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Google Exec Addresses Diversity, Unions and Benefits for Service Workers

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Laszlo Bock, Google's head of 'people operations,' answered questions about the company's hiring practices during a July 17 appearance on Forum.  (Amanda Stupi/KQED)

"Yeah, the numbers are bad," said Laszlo Bock. "The company is roughly 2 percent African-American, and that's way lower than you see both in the labor force we draw from and the population generally."

That was how a key Google executive began his response to a question about whether the company recruits at historically black colleges.

Bock is head of what's called "people operations" at Google, or what the rest of us refer to as human resources. He appeared on KQED's Forum to discuss his book, "Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead."

While Google is known for its employee perks and Bock's book contains a lot about what the company has learned about retaining and managing employees, Forum listeners wanted to talk about something else that Silicon Valley is known for: a lack of diversity.

Google made headlines in May 2014 when it published its demographic information. In short, the company is 70 percent male and 60 percent white, according to the company's website.


Bock said part of the reason that Google decided to release the information was "to put pressure on ourselves. Now we are publicly accountable.

"We grew our African-American and Hispanic populations by about 40 percent. But the base we're growing from is so much smaller, that's just not enough."

One of the things that Google is doing to address its low number of African-Americans is not merely recruit at historically black colleges, Bock said, but also to have employees work with computer science departments at the schools to refine the curriculum, teach courses and mentor students.

"We went from zero interns ever hired from Howard [University] for computer science to 11 the next year," said Bock. "We've since expanded to five other schools ... and hired over 30 people from those colleges."

Benefits for Contract Workers

Tech companies have also been criticized for what many say is a chasm between how the companies' actual employees are treated --  high salaries, catered lunches and private shuttles -- and how the workers who provide services to those employees are treated. They're the people who cook those lunches and drive those shuttles.

Bock said that Google requires its vendors on Bay Area campuses to pay $15 an hour and has asked them to "provide benefits similar to what we're doing on the Google side."

Specifically, Google asked that health insurance shouldn't require a waiting period of a year, that employees not pay more than 20 percent of the cost, and that family members and dependents receive benefit coverage right away.

"This will kick in with the open enrollment that starts in the fall," said Bock. "It's going to be active starting next year, but we agreed on this a long time ago."

Unions at Google?

In February, shuttle drivers for Yahoo, Apple, Genentech, eBay and Zynga voted to join the Teamsters union. The drivers at Google did not and received a pay raise the next month. Some have interpreted this as incentive for the drivers not to unionize. During the Forum show, a caller named Doug, who identified himself as being with the Teamsters union, asked:

"Right now we have some shuttle bus drivers who drive for Google who want to organize with our union and are afraid of retaliation. So what is your position on these employees organizing unions without, you know, interference from their employers who do business with you?"

Bock's response:

"Well, what I'll say is that you know we have folks who are unionized, we have folks who are non-union, across the company. Folks have a legal right to organize without fear of retaliation. And that's a critical and important thing and we respect that. I mean, there would not and will not be retaliation."

During the hour, Bock also spoke about Google's efforts to hire more veterans and to include more colleges, including community colleges, in its hiring efforts.

You can listen to the complete interview here:


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