back to article DeepMind 'grossly inadequate' at tackling sexual harassment, says former staffer

A former DeepMind employee has blasted the AI lab for being, in her view, "grossly inadequate" in dealing with internal sexual harassment. She also urged the organization to end its policy of NDAs that prevent victims from speaking out. The ex-staffer said she was subjected to "severely disturbing sexual and behavioral …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NDAs

    Articles like this need to include a strong call to action to reform the use of NDAs to restrict the timely reporting of sexual assaults, violence, or other serious illegal activities or incidents. There need to be strong limits on what companies can include, and also remedies to expedite vacating the portions of existing ones that allow cases like this to exist. Clearly Google/Alphabet/Deepmind all failed to hold up their end. The complainants need the legal ability to promptly escalate these cases to a more impartial outside enforcement entity without fear of contractual fallout.

    That will require changes to the law to accomplish, and just pointing out the problem in an article isn't getting us any closer without pushing people in the direction of change. Every climate article has 5 lines of boilerplate text and most have a call to action, the same standards should apply here to NDAs and arbitration clauses.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: NDAs

      Should be simple enough to fix : just write a law that makes it illegal to suppress claims of harrassment or sexual abuse, and enact it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: NDAs

        Reminder: Under UK Law, a Contract that seeks to bind Lawful Disclosure of a Crime is itself Illegal and is not binding on its signatories.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: NDAs

          Indeed, but also in the UK, you could easily just take the case to the police because it's a crime. Whether they'll take it seriously is another matter.

          It's the Americans that tend to harassment as a civil case and the NDAs come into play only when out of court settlements have been made.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: NDAs

          Evidence given to AAIB and MAIB (air and marine accident investigators) cannot be used in any subsequent courts cases. That legal protection is in place because the investigators are concerned with preventing future accidents, not punishing previous ones.

          If you want people to engage seriously with non-judicial resolution you cannot leave the threat of further judicial action hanging over their heads.

      2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: NDAs

        Should be simple enough to fix : just write a law that makes it illegal to suppress claims of harrassment or sexual abuse, and enact it.

        Many complainants do not want to involve the authorities. Should they be forced to do so?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NDAs

      The complainants need the legal ability to promptly escalate these cases to a more impartial outside enforcement entity without fear of contractual fallout.

      Absolutely, but that can lead to problems when the complainant wants to take an internal route as well.

      We see this a fair bit in universities, where students expect us to resolve problems which should arguably be dealt with by the police. In these circumstances it's not unreasonable for organisations asked to deal with the issues privately to want to keep the whole matter private. For a start, the target of the complaint might well say "Keep this between ourselves or take it to the police." After all, who is going to co-operate with a private investigation if they know that anything they say or any decision taken may be reported to the police?

      I don't think NDAs are an appropriate solution, but it's hard to see what is.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    FAIL

    "DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously"

    Okay, that right there automatically makes my BS-ometer tingle in the red.

    You take it very seriously and spent more than a year in investigation when your own internal manual says two weeks is the allotted time ?

    That's really taking things seriously for sure.

    I thank God I don't work in such crappy companies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously"

      I'm not sure what the internal manual says, but I hope it doesn't state outright that they will take no more than two weeks to investigate accusations and fire people.

      I've seen some similar investigations, and complaints that people were promoted during the same time; and the reason for that is that until the investigation is over, the accused is presumed innocent. I've seen a person being accused of raping a report by somebody who had overheard a third-hand joke without context, and that person was promoted soon after because they had done nothing wrong. In this case, the researcher was fired. Maybe one year is too long, but two weeks is too short.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: "DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously"

        Absolutely. Two weeks is an absurdly short time in which to collect evidence, present it to the person complained about, allow them to consult union/lawyers/advisors, collect their own evidence and participate in a hearing.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: "DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously"

          For some reason I read that as "... and participate in a hanging"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously"

      It's a fricking industry standard template:

      "$COMPANY takes { all allegations of workplace misconduct | security | our customer's data safety } { very | extremely } seriously and we place { our customers | our employees | our users } in the highest priority..."

      Somebody surely has already made a canned statement generator somewhere.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google......ah yes......that was then....

    https://gizmodo.com/google-removes-nearly-all-mentions-of-dont-be-evil-from-1826153393

    DeepMind is part of.......................Google.

    And they abandoned their famous injunction four years ago!!

    So now the implicit injunction to all staff is "Do be evil!" .... at least until you get fired....for being found out!!

    Why am I not surprised?

    Quote: "Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not be found out"

    1. nematoad Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Google......ah yes......that was then....

      "We are digesting our former employee's open letter..."

      Yeah, and everyone knows what happens after digestion has been completed.

      Some old flannel, warm words and no intention of doing anything about it after all the fuss has died down.

  4. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

    > This includes a commitment to communicate more clearly with all DeepMinders about how to raise concerns, enhanced annual training for managers and all employees with respect to limiting unconscious bias

    None of that seems like it has anything to do with the actual complaints the article lists. It sort of seems like Deepmind Management thinks it's being asked for symbolic concessions rather than direct process improvements. Of course, we cannot know if that is actually the correct view.

    It seems that given actually incontrovertible evidence, an investigation should not take a week, let alone a year. However, that's just to say that one party's depiction of events, at least, must be wrong; this doesn't help us figure out who's, if any, is right.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      It seems that given actually incontrovertible evidence, an investigation should not take a week, let alone a year.

      Perhaps, but it may take quite a while to decide whether evidence is incontrovertible.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. AMBxx Silver badge

    HR!

    I find it odd that HR is dominated by women, but stuff like this isn't treated more seriously and much more quickly.

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