For a few years now, the tech-giant Google has been facing a lot of heat regarding sexism, racism and queer-bias faced by employees. The company tries to keep this concealed and avoid any outrage but the out-spoken employees have addressed issues time and again to make their voices heard.
Timnit Gebru was part of Google’s Ethical AI Team until the end of 2020 when the company fired her because of an email she sent to highlight that the company should increase minority hiring and pay attention to the bias in artificial intelligence. The email sent by her read, “Your life starts getting worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people. You start making the other leaders upset, there is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything.” The departure of Timnit Gebru raised a lot of questions and also affected the people working around her.
David W. Baker, an engineering director of Google also left the company to protest the removal of the AI researcher. She moved on to create an organization- DAIR or Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research to promote the development of AI that is socially beneficial and ethical.
Alex Hanna, who joined the tech-giant in July 2018, working as an AI Researcher also left the company in February. She was researching the real-world effects of AI technology after working as a Sociology professor. In her resignation announcement, Alex Hanna said, “But Google’s toxic problems are no mystery to anyone who’s been there for more than a few months, or who have been following the tech news with a critical eye. Many folks — especially Black women like April Curley and Timnit — have made clear just how deep the rot is in the institution. I am quitting because I’m tired.”
Alex Hanna had finally had enough when the company fired Timnit Gebru. She also mentioned that after she got fired, no one was held accountable from the Google Research Leadership which was very disturbing for Hanna. She also pointed out in her resignation announcement that before Google hired Timnit, the management has never recruited a Black woman as a research scientist.
“Your life starts getting worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people. You start making the other leaders upset, there is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything.”-Timnit Gebru
The resignation of Alex Hanna has created turmoil amongst the working forces in big tech companies like Apple and Netflix. Before she left the company, there were various moments that felt like ‘signs’ or displayed that the company is moving to more unethical dimensions and that it was time to move on.
The ‘Whiteness’ Problem of Tech
“Google is not just a tech organization. Google is a white tech organization. Meta is a white tech organization,” read Alex Hanna’s Medium Post. Tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and many more are committed to protecting ‘the whiteness’, meaning to defend any action regarding their hiring process, hierarchization, and monetization.
On asking her, whether this problem can be solved, she said, “I think it really demands changing a lot of elements and the way that organizations are structured, about how they hire, about how they recruit. Those things definitely need a sea change, and those steps need to be taken.”
Google, is still a majority-male company to change the work culture which is especially degrading to women of color, there is a lot that needs to be changed. After leaving Google, she has joined Timnit Gebru at the DAIR as the director of Research. Although she expressed that there are many benefits to working in a tech giant look Google and she loved her team in the company, her experiences of racism and sexism prompted her to take the step. On the other hand, Timnit Gebru was always a strong manager and she gave Alex Hanna the opportunity to work in research that was more in the public interest and out of corporate funding.
Alex Hanna ended her Medium Post by giving a message to tech workers. It was as follows: For tech workers: continue to complain, to be a feminist ear for others, and to develop institutional analyses of your own.