawsuit filed against Google by James Damore for allegedly discriminating against whites, males, and conservatives.


A newly-released memo written by a former Google engineer alleges that Urs Hölzle, a senior executive at the search giant, personally intervened to encourage him to stop discussing matters pertaining to diversity within the company.

Hölzle serves as Google's Senior VP of Technical Infrastructure, and holds the distinction of Google Fellow. He's best known as the company's eighth employee. The release of the memo comes days after former employees James Damore and David Gudeman sued Google for allegedly discriminating against whites, males, and conservatives.

A report from Gizmodo identifies the memo's author as Cory Altheide, who worked as a security engineer from 2010 through January 2016. The memo is titled "What happened to Cory?" It was originally written to coworkers to explain his departure to Google, but was released on Thursday night as a public Google Docs file.

"I'm leaving because I don't trust Urs. I'm afraid of Urs. He inserted himself into what should have been a conversation with my direct manager, and 'requested' I stop doing talking about things he doesn't want me to talk about," wrote Altheide.

The memo details a summer 2015 thread on an internal Google group regarding the so-called "pipeline problem" in tech - the idea that women are underrepresented in the tech industry because there's a lack of qualified talent. That thread, turned "sadly contentious," writes Altheide.

Hölzle tried to quiet things down, says the memo. But the thread didn't die down until Google Senior VP Sridhar Ramaswamy allegedly wrote: "As both the tech diversity lead at Google and someone who cares deeply about our workplace culture, I respectfully ask that everyone stop engaging on this thread." It worked, and the thread died down.

A few months later, Altheide writes that he started another e-mail chain, called "Just Asking Questions," addressing what he saw as a lack of good faith from his coworkers in addressing matters pertaining to diversity. He writes that Google HR got in touch to ask his intentions with that chain, which he defended as relevant to the industry.

Nevertheless, Altheide writes that he kept posting news articles relating to matters of diversity in tech to internal employee groups. Eventually, he got another email from HR, asking to discuss his postings. But when he took the video call, it wasn't HR, it was Hölzle on the other end.

Hölzle allegedly insinuated that Altheide was just trying to stir up trouble with the "Just Asking Questions," thread and that he shouldn't bring up matters of diversity for the sake of getting along.

"If the majority of your coworkers are Nazis, it is better if you don't know about it," Hölzle allegedly said, according to Altheide. He writes that he remembers this verbatim, sticking out in his memory as "a savagely tactless analogy for a Swiss man to be making.

Altheide writes that after that meeting, he got a message from Hölzle, with his direct manager copied. To Altheide's knowledge, he writes, this was the first time his manager was informed of Hölzle's involvement. The email formally asked Altheide not to post about "controversial topics," and warned him that openly discussing their conversation could constitute retaliation on Altheide's part, which would violate the company's code of conduct.

Wrote Hölzle, according to the memo:

"As discussed, from now on I request that you avoid posting on controversial topics. I believe your intention is to make Google better; nevertheless I ask you to refrain from such posts since they are prone to inciting others to comment in a way which violates our policies."

Not long after, Altheide quit Google.

"I don't want to work with jerks," wrote Altheide in the conclusion to his memo.

Google did not immediately return a request for comment. Altheide did not immediately return a request for comment.

You can read the full memo here. You can read Gizmodo's report, which includes an interview with Altheide, here

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