How a Google engineer's struggles making the first Pixel phone take good pictures of different skin tones led to an entirely new group focused on 'product inclusion' (GOOGL)
Google's product inclusion team works on making the company's products better for more users, but it was born from one of Google's 20% projects. Annie Jean-Baptiste, Google's head of product inclusion, explains how the group came about in a new book. The group has worked on Google products including Pixel smartphones and virtual reality headsets. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Earlier this year, Google announced it had more than 2,000 employees across the company working on inclusion and diversity in its products. This group of "inclusion champions" was set up to think inclusively about things like gender, age, ethnicity, and disabilities as products are designed. But the group's origin story was born from one of Google's once-ubiquitous "20% projects," where employees dedicate 20% of their time to building something outside of their usual focus. Annie Jean-Baptiste, Google's head of product inclusion, has written about how the project came to be in an upcoming book, "Building For Everyone." In it, she explains how a group of Googlers got together to think about how they could better integrate inclusion in the product design process. "A few of us Googlers decided that the diversity and inclusion conversation could make for an interesting 20 percent project," she wrote. "At the time, when we talked about diversity and inclusion, we were usually discussing culture and representation; we were not discussing these topics in the context of product or business development." The breakthrough moment happened when an engineer named Peter Sherman approached her team. Sherman was working on a camera and a proximity sensor for one of Google's Pixel smartphone cameras, "both of which needed to work well for all users, regardless of skin tone," he wrote in a sidebar in the book. "The development team was very small though, and we had difficulty figuring out how to get the broad coverage we needed to make appropriate tuning decisions and subsequent validation testing," added Sherman. Jean-Baptiste took Sherman's challenge to a diversity summit run by Googlers in 2015, where the problem was discussed. "During that summit, many of the participants voiced first-hand experience with cameras failing to produce pleasing images as a function of skin-tone, but few knew the history of bias in the development of color photography and that we can really improve the experience is we think and develop inclusively," wrote Sherman. "These early discussions with different teams started to spark ideas and light a fire for our team," wrote Jean-Baptiste. Gradually, this evolved into a product inclusion team that would work across all of Google's products. For example, Jean-Baptiste explains how the team helped create Google's Daydream virtual reality headset – a process that involved going beyond thinking about different head sizes and glasses wearers, to factors such as sex and different hair textures. "We began to realize that this idea around intersectional inclusion in products could make a huge impact, so we embarked on a journey to figure it out," she wrote. "Our 20 percent group ultimately evolved into what is now known as product inclusion."SEE ALSO: Google cut more than a dozen jobs in 'people operations' as the company slows hiring, but Google says it's due to 'organizational changes' Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Epidemiologists debunk 13 coronavirus myths
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Google reportedly cut back its diversity programs, and employees said the move was meant to avoid backlash from conservatives (GOOG, GOOGL)
Google has significantly scaled back diversity and inclusion efforts, moves that employees said were meant to...Google has significantly scaled back diversity and inclusion efforts, moves that employees said were meant to help the company avoid a conservative backlash, NBC News reported Wednesday. Since 2018, popular training programs have been watered down or scrapped entirely, and jobs on the team responsible for the programs have been outsourced or reassigned, according to NBC News. "Any suggestion that we have scaled back or cut our diversity efforts is false. Diversity, equity, and inclusion remains a company wide commitment and our programs have scaled up to match the pace of Google's growth," a spokesperson told Business Insider. Google has faced intense criticism in recent years from employees over racism, pay discrimination, and its handling of sexual misconduct amid a broader referendum on the tech industry's diversity problems. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Google has made massive cuts to its diversity and inclusion initiatives, with current and former employees saying the moves were meant to shield the company from conservative backlash, NBC News reported on Wednesday. Since 2018, several popular programs aimed at teaching employees about implicit bias and how to have difficult conversations about race and inequality have been scaled back, while the team responsible for the programs has gotten smaller — due to outsourcing and Google opting not to refill positions after employees leave — according to NBC News. "One of the major motivations for cutting Sojourn [one of Google's diversity initiatives] is that the company doesn't want to be seen as anti-conservative," an employee told NBC News. "It does not want to invite lawsuits or claims by right-wing white employees about Google discriminating against them." A Google spokesperson disputed employees' claims, telling Business Insider in a statement: "Any suggestion that we have scaled back or cut our diversity efforts is false. Diversity, equity, and inclusion remains a company wide commitment and our programs have scaled up to match the pace of Google's growth." A former Google engineer and author of a controversial anti-diversity memo circulated while he was still an employee sued the company in 2018, alleging that Google discriminated against conservatives, but he dropped the suit earlier this week. Google told NBC News that it cut Sojourn because the program was mainly focused on racism in the US, making it difficult to scale globally. The majority of Google's 100,000-plus full-time employees are based in the US. Google has had a tumultuous few years internally. In November 2018, nearly 17,000 employees staged a walkout in protest of the company's handling of sexual misconduct investigations following a report that Google paid a top executive $90 million despite concluding he needed to resign due to a credible misconduct allegation against him. Since then, employees have also spoken out against racism and sexism within the company's ranks. An engineering director who is black said last fall that he would be harassed less at work if he dressed like a janitor, while a black former employee circulated a memo saying he "never stopped feeling the burden of being black." Last September, a Google engineering executive sued the company, alleging she was paid "hundreds of thousands" less than her male peers and demoted for complaining. Multiple employees have left or been fired by Google after speaking out about its treatment of women and marginalized groups, and the company now faces an investigation from the National Labor Relations Board into its firing of four employees in November. Google's diversity and inclusion efforts haven't yet led to substantial progress for marginalized groups. The company's chief diversity officer left the company in April 2019 amid a string of controversies. In 2019, black employees made up just 2.7% of Google's global workforce, a gain of 0.2 percentage points from the year before, while the share of Latinx employees increased from 3.6% to 3.8% and Native Americans made no progress, remaining at 0.3%. Similarly, women represented 30.9% of Google's workforce in 2018 and just 31.6% the following year. Google's struggle to hire and keep diverse candidates reflects a broader trend in the industry, even though the issue has received widespread attention in recent years thanks to the #MeToo movement and several years of tech companies releasing diversity data.SEE ALSO: Kickstarter is reducing its workforce by 39% through layoffs and voluntary buyouts as crowdfunding projects plummet during the pandemic Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Tax Day is now July 15 — this is what it's like to do your own taxes for the very first time