Gupta made the news when she tried to organise a talk on the subject of caste discrimination, for which she invited Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder of Equality Labs, a nonprofit Dalit civil rights organisation.
The talk was eventually cancelled because Google employees felt "threatened" by it, and Soundararajan was branded as "anti-Hindu" and "Hinduphobic," and constant harassment even forced her family to move to a safe house out of fear for their safety. You can read The Quint's complete interview with Soundararajan regarding her situation here.
As the talk was called off, Gupta herself resigned after an investigation was launched by the company she had been at for more than 10 years (she started in 2011). In the aforementioned interview, she even spoke about the circumstances behind her exit from Google.
The Origins of Gupta's Activism Within Google
Gupta's activism within Google started in 2018 when thousands protested against the company's decision to pay millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of sexual misconduct.
"As we’ve all grown during the past couple of years, diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI.] has become more and more recognised as not just a moral nicety, but actually as a business imperative, that companies have a competency around these matters, especially in products."
When it came to caste discrimination in particular, other than her own origins, Gupta hosted DEI office hours every week, and in September 2021, two people "reported that they had faced discrimination when trying to talk about matters of caste in the workplace."
The 2022 elections in Uttar Pradesh also appeared to play a big role.
"What made it really relevant to Google News was that, in 2022, there was a huge election in India where matters of caste equity were integral. Given the news-product footprint in India, caste is absolutely something we need to talk about, and we need to make sure that our products are thinking about folks from different caste backgrounds.."
How Caste Discrimination Manifests Within the Company
The first form of manifestation, according to Gupta, is denial.
"Saying this doesn’t even exist. That is a form of discrimination. There were messages on e-mail threads that talked about how this isn't a problem here. If you replace the denial of caste discrimination with the denial of the Holocaust or something like that, it instantly clicks where other people start to realise, “Oh, something’s wrong if people are denying this."
The second form of manifestation, she argued, is professional treatment.
"Within a team, when you've got people who are caste privileged and caste oppressed, the people who are caste oppressed start to be given inferior assignments, get treated differently, left out of meetings, which are certainly things that I heard from Google employees within the company."
Gupta also brought up the issues of what she calls "coded conversations."
"If you’re not attuned to what the issue is, you won't even realise what’s happening. Asking things like 'What’s your last name? I’m not familiar with it.' Then, when the manager hears that last name, they’re, like, 'Oh, so you're from this caste – no wonder you have these leadership skills.'"
'I Fault People For Not Wanting to Learn About It'
Gupta asserted that she does not blame people for "not knowing the intricacies of caste discrimination."
"I fault people for not wanting to learn about it. Willfully not wanting to learn more about certain topics when you hear that people are being discriminated against, choosing not to do anything about it, that is a problem. And that’s what was happening."
What is happening, therefore, that while there is first-hand discrimination by Indian Americans towards lower castes, people "practice their own form of discrimination by not looking into it or not wanting to hear about it."
The Controversy Surrounding the Cancelled Talk
Two days before the scheduled talk featuring Soundararajan, "a number of e-mails got sent to my VP, to the head of HR, to our chief diversity officer, to our CEO directly, claiming that the talk was creating a hostile workplace, that people felt unsafe, that the speaker was not qualified to speak on the topic, and several other allegations."
All the emails were being sent by internal Google employees, but there was no follow-up. No due diligence. Then, she started a petition internally to raise awareness about the lack of action, which got four hundred signatures overnight.
Then she herself got put under investigation for violating "Google’s standards of conduct." Amidst all of this, her direct employee got doxed, and her personal information got put on Twitter.
"So I’ve got three things happening at once. I’m trying to run this investigation with our security team to figure out who doxed my direct employee. I’m answering questions because I’m under investigation. And I’m still trying to keep the train moving on actually holding a caste-equity talk and getting the speaker cleared."
On Gupta's Exit From Google
"When I got that conduct warning letter, it was kind of game over. My career was over, but the terms of the letter were still vague and I never got any answers to the questions that I posed. It was just clear from that letter that they wanted me gone. I decided that I needed to leave the company and make sure that my team was in as good a shape as possible," she said while talking about her departure from the company.
She went on to say that this phenomenon was not unique to Google. "This is happening across tech because of the large number of South Asian employees. What I do think is unique to Google is the fact that they shut this talk down."
"I’m half-Hindu. You can absolutely have a conversation about caste discrimination and know that there may be religious roots in some of it, but that’s not where we are today. We are talking about a socio-economic issue. That’s how you can hold the two things in your brain together."