Published in AI

Deepmind rubbish at spotting sexual harassment

by on01 April 2022

In this case it is a human problem

It is starting to look like the humans behind AI are worse than the actual technology as a former DeepMind employee has blasted the AI lab for being “grossly inadequate" in dealing with internal sexual harassment.

The ex-staffer told the Financial Times that the outfit covers itself with NDAs that prevent victims from speaking out.

The ex-staffer said she was subjected to "severely disturbing sexual and behavioural harassment," and received emails and texts that contained "explicit confessions of acts of sexual violence against women, and threats of self-harm," from a senior researcher.

A senior researcher alluded to having had sex with colleagues at work, and having had visited sex workers during office hours.

The staffer drafted and submitted a six-page internal complaint in 2019. Yet, even with evidence of this abuse, management at DeepMind did not resolve the situation until almost a year later.

"It was, I believe, intentionally dragged out, and many of my claims were initially minimised or outright ignored," she said.

"During and after the case, HR would go without updating me or responding to my inquiries for weeks or months. You can imagine I was not only concerned for my own safety, but that of other women at the company, yet throughout the investigation the person was never suspended."

After she filed her grievance, the senior researcher was promoted, and even given an award during the investigation process.

Google finally fired the researcher in 2020 following an investigation into sexual harassment allegations and the researcher was dismissed without any severance payment.

However, the staff handbook says that such cases should be resolved in a couple of weeks, and the staffer said it takes HR months to resolve harassment cases, even when there was hard evidence.

As well as calling for swifter grievance resolution, and improved internal systems for reporting abuse, she also criticised DeepMind's policy of making staff sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent victims from discussing their situation or speaking out.

"Very few people I've spoken to are able to share their story due to the company's restrictive NDAs," she wrote.

DeepMind said since the conclusion of the initial investigation in May 2020 it had implemented several new and enhanced workplace policies and practices to ensure they are aligned with the guiding principles of creating a respectful, safe, and inclusive working environment for all employees. This included 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, rolling out additional training for those who investigate concerns, and increased support for employees who raise concerns during and throughout an investigation.

DeepMind has implemented several new and enhanced workplace policies and practices and accelerated building its Employee Relations (ER) and DE&I functions. 

“Any incident of sexual assault or harassment is abhorrent. DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously and we place our employees’ safety at the core of any actions we take. The allegations were investigated thoroughly, and the individual who was investigated for misconduct was dismissed without any severance payments. We expect everyone – regardless of their role or seniority – to behave in a way that lives up to our values. We’re sorry that our former employee experienced what they did, and we recognise that they found the process difficult," 

Deepmind said that the timeline provided by the employee was a little different from the FT article. It said it was: 

• August 2019 - Julia came to P&C and indicated they had concerns for the researcher’s wellbeing. At this stage we were made aware that they were friends from out of work and shared an interest in creative writing.
• September 2019 - Researcher was asked not to contact Julia as researcher had been sharing explicit stories with Julia. Julia did not, however, bring a grievance at this stage.
• End of December 2019 - Julia raised a grievance stating that the researcher had shared stories and essays that were of a sexual nature and continued to send them after Julia asked him not to
• The initial investigation concluded in May 2020. The complainant filed an appeal, and this was concluded in July 2020. The disciplinary hearing concluded in September 2020.

In this case there were a number of complex factors that caused this one to take the length of time that it did many of which were outside of the control of the organisation, primarily the availability of the parties involved, disruptions caused by COVID in Spring 2020 and requests by the parties involved for extensions of time, the DeepMind spokesman said.

Deepmind added that the individual was not promoted while the investigation was ongoing. Furthermore, the award was a team award related to a historic research paper and was not an award for the researcher individually. 


Last modified on 02 April 2022
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