Recently, DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company owned by Google-parent Alphabet has been the talk of the town. Several former employees were accusing the company of mishandling serious allegations involving sexual assault, harassment, and bullying.
A former employee calling herself Julia told The Financial Times that back in December 2019, she filed an internal complaint. She said that a senior researcher at DeepMind sexually assaulted her twice. At the same time, she mentioned that there had been a few other victims as well. The researcher had sent her messages in which he threatened suicide. As a trade union said, Julia wasn’t the only employee of DeepMind complaining of sexual harassment and bullying.
Further Reading: Family Of Late Activision Blizzard Employee Sues Company – Claims Sexual Harassment Caused Her Death
In response, the company said that “it takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously and we place our employees’ safety at the core of any actions we take.” In effect, DeepMind investigated Julia’s case, and one person was fired without severance as a result.
DeepMind was founded in London and acquired by Google acquired it for $650 million in 2014. Though the company has managed to achieve many heights, it’s mainly known for creating AI software that could beat the world’s best human players at the strategy game Go. Another achievement of the company is the creation of software that can predict the complex shape of proteins based on their genetic sequence. This company is also at the forefront of AI software development. So everything related to its activity causes a huge stir on the net.
Not surprisingly, DeepMind has progressed rapidly. At the moment, there are more than 1,000 employees working across at least five cities in various countries.
What Happened To Julia?
On Wednesday, she published an open letter on the blog site Medium. Particularly, she complains that DeepMind didn’t take her case seriously and had been investigating her complaint too long. Also, the company hadn’t done enough to protect her from the alleged attacker.
“Though I had concrete evidence and reported my ongoing harassment to DeepMind HR, they took almost a year to resolve my case,” she writes in the letter. “Despite years of pledges to ‘do better,’ my case convinced me that Alphabet’s HR (aka People & Culture) practices remain grossly inadequate.”
However, DeepMind didn’t agree with the complaints, saying they had thoroughly investigated Julia’s case and dismissed an employee.
“We expect everyone—regardless of their role or seniority—to behave in a way that lives up to our values,” the company said. “We’re sorry that our former employees experienced what they did and we recognize that they found the process difficult.”
Gizchina News of the week
What’s happened in real? According to the Financial Times, the investigation took DeepMind seven months to resolve Julia’s complaint. It was over in May 2020. But Julia appealed against the conclusions of an initial investigation. At that time, the employee was still working. The latter continued to contact her even knowing about the investigation. Julia shouldn’t enter the building where the researcher was working. But everything was in secret. So she had to attend meetings in the building where her harasser was based.
DeepMind says once the investigation began, they set a few restrictions on the employee.
Other DeepMind Employees Complained Too
Two other former DeepMind employees said that the company is more focused on its reputation rather than the safety of the team members. Apart from this, Matt Whaley, a regional officer for Unite the Union, a trade union that has been trying to organize workers in the tech sector, told the Financial Times that he knows at least five similar cases related to DeepMind. What’s worse, this is not the most egregious case.
Moreover, Whaley said that in his opinion complaints about the speed of investigations at DeepMind are true. “In my experience, they have not moved as quickly as maybe they should have in investigating complaints, and the individuals I have assisted have been left with the perception that the desirability of the perpetrator’s technical skills has overridden the employees’ concerns and their safety,” he said.
However, it seems this is at the roots of this company. Earlier in 2019, there was an incident concerning DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman. After an independent investigation, we learned that he harassed and bullied employees. As a result, he left his position.
According to DeepMind’s official words, the company has already made some changes to its policies and practices following the conclusion of the initial investigation into Julia’s complaint in May 2020. Among those changes, the firm now includes better communication with employees about how to raise concerns. They are going to provide additional training for the employees who directly work with complaints and concerns. Lastly, they will pay more attention to employees who suffered from sexual assault, harassment, and bullying.
Though DeepMind made the mentioned changes, Julia asked DeepMind and Alphabet to make a number of other changes to its policies and procedures. But she proves the firm has made no action.