Google Gets Hammered On Day-Care Cost Surge, Sergey Brin Insensitivity - InformationWeek

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7/6/2008
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Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Google Gets Hammered On Day-Care Cost Surge, Sergey Brin Insensitivity

You know you've got a public-relations crisis on your hands when Valleywag ditches its preferred format of gossipy innuendo in favor of serious journalism. But that's how it's playing out, now that New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera has

You know you've got a public-relations crisis on your hands when Valleywag ditches its preferred format of gossipy innuendo in favor of serious journalism. But that's how it's playing out, now that New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera has picked up the news that Googly folk will see their on-site child day-care bills rise by up to $1,000 a month.Adding insult to the workplace injury isn't just that this goes 180-degrees counter to Google's vaunted reputation as a great place to work. It's that there's apparently no sane reason for the unaffordable increase.

As Nocera relates it, Google already had reasonably priced day care, when it decided to open a vastly more costly Euro-style operation, called the Woods, which uses something called the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Then Google also decided to upgrade the first, cheaper day care to mimic the Woods. Corporate push has come to shove because the more expensive approach is the pet project of Google VP Susan Wojcicki, who also happens to be Sergey Brin's sister-in-law. (Reggio Emilia sounds like a coffee I wish Starbucks would sell, instead of that yucky Pike Place Roast.)

Nocera also reports that Brin apparently has been caught out in public making some insensitive comments, like he's tired of Google employees "who felt entitled to perks like 'bottled water and M&Ms'." (Nocera adds that "a Google spokesman denies that Mr. Brin made that comment.")

One's first impulse when reading this kind of stuff is to pile onto "the man," and call out both Google for being thoughtless to its employees and Sergey for sounding like an arrogant billionaire shit. That's unproductive, and childish, too.

The one thing every adult American who works for a living should know by now is that to expect anything as an entitlement from any company is insanity.

The valid issue brought to the fore by this Google situation is that there's no easy way for working parents to deal with the child care issue. Society's infrastructure hasn't caught up to social reality, which is that wifey's no longer staying home waiting for '50s dad to return from a hard day at the office. The other issue is that child care ain't all that affordable, even for a family making $100k combined per year (which ain't that much nowadays, either). It's great that companies like Google have stepped up to the plate (and it's also axiomatic that a company like Google will at some point screw up what they've got, and extract defeat from victory.)

What we really need is some kind of tax credit so that all parents can afford day care. And, yes, that means I want you, childless single person or couple with kids well beyond diapers, to subsidize child care for your co-workers via the tax code. It's called maximizing the greater good so that the entire economy doesn't run off the freaking beam. (Come to think of it, child care of young kids is deductible, though I think the limit is something like $5,000. OK, so then I'm calling for a higher limit, and deductibility which isn't reduced, no matter how high your income is.)

Getting back to the story at hand, my second point is, as far as billionaires go, Brin ain't all that bad. (What, you want this guy instead?) Think of what'd pop out of your mouth if you were in his position.

Finally, there's a schadenfreude angle to this story, where folks at companies like Microsoft are surely happy to see Google get a little comeuppance. Me, I still think the world of what Google does. However, if this incident knocks Google off its pedestal and we all realize it's not fundamentally all that different from most other fairly forward-looking organizations -- as in, it ain't perfect -- so much the better.

Here's a humorous little video I made about Google a while back:

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