Stephen Lam | Reuters
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018.
Hundreds of Google employees in more than 20 offices around the world are staging walk-outs to protest what organizers describe as “a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone.”
The demonstrations — set for 11:10 a.m. at each local time — come in in the wake of an explosive New York Times’ report that detailed how Google shielded executives accused of sexual misconduct, either by keeping them on staff or allowing them amicable departures. For example, Google reportedly paid Android leader Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package despite asking for his resignation after finding sexual misconduct claims against him credible. (Through a spokesperson, Rubin denied any misconduct and on Twitter he called his reported compensation a “wild exaggeration.”)
Organizers of the walk-out demand more transparency from Google around its handling of sexual harassment and pay and opportunity inequality, as well as more employee empowerment overall, according a statement circulated by organizers and sent to company executives. For example, organizers want an employee representative to join the company’s board and for Google to end “forced arbitration” in cases of harassment and discrimination, a practice that prevents employees from taking cases to court.
“While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between,” the employee statement reads. “ENOUGH. Reassuring PR won’t cut it: we need transparency, accountability, and structural change.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a memo to staff last week saying the company has taken “an increasingly hard line” on inappropriate conduct at work and had fired 48 people, including 13 senior managers, in the last two years, without exit packages. On Tuesday, he sent a follow-up note reiterating his apology “for the past actions and the pain they have caused employees” and said that employees would have the “support” they needed to show up for the protests.
One of the executives accused of inappropriate behavior in the Times’ piece, Richard DeVaul of Alphabet’s research Lab, X, resigned on Tuesday.
Still, protesters say that, for every story reported in the press, there are “thousands more, at every level of the company.”
A year of employee activism
Thursday’s action follows more than a year of turbulence and organizing at parent company Alphabet.
Lack of diversity is a problem across the tech industry, but Google has been at the center of public attention since last August when an employee’s internal memo attributing women’s under-representation in the tech industry to gender differences went viral. The memo’s author, an engineer named James Damore, was subsequently fired, but the incident led to internal turmoil and employee frustration about how the company handles diversity-related hiring and retention, as well as about harassment.
Overall, nearly 70 percent of Google employees are male and 53 percent are white, according to the company’s latest diversity statistics. In leadership roles, the numbers are even starker: 67 percent are white and 75 percent are male.
At Alphabet’s shareholders’ meeting in June, a group of employees bucked leadership by presenting a proposal that called for Alphabet’s executive compensation to be tied to diversity metrics. The proposal didn’t pass, but Pat Tomaino, a representative of Zevin Asset Management, which filed the proposal, said these latest protests are another sign that the company’s top executives need to take responsibility.
“Google’s value depends on its ability to find and keep the most talented engineers on the planet, no matter their gender or what they look like or where they’re from,” Tomaino told CNBC. “That employees are worried about their own workplace creates further concern for investors.”
Previously, employee organizing has appeared to sway company business decisions. In June, Google’s cloud unit said that it would not renew a controversial Pentagon contract next year following intense internal backlash.
Most recently, Google employees expressed outrage after plans leaked that it had considered a censored search app in China. A handful of employees quit in protest and hundreds of others signed a letter saying that it raised “urgent moral and ethical issues.”
Other tech companies, too, have had employees protest recent projects. Representatives from Amazon, Salesforce, and Microsoft have signed petitions and held demonstrations concerning how their work is being used for surveillance or separating families at the U.S. border.
The Tech Workers Coalition, an employee activist group, says that it’s seen an increase in interest and events over the last year.
“We stand in solidarity with Google workers,” an organization spokesperson says.
Here is the full statement from employee organizers:
Time’s up at Google.As Google workers, we were disgusted by the details of the recent New York Times article, which provided the latest example of a culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse of power. Sadly, this is part of a longstanding pattern, one further amplified by systemic racism. We know this culture well. For every story in the New York Times, there are thousands more, at every level of the company. Most have not been told. As the recent article and the executive response make clear, these problems go all the way to the top. While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between. ENOUGH. Reassuring PR won’t cut it: we need transparency, accountability, and structural change.On Thursday, November 1st, Google employees and contractors will walk out in protest, standing up for each other, fighting for equity, and demanding real change: 1 – An end to Forced Arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees, along with a right for every Google worker to bring a co-worker, representative, or supporter of their choosing when meeting with HR, especially when filing a harassment claim. 2 – A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity, for example making sure there are women of color at all levels of the organization, and accountability for not meeting this commitment. This must be accompanied by transparent data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap, across both level and years of industry experience, accessible to all Google and Alphabet employees and contractors. Such data must include, but not be limited limited to: information on relative promotion rates, under-leveling at hire, the handling of leaves, and inequity in project and job ladder change opportunities. The methods by which such data was collected and the techniques by which it was analyzed and aggregated must also be transparent. 3 – A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report, including: the number of harassment claims at Google over time and by product area; the types of claims submitted; how many victims and accused have left Google; any exit packages and their worth.4 – A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously. The process today (i.e. go/saysomething) is not working, in no small part because HRs’ performance is assessed by senior management and directors, forcing them to put management’s interests ahead of employees reporting harassment and discrimination. The improved process should also be accessible to all: full-time employees, temporary employees, vendors, and contractors alike. Accountability, safety and an ability to report unsafe working conditions should not be dictated by employment status. 5 – Elevate the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors. In addition, appoint an Employee Representative to the Board. Both the CDO and the Employee Representative should help allocate permanent resources for demands 1-4 and other equity efforts, ensure accountability to these demands, and suggest propose changes when equity goals are not met. —–WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?For every story in the New York Times, there are thousands more, at every level of the company. Many have not been told. We are part of a growing movement, and we are not going to stand for this anymore.WHY ARE CONTRACT WORKERS INCLUDED IN THE DEMANDS? Many temps, vendors, and contractors (TVCs) are doing business-critical work without the benefits or recognition, and several do so in the hopes of being able to convert to full-time employment. Coming forward with sexual harassment concerns or other HR complaints (salary/recognition) can significantly jeopardize conversion opportunities, let alone continued employment as a TVC. Remember, TVCs are paid hourly, have very limited benefits, and likely make significantly less than their FTE counterparts.The power structure that inherently diminishes TVCs is rooted in the same foundation of inequality. If we want real change, we have to take action together. WHY ARE PRIVILEGED GOOGLE WORKERS WALKING OUT?This is part of a growing movement, not just in tech, but across the country, including teachers, fast food workers, and others who are using their strength in numbers to make real change. We know that it can be more difficult for other workers to stand up which is why we stand in solidarity with the temporary and contract workers here at Google, but we encourage everyone who feels this injustice to take collective action.