Sundar Pichai doesn't regret the decision to fire James Damore, a former Google employee and the author of an anti-diversity memo that highlighted fundamental, so-called biological differences between men and women. In fact, the tech giant CEO sees it as a step in the right direction where workplace inclusion is concerned.
"As a company, we support freedom of speech. But you have to understand that in the context of the workplace, the representation of women is very, very low," said Pichai, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday morning. "It is a moral imperative that we create an environ that is more supportive of women," he added.
In conversation with the conference founder, Klaus Schwab, Pichai went on to explain that his stance on the issue comes from a deeply personal, as well as a professional place. He reflected back on meeting his wife, Anjali, when they were both students at the India Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. She was one of only 20 female students, he recalls, out of a class of roughly 100. "I saw first hand how hard it is to function in an environment like that," Pichai said.
To be sure, diversity in technology--and the overall treatment of women at work--is an issue that is top of mind for many in Davos. The annual gathering of more than 2,500 executives, politicians and journalists this year comes on the heels of a watershed moment for women in technology and beyond, as myriad allegations of sexual discrimination, harassment and assault have landed across the public and private sectors, from entertainment to capitol hill and sports. Other speakers this week include Salesforce's Marc Benioff, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, as well as heads of state such as Germany's Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Although the meeting has drawn criticism from many, including Trump himself, for being overly 'globalist' in mindset, the many topics under discussion fall under the thematic umbrella of "creating a shared future in a fractured world."
Google deserves some credit for having been among the first wave of tech companies to publish its internal diversity statistics back in 2014. Since that time, however, an updated memo reveals that little has changed: Overall, women still comprise just 17 percent of the global tech workforce, and just 21 percent of leadership roles. And last year, the company was accused of 'extreme' gender pay discrimination by the Department of Labor, and in July was ordered to hand over records on women's pay.
Even so, when Damore's memo was made publicly available in August of 2017, it drummed up considerable support from conservative and men's rights groups across the country, with Damore soon appearing in an interview with the Canadian, self-proclaimed "anti-feminist" Stefan Molyneux. And earlier this month, Damore filed a class action lawsuit against his former employer alleging discrimination against white men and conservatives.
That hasn't deterred Pichai from speaking publicly on the subject, and by all indications, the CEO hasn't wavered. "We are trying to create an inclusive culture for all Googlers, and I'm glad there has been a public debate," he continued on Wednesday in Davos. "You definitely see the tide is turning [for women,] but there is a lot of work left to do."