When the topic of diversity came up as a question during the 2017 Alphabet annual meeting of stockholders on Wednesday, the discussion focused on a variety of important issues in addition to the gender pay gap.
Increasingly, company executives are speaking publicly about policy positions on political issues, a subject that in the not-so-distant past was often viewed as better kept to oneself. Could the very public stance that some companies are taking on political issues have a major influence not only on the brand's advertising strategy, but also upon the buying strength of consumers?
Justin Danhof, general counsel from the National Center for Public Policy Research who attended Alphabet's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, questioned whether being outspoken about a specific political direction offends the views of employees who do not agree with management. And while he didn't mention the company's customers, the very public stand likely could turn away some of its more conservative consumers.
Formerly, leadership teams kept their beliefs private to avoid offending employees who did not have the same views. And for better or for worse, before the days of the Internet and social media, it was assumed that employees would do the same.
Danhof asked Alphabet's leadership team whether they take into consideration the feelings and thoughts of its more conservative employees. He pointed specifically to the company's policy of publicly opposing President Trump's views on a variety of issues, including the decision to withdraw from the Paris accord.
"When you take these public policy positions, are you concerned that conservative or libertarian-minded employees at Alphabet and Google feel that this is not an inclusive environment because the hierarchy do not share their values?" Danhof said.
Danhof said the more conservative and libertarian employees might view this action as offending their worldview on public policy position. I wonder whether consumers would take that same view, or whether they welcome alternative views.
Schmidt said "we start from the principles of science at Google and Alphabet," but other company executives pointed to the financial investments in "green power" and whether it affects the way the company can provide employee benefit programs. The decisions are made based on long-standing ideas and not partisan positions.
During the meaning, Schmidt also emphasized Alphabet's new stance on artificial intelligence (AI) first, showing off one of the two most recent Google Home ads. He focused on the technology and the innovations such as Auto ML, technology that can find learning models generated automatically, and Google Home, calling the home hub the first version of the "super computer." The idea is to teach computers to teach themselves to learn and think.
Two recent advertisements released about Google Home demonstrate that theme. The one shown at the shareholders meeting demonstrates Google Home's capabilities. Both videos demonstrate Google's playful style.
Schmidt also talked about Alphabet's decision to make "major" investments in cloud computing, appointing Fei-Fei Li as chief scientist of Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. With Li's help, the company's scientists designed a computational hardware accelerator that can compute the information at speeds much faster than any available today.