Google loses diversity chief amid unrest over workplace issues

Danielle Brown will be replaced by Melonie Parker, who's been serving as the company’s head of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google employees walked out of offices worldwide last year to protest issues related to sexual assault and diversity.

James Martin/CNET

Google diversity chief Danielle Brown on Thursday said she's leaving the search giant, as the company has dealt with several uprisings from employees over the last year related to workplace culture.

She will be replaced by Melonie Parker, who's been serving as the company's head of diversity, equity and inclusion. Brown, who spent almost two years at the company, said in a LinkedIn post that she's headed to Gusto, a payroll and benefits startup based in Denver and San Francisco.

In her announcement, Brown doesn't mention Google by name, but said she wanted to explore working on diversity issues at places other than the "biggest tech companies in the world."

"What if, in addition to trying to solve for employee engagement and inclusion within the biggest tech companies in the world, we tried to solve those critical needs for every local storefront, every new startup just getting off the ground, or every doctor's office across our communities?" she wrote.

Brown didn't respond to a request for additional comment.

Google confirmed her departure. "We're grateful to Danielle for her excellent work over the past two years to improve representation in Google's workforce and ensure an inclusive culture for everyone," Eileen Naughton, Google's head of people operations, said in a statement. "We wish her all the best in her new role at Gusto."

Brown's leaving comes a little more than a week after she and Parker released Google's annual diversity numbers. They acknowledged they'd only made "incremental progress." In 2018, women constituted 32.2% of new hires, up a bit from 31.3% the year before. The company also hired more black and Latino workers, though the gains were less dramatic. Black hires were up to 4.8% from 4.1%, and Latino hires were up to 6.8% from 6.3%.

Google has also faced intense scrutiny from its employees over its workplace conditions. In November, roughly 20,000 Googlers walked out of the company's offices worldwide to protest its handling of sexual assault allegations directed at key executives.

One of the demands of the protest was to elevate Brown to report directly to CEO Sundar Pichai, rather than Naughton, to demonstrate Google's commitment to diversity. Google didn't capitulate to that demand.

More recently, more than 2,000 Googlers earlier this month signed a petition to remove a member of the company's newly formed council on artificial intelligence ethics for alleged anti-trans and anti-immigrant views. The board was disbanded after only a week, in response to the outcry.

A day after the AI ethics board petition, 900 workers also reportedly signed a different letter demanding better treatment of Google's extended workforce, commonly known at the company as TVCs -- temps, vendors and contractors. In response, Google said it'd require temp companies to provide its workers with full benefits, including health care, a $15 minimum wage and paid parental leave.