Google boss Sundar Pichai has called off a meeting with staff to address sex discrimination after employees’ questions were leaked online from the company’s internal messaging service.

In an email to staff, sent just an hour before the meeting was to start on Thursday afternoon, chief executive Mr Pichai said several Google employees became fearful for their safety and concerned about being outed for speaking up at the town hall-style meeting.

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He said the company aimed to create several other forums “where people can feel comfortable to speak freely”.

The meeting was meant to hear employee grievances over a flare-up that has consumed Google for much of the week.

It began last weekend after engineer James Damore circulated a memo that claimed biological gender differences helped explain why women were under-represented at the internet giant, and was sacked on Monday.

The engineer has claimed he had a right to voice concerns over workplace conditions and filed a labour relations board complaint before being fired.

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Google’s internal “Dory” system allows employees to ask questions and then vote on questions posed by other employees so managers can address the most pressing ones.

Wired magazine published some of the questions verbatim online on Thursday.

Screenshots of the questions with names attached had been leaked, although none with names had been published as of Thursday night, a Google spokeswoman said.