Apple Expands Seattle Footprint in Bid to Compete for City’s Tech Talent

Apple Expands Seattle Footprint in Bid to Compete for City’s Tech Talent

Apple is adding a floor to its offices in downtown Seattle, giving the company enough room to seat nearly 500 employees there, Nat Levy reports at GeekWire:

Apple is preparing to move into another floor at Two Union Square, a 56-story office tower in downtown Seattle, giving it all or part of five floors of the building, GeekWire has learned through permitting documents and visits to the building. The latest move brings Apple to more than 70,000 square feet, which equates to room for somewhere between 350 and 475 people, based on standard corporate leasing ratios for tech companies.

The iPhone maker announced big plans to expand its presence on Puget Sound last year, as Levy’s colleague Todd Bishop reported at the time, after buying up the Seattle-based machine learning startup Turi and establishing a $1 million endowed professorship in artificial intelligence and machine learning at the University of Washington. Competing for AI talent is decidedly the name of the game here, Levy explains, as the northwestern city is emerging as a hub for this new technology. Amazon and Microsoft are based in or near Seattle, while Facebook and Google both have significant footprints there.

All these tech giants are racing toward potentially transformative innovations in AI and machine learning; to this end, they have been grabbing all the experts they can get their hands on for the past few years, often by acqui-hiring startup founders and talent.

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Apple Hires AI Chief Away from Google

Apple Hires AI Chief Away from Google

Apple made a big move in the battle for top AI talent this week, hiring John Giannandrea away from Google, where he had until Monday been chief of search and artificial intelligence. Apple announced on Tuesday that Giannandrea would lead its machine learning and AI strategy, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook, the New York Times reported:

Apple has made other high-profile hires in the field, including the Carnegie Mellon professor Russ Salakhutdinov. Mr. Salakhutdinov studied at the University of Toronto under Geoffrey Hinton, who helps oversee the Google Brain lab.

Apple has taken a strong stance on protecting the privacy of people who use its devices and online services, which could put it at a disadvantage when building services using neural networks. Researchers train these systems by pooling enormous amounts of digital data, sometimes from customer services. Apple, however, has said it is developing methods that would allow it to train these algorithms without compromising privacy.

Cook stressed Apple’s commitment to charting a privacy-conscious course on AI development in his statement on Tuesday, saying Giannandrea “shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.” While safeguarding users’ privacy may pose a significant technical challenge in AI and machine learning, that commitment could have an upside from a marketing perspective at a time when tech companies are facing heightened scrutiny and criticism of their data privacy practices.

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Women in Tech Feel Pressure to Cut Short Parental Leave

Women in Tech Feel Pressure to Cut Short Parental Leave

A recent survey from Indeed, reported last week at Recode, finds that despite the sector’s relatively generous parental leave policies, many women in the US tech industry are afraid to take full advantage of those benefits out of concern for their jobs or future careers, or due to overt pressure from their managers and coworkers:

Survey participants gave different reasons for why they felt pressured to return early:

  • 34 percent said they were directly pressured by colleagues or managers.
  • 32 percent feared losing their jobs.
  • 38 percent cited a fear of losing credibility or value. …

“Frankly, women are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. We’re worried we’ll be forgotten while we’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind,” said Kim Williams, director of experience design at Indeed, in an email to Recode. “Things move so fast in tech, projects move forward and you wonder: Once the team gets used to working without you, will they decide they no longer need you?”

Previous surveys of women in tech have turned up similar findings, as well as that women are widely subjected to questions about their family lives in job interviews and that women are held back from promotions based on misguided expectations by their employers that they will eventually leave the workforce to start a family. These are by no means exclusive to the US tech sector: A recent survey of UK employers, for example, found that a majority believed that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant to a prospective employer, while many said they believed mothers to be less interested in career advancement than their peers.

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Tech Founders Demand Diversity in Venture Capital Backers

Tech Founders Demand Diversity in Venture Capital Backers

A group of more than 400 tech entrepreneurs and CEOs have formed a coalition called Founders for Change to press for greater diversity and inclusion in the venture capital industry. The group includes the chief executives of major startups like Dropbox, Lyft, and Airbnb, as well as public companies like Stitch Fix, and represents a reversal of the traditional founder-VC relationship, Pui-Wing Tam reports for the New York Times:

On Tuesday, in a statement underlining the importance of diversity in the tech industry, the tech executives said the racial and gender makeup of a venture capital firm would be “an important consideration” when they were raising money …

The entrepreneurs’ public statement is unusual. In Silicon Valley’s start-up ecosystem, founders and investors have generally maintained a delicate power equilibrium. Venture capitalists strive to get into the hottest start-ups, aiming for a big payoff when those companies go public or are sold. Entrepreneurs, in turn, take money and guidance from the investors to help their start-ups grow and flourish.

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Activist Investor Still Has Questions After Google’s Pay Equity Audit

Activist Investor Still Has Questions After Google’s Pay Equity Audit

Google announced last week that it had conducted an internal gender pay equity audit and found no statistically significant differences in pay between its male and female employees. The report, however, only covered 89 percent of the company’s global workforce of over 70,000 people, with Google saying it had excluded employees in groups on which it could not perform a rigorous statistical analysis:

Our analyses covered every job group with at least 30 Googlers total and at least five Googlers per demographic group for which we have data (e.g., at least five men and at least five women). These n-count minimums ensure statistical rigor (e.g., higher statistical power, narrower confidence intervals) and allowed us to include 89 percent of Googlers (n=63,153) from entry through executive levels. We did not find statistically significant pay differences for 62,925 Googlers, but did for 228 Googlers across six job groups. We therefore increased compensation for those 228 Googlers, totalling ~$270k USD, before finalizing compensation planning and paying any Googlers.

Like other recent pay equity audits at tech and finance companies, Google’s came in response to a shareholder proposal put forth by the activist fund Arjuna Capital. Yet because 11 percent of the Google community, including executives at the senior vice president level and above, were not accounted for in the study, the investment firm tells Bloomberg that it is unsatisfied with the report and will not withdraw its resolution as it has at other companies that completed gender pay audits:

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Verizon Shareholders Want to Tie Executive Pay to Cybersecurity

Verizon Shareholders Want to Tie Executive Pay to Cybersecurity

Trillium Asset Management, an activist investment fund focused on social and environmental responsibility, has filed a shareholder proposal at Verizon that would tie executive compensation at the telecommunications giant to its performance against cybersecurity and data privacy goals:

Verizon shareholders request the appropriate board committee(s) publish a report (at reasonable expense, within a reasonable time, and omitting confidential or propriety information) assessing the feasibility of integrating cyber security and data privacy metrics into the performance measures of senior executives under the company’s compensation incentive plans. …

Currently, Verizon links senior executive compensation to diversity metrics and carbon intensity metrics. Cyber security and data privacy are vitally important issues for Verizon and should be integrated as appropriate into senior executive compensation as we believe it would incentivize leadership to reduce needless risk, enhance financial performance, and increase accountability.

The proposal points to several data breaches in the company’s recent history, including one that affected 1.5 million customers in 2016 and another affecting 6 million last year. It also expresses concern about the growing number of users whose data the company is now responsible for safeguarding following its acquisition of Yahoo and AOL, which will expand Verizon’s digital advertising reach to 2 billion people.

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Could Google’s Good Reputation Backfire in Discrimination Suits?

Could Google’s Good Reputation Backfire in Discrimination Suits?

Google is widely recognized as a good company to work for, offering competitive compensation, world-class benefits, and ample opportunities for learning and career development. Among large employers, Google ranked fifth in the US and took the #1 spot in the UK on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list for 2018, based on thousands of employee reviews.

In the age of HR as PR, a reputation like Google’s is more valuable than ever. On the other hand, the tech giant has also been at the center of several controversies in the past year concerning diversity, inclusion, and discrimination in the tech sector, including allegations from the US Department of Labor that it engaged in gender pay discrimination and a lawsuit by several former employees also claiming that the company systematically discriminated against women in pay and career development. (Google is not alone among tech employers in this regard; Microsoft is also facing a number of gender discrimination claims.)

In this instance, Google’s prestige could turn into a liability, business professors Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Brayden King explain at Quartz. That’s because of a phenomenon McDonnell and King found in their research that they call the “halo tax,” in which companies with good reputations are punished more severely when they are found liable for employment discrimination:

Using a unique database of more than 500 employment discrimination lawsuits between 1998 and 2008, we concluded that the greater the company’s prestige, the less likely it would be found liable because of the halo effect. However, once a prestigious company was found liable, punishments were more severe, which shows that prestige can be both a benefit and a liability, depending on whether a company is defending itself or its blameworthiness has been firmly established.

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