This article originally appeared on VICE US.
On Tuesday, a Motherboard investigation revealed that Jigsaw, Google’s internet freedom moonshot, has a toxic workplace culture plagued by mismanagement, retaliation against employees, and HR complaints that don’t result in any action.
A few hours after Motherboard published it story, Jigsaw’s founder and CEO Jared Cohen responded to the story in an email he sent to staff.
“The details of the story have hit me hard and I’m deeply disappointed for all of you to see our culture characterized in this way,” Cohen wrote in the email, which Motherboard has obtained. “We haven’t always gotten everything right, and as CEO, I take this responsibility seriously and I’m committed to ensuring we continue to improve.”
Cohen went on to explain that in 2017 Jigsaw “identified a number of areas where we had room for improvement” and conducted an internal review, and “implemented nearly all of the recommendations.” He also cited a Google-wide internal review process where Jigsaw scores improved since 2018, according to him.
“That is not to say our work is done—our journey to build a better Jigsaw is ongoing. But I am proud of the changes we’ve made these past few years,” Cohen wrote, arguing that Jigsaw’s leadership created more transparency with regular all-hands meetings, setting quarterly objectives, hiring a new product director, and creating an “Operating Committee to help streamline decision-making,” providing educational resources to managers, and “a weekly forum to share challenges and best practices.”
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“On a personal note, I’m frustrated and disappointed to read about some people’s personal experience on the team that fell short of our commitment to provide a positive workplace for everyone,” Cohen continued. “It’s unacceptable for anyone who works at Jigsaw to experience anything other than a positive, equitable, inclusive environment. As CEO, I’m accountable for past failings, and responsible for making sure we honor that commitment going forward.”
In the email, Cohen did not dispute any of the details reported by Motherboard, which were based on several interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees. Jigsaw declined to make Cohen available for an interview for our original investigation.
Jigsaw’s chief operating officer Dan Keyserling did not answer a request for comment.
A former Jigsaw employee was critical of Cohen’s email.
“He's just taking responsibility without any accountability. Nothing will happen to him so he's saying he's responsible so nobody else suffers any consequences,” a former employee, who read the email, said. “It's easy for him to say ‘I take full responsibility’ if nobody actually holds him accountable for that. So he'll just carry on business as usual. I just hope future candidates read that article before accepting an offer at Jigsaw.”
Another former employee was even more appalled by Cohen's email.
"For years now, Jigsaw’s office life has been punctuated by multiple incident reports and HR investigations regarding grave issues in the team," the former employee said. "Jared’s statement that he’s 'frustrated to read about bad personal experiences' is a total joke."
Here is the full text of the email:
Today as you’ve likely seen, the Vice story Dan briefed you on a week or so ago was published. The details of the story have hit me hard and I’m deeply disappointed for all of you to see our culture characterized in this way. At Jigsaw, we come in every day trying to use technology to make people in the world safer. But it is not enough to look outward. We have also been working hard to create a better workplace that supports our employees and lets everyone do their best work. We haven’t always gotten everything right, and as CEO, I take this responsibility seriously and I’m committed to ensuring we continue to improve.
As many of you know, in late 2017 we identified a number of areas where we had room for improvement, so we conducted a thorough review, including interviews with every single member of the team, and we implemented nearly all of the recommendations that came out of that process. As we discussed in February, our Googlegeist scores year-over-year show significant improvements over a number of areas that we focused on.
This is not to say our work is done—our journey to build a better Jigsaw is ongoing. But I’m proud of the changes we’ve made these past few years. We’ve created more transparency around decisions by hosting regular all-hands meetings, working together to set quarterly objectives, bolstering our management team with a new product director position, and creating the Operating Committee to help streamline decision-making. We’ve invested in supporting managers on the team by providing educational resources and a weekly forum to share challenges and best practices.
On a personal note, I’m frustrated and disappointed to read about some people’s personal experience on the team that fell short of our commitment to provide a positive workplace for everyone. It’s unacceptable for anyone who works at Jigsaw to experience anything other than a positive, equitable, inclusive environment. As CEO, I’m accountable for past failings, and responsible for making sure we honor that commitment going forward.
I’m still on paternity leave, having welcomed the newest addition to the family six days ago, but Dan will be hosting a team all-hands meeting later today to have an open conversation about the article and any related questions. In the meantime, thank you all for the feedback you’ve shared with us. Even during difficult moments, I’m impressed and inspired by all of your commitment to helping people in the world, and to making Jigsaw a better place to work.
This story has been updated to include a quote from a second former employee.
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