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Google says it will reform sexual misconduct rules

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Google is promising to be more forceful and open about its handling of sexual misconduct cases, a week after high-paid engineers and others walked out in protest over its male-dominated culture.

CEO Sundar Pichai spelled out the concessions in an email sent Thursday to Google employees. The note of contrition came a week after the tech giant’s workers left their cubicles in dozens of offices around the world to protest management’s treatment of top executives and other male workers accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct involving men.

The protest’s organizers estimated about 17,000 workers participated in the walkout.

“Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared,” Pichai wrote in his email. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.”

Pichai’s email was obtained by The Associated Press.

Dropping mandatory arbitration

Google bowed to one of the protesters’ main demands by dropping mandatory arbitration of all sexual misconduct cases. That will now be optional under the new policies.

It mirrors a change made by ride-hailing service Uber after complaints from its women employees prompted an internal investigation concluding its rank had been poisoned by rampant sexual harassment. Advocates for the victims point out that mandatory arbitration is not always desirable as some victims may prefer confidentiality and wish to avoid facing their  alleged perpetrators.

Google will also provide more details about sexual misconduct cases in internal reports available to all employees. The breakdowns will include the number of cases that were substantiated within various company departments and list the types of punishment imposed, including firings, pay cuts and mandated counselling.

The company is also stepping up its training aimed at preventing misconduct, requiring all employees to go through the process annually instead of every other year. Those who fall behind in their training, including top executives, will be dinged in their annual performance reviews, leaving a blemish that could lower their pay and make it more difficult to get promoted.

The protests were touched off by the company’s handling of Android software developer Andy Rubin’s departure. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

The reforms are the latest fallout from a broader societal backlash against men’s exploitation of their women subordinates in business, entertainment and politics — a movement that has spawned the “MeToo” hashtag as a sign of unity and a call for change.

Credible allegations 

Google got caught in the crosshairs two weeks ago after The New York Times detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google’s Android software, Andy Rubin. The newspaper said Rubin received a $90-million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations were credible. Rubin has denied the allegations.

Like its Silicon Valley peers, Google has already openly acknowledged that its workforce is too heavily concentrated with white and Asian men, especially in the highest paying executive and computer programming jobs. Women account for 31 per cent of Google’s employees worldwide, and it’s lower for leadership roles.

Critics believe that gender imbalance has created a “brogammer” culture akin to a college fraternity house that treats women as sex objects. As part of its ongoing efforts, Google will now require at least one woman or a non-Asian ethnic minority to be included on the list of candidates for executive jobs.

Google isn’t addressing another one of the protesters’ grievance because it believes it doesn’t have merit. The protesters demanded that women be paid the same as men for doing similar work, something that Google has steadfastly maintained that it has been doing for years.

With a file from CBC News



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After facing near extinction, mountain gorilla population grows

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There are more gorillas in the mist — a rare conservation success story, scientists say.

After facing near-extinction, mountain gorillas are slowly rebounding. On Wednesday, the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature updated mountain gorillas’ status from “critically endangered” to “endangered,” a more promising, if still precarious, designation. There are now just over 1,000 of the animals in the wild.

“In the context of crashing populations of wildlife around the world, this is a remarkable conservation success,” said Tara Stoinski, president and chief scientist of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Fossey, shown in Washington, on Sept. 24, 1970, 15 years before her death, had projected that gorillas may be extinct by 2000, but their populations have been increasing thanks to conservation efforts. (Associated Press)

The Atlanta-based non-profit is named for the primate researcher whose work helped draw international attention to mountain gorillas and whose memoir became the basis for the 1988 Sigourney Weaver film Gorillas in the Mist.

“This is a beacon of hope — and it’s happened in recently war-torn and still very poor countries,” said Stoinski, also a member of the IUCN’s primate specialist group, which recommended the status change.

Making progress

Mountain gorillas live in lush and misty forests along a range of dormant volcanoes in east Africa. Their habitat falls inside national parks spanning parts of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Fossey, who died in 1985, had projected that the primates may be extinct by 2000. Instead, their populations have been slowly increasing thanks to sustained and well-funded international conservation efforts.

A baby mountain gorilla rides on its mother’s back on the slopes of Mount Mikeno in the Virunga National Park, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)

“We have made progress in terms of their protection, in terms of allowing an environment where mountain gorillas can continue to thrive and grow,” said Anna Behm Masozera, director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program, based in Kigali, Rwanda. “But it’s important to note that mountain gorillas’ numbers could still slip back very quickly. We still have just two fragile and small populations,” split between two national park areas.

Several factors have enabled mountain gorillas’ modest rebound, said Masozera.

The three governments have stepped up enforcement of national park boundaries — areas where hunting, logging and paved roads are illegal.

Tourism helps too: Visitors pay up to $1,500 an hour to watch gorillas, money that helps pay for park rangers.

“Primate ecotourism, done right, can be a really significant force for funding conservation,” said Russ Mittermeier, chief conservation officer at Global Wildlife Conservation. “It gives local governments and communities a tangible economic incentive to protect these habitats and species.”

There’s also health care. Gorilla Doctors, a nongovernmental group, has trained veterinary staff in each of the countries where the mountain gorillas live.

Hunting in the national parks is illegal, but nearby residents still set traps to catch other animals, such as antelopes. Those traps can also grab gorillas’ arms and legs.

When gorillas are found struggling with snares, the vets are called in to clean wounds. Kirsten Gilardi, U.S. director for the organization, called it “extreme conservation.”

Other experts said the emergency vet interventions play a significant role in maintaining mountain gorilla populations.

“It’s a total conservation win, and there aren’t that many of them,” said Gilardi.



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NASA wants Canadian boots on the moon as first step in deep space exploration

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The head of the U.S. space agency says he wants to see Canadian astronauts walking on the moon before long, as part of a first step toward the farther reaches of space.

Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, says he wants Canada’s decades-long space partnership with the U.S. to continue as NASA embarks on the creation of its new Lunar Gateway.

The U.S. is seeking broad international support for the next-generation space station it is planning to send into orbit around the moon starting in 2021.

Bridenstine says he wants Canada to contribute its expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics, and that could include a next-generation Canadarm on the Lunar Gateway and more Canadian technology inside.

He says NASA wants to create a “sustainable lunar architecture” that would allow people and equipment to go back and forth to the moon regularly.

Next stop: Mars

“If Canadians want to be involved in missions to the surface of the moon with astronauts, we welcome that. We want to see that day materialize,” he said told a small group of journalists in Ottawa today.

“We think it would be fantastic for the world to see people on the surface of the moon that are not just wearing the American flag, but wearing the flags of other nations.”

He says the return to the moon is a stepping stone to a much more ambitious goal: exploration that could include reaching Mars in the next two decades.

“The moon is, in essence, a proving ground for deeper space exploration,” he said.

Bridenstine is in Ottawa for a large gathering of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, where speculation is running high about Canada’s possible participation in the U.S. space program.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, a vocal booster of Canada’s AI hubs in Ontario and Quebec, is also scheduled to speak, along with one of Canada’s former astronauts, Marc Garneau, the current federal transport minister.

On Dec. 3, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station on his first mission.



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Why Toronto won by losing its bid for Amazon’s new headquarters

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Toronto’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, known as HQ2, lost out to not just one location, but two — New York and northern Virginia — yet the Canadian city may be better off without the American retailing giant.

Amazon’s initial HQ2 pitch promised as many as 50,000 jobs wherever they ultimately picked. As it turns out, those jobs will be split in two, with 25,000 in each new hub, along with another 5,000 jobs to a third city, Nashville, Tenn.

Some people in Toronto’s tech sector, however, say they were worried Amazon would be a very big fish in a small pond — capable of eating up much of the talent in the pool.

“We already have a significant talent shortage, and Canadian growth companies need the talent that multinationals like Amazon will consume,” said Anthony Lacavera, the founder of Toronto-based Globalive, a company that helps entrepreneurs grow their startups through investment and partnerships in an email.

Toronto’s reputation as a tech hub is growing: it’s thriving off of early investments in artificial intelligence and financial technology, a strong university research community, and an ecosystem that supports startups.

According to commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE, for two years in a row Toronto has been North America’s fastest growing tech market, adding 28,900 tech jobs last year, up 13.6 per cent from the year before.  

But it’s yet to be home to a Canadian-born Amazon equivalent.

The arrival of an 800-pound gorilla like Amazon would be more likely to squash Toronto’s thriving ecosystem than help it grow, said Lacavera, who also founded his own startup in Toronto, WIND Mobile, which later sold for $1.3 billion US.

“Canada needs to build its own global winners and end the branch plant economy once and for all,” Lacavera said.

Selling Toronto

Still, Toronto’s bid laid out why it was “ready to become the home for Amazon’s HQ2.” It promoted Toronto’s strong, diverse and affordable talent, quality of life, competitive corporate tax rates, and the country’s universal health care.

We know that health care costs are top of mind at the company. In January, Amazon teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to create a new venture aimed at bringing down health care costs for its employees.

But health care wasn’t the only sales pitch. Organizers touted what Toronto had to offer by bringing together multiple different perks from different places in and around the region.

The city’s pitch had the backing of nearby cities such as Hamilton, the tech hub of Kitchener-Waterloo and many more to tout the abundance of high skilled workers — all of whom could be hired for far less than American workers paid in U.S. dollars would demand.

Toronto’s bid had the backing of other nearby cities that, collectively, are home to almost 8 million people across the region. (Toronto Global)

Markham, Ont., which was part of Toronto’s bid, tried to get Amazon’s attention by adding “Possible Future Home of Amazon HQ2” to its welcome sign.

 

There’s something Toronto didn’t do, though: woo Amazon with financial incentives. 

Even though Amazon was worth more than $1 trillion US earlier this year, as the battle between cities heated up, some tried to lure the company with billions of dollars in tax breaks and other enticements.

In the end, both cities that will share the new Amazon HQ2 were more than willing to ante up to play the game, with New York offering around $1.525 billion US in tax breaks and wage subsidies, and Virginia kicking in $573 million worth of incentives of its own.

“It’s disgusting,” said Richard Florida, who was on the board to craft Toronto’s bid, but resigned in order to speak out against cities that were putting expensive carrots on the table, and to try to convince them to compete on merit only.

However, he says the mayors he spoke with insisted they couldn’t do that.

“If everyone would’ve behaved like Toronto and Ontario, this would’ve been a much better process,” said Florida, likening the competition to American Idol.

An influx of thousands of workers could create costly problems for a city, from driving up housing prices, to crowding public transit.

“If Amazon’s going to come you don’t want to give them anything — you want them to be a partner in addressing many of the issues they’re going to create,” said Florida. 

Incentives that don’t pay off

Cities that compete for professional sports teams often roll out a red carpet and offer incentives such as subsidizing new stadiums. But according to Stanford economics professor Roger Noll, it’s never worth it. 

“In terms of local economic activity, there’s essentially zero benefit,” said Noll.

The Amazon case is more complicated though, because unlike a sports franchise, Amazon will derive most of its revenue from outside the chosen city and attract a high-end labour force that pays more taxes and spends money locally.

“It’s probably better for a community to buy Amazon, than a basketball team … but it’s still a huge amount of money to pay and extremely unlikely to be worth it,” Noll said.

Toronto likely would’ve needed to match the other cities’ massive incentives in order to win, which would’ve been a bad deal for the city, he said.

“It’s never worth multiple billions, and Toronto should be proud of itself that it didn’t win this.” 

Toronto’s consolation prize

Last week, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city already got its payoff for its Amazon bid: the proposal it posted online has been downloaded more than 17,000 times.

“The other 16,999 that read that book beyond Amazon are people that today are making decisions about coming to Toronto…. This city is a beacon for investment, for people, for companies,” Tory told reporters.

On Tuesday, the mayor added that Toronto’s bid organizers are still in contact with the company and are “pursuing follow-up opportunities,” with Amazon that could lead to more investment down the line.

 

Toronto may have already landed a headquarters of sorts, if the Sidewalk Labs project that plans to transform a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto goes ahead, according to Florida. Sidewalk Labs is a sister company to Google.

“We could have a Google HQ2,” said Florida. “People don’t think of that.” 

If the Sidewalk Labs project is able to address concerns over data privacy and other issues that come up in public consultations, Florida is optimistic that it would benefit Toronto more than an Amazon headquarters. 

“For Toronto’s sake, I think it’s better it ended up this way,” said Florida



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