Google CEO Sundar Pichai made his first public appearance Thursday since Google engineer James Damore was fired after writing a memo arguing that biological differences disadvantaged women in the field of engineering.
Pichai made his remarks at an event celebrating girl coders from around the world. He didn't mention Damore's memo by name, but his unscheduled speech was clearly a response to it.
“To the girls who dream of being an engineer or an entrepreneur and who dream of creating amazing things, I want you to know there’s a place for you in this industry,” Pichai said on a stage at Google’s Mountain View campus. “There’s a place for you at Google. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You belong here, and we need you.”
The comments came after Pichai canceled an all-staff meeting that was to take place on Thursday afternoon. He canceled the meeting after screen shots of suggested questions from employees were leaked to the conservative website Breitbart, making employees who were named feel unsafe, a Google spokesman said.
The outcry surrounding Damore's memo is considered Pichai's biggest test since he was named CEO in 2015. While Damore’s firing has come under attack by conservatives for stifling free speech, the Department of Labor has accused Google of paying women less than men. There could also be a class-action lawsuit alleging sexism and pay inequity.
Google disputes the Department of Labor's findings. In a blog post, the tech giant said it conducts a rigorous analysis of its pay practices every year. It has declined to comment on the possible class action.