Google has cancelled a company-wide "anti-discrimination" meeting called to address the sexism row that erupted when an employee published a 10-page letter about gender differences amid fears for its employees' safety.

The search giant called the meeting for staff to discuss discrimination at the firm in the wake of this week's incident. Google fired 28-year-old engineer James Damore for "perpetuating gender stereotypes" in a 3,000-word memo that called for an end to diversity programmes.

Damore's supporters have targeted Google employees with online, sexist abuse, which has drawn comparisons with the Gamer-gate scandal, and led to safety fears ahead of the company-wide meeting.

Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai, who had returned from holiday early to address the company, said employees felt unsafe and needed a more private forum to discuss the problems.

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"We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward," he said.

"Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be 'outed' publicly for asking a question in the town hall."

He added that comments Google employees had left on a private group had appeared on the wider internet along with their full names.

The company cancelled the open meeting and said it would "find a better way to help our employees connect and discuss these important issues further".

The divisive letter to employees has polarised California's technology industry.

Pichai said Damore's memo was "harmful" and "offensive" to its female employees, and that it would terminate his employment.

Damore has attracted a group of vocal online supporters who claim Google is intolerant to conservative opinions. His advocates include well-known figures of America's alt-right conservative movement, which is planning a protest against Google in at least five US cities later this month.

The former Google engineer has become a cult figure online, responding to the firm in a YouTube interview with right-wing hosts and posing for photos outside its offices holding a sign that said "Fired for truth" and wearing a T-shirt with an altered logo "Goolag".

Damore, who denied believing in gender stereotypes, has threatened Google with legal action. The row comes as Google is under investigation by the US Department of Labor for having a "systemic" and "extreme" gender pay gap. Its most recent diversity report revealed 31pc of its employees are women, who account for 25pc of its leadership roles.