Google employees stage walkout over company’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations

A Google employee holds a sign reading "Don't be evil" as employees in New York walk off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company's mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives on Thursday.
(AP Photo/Mae Anderson)
A Google employee holds a sign reading "Don't be evil" as employees in New York walk off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company's mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mae Anderson)
Published November 1 2018
Updated November 1 2018

The Washington Post

At Google offices worldwide Thursday, employees are walking off the job to protest what organizers are calling "a culture of complicity, dismissiveness and support for perpetrators" accused of sexual harassment and abuse.

The walkout comes a week after The New York Times revealed that Google had suppressed allegations of sexual misconduct against several of its executives, including Andy Rubin, the creator of the company’s Android software. Rubin was reportedly paid $90 million when he left the company in 2014 after a sexual misconduct investigation deemed allegations against him were credible. Rubin denied The Times story in a tweet, saying it was "part of a smear campaign" to disparage him during a divorce and custody battle.

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The Times story also exposed allegations of sexual harassment against Richard DeVaul, a director at Google’s parent company, Alphabet. DeVaul resigned Tuesday, the Times reported.

"For every story in The New York Times, there are thousands more, at every level of the company," the walkout organizers wrote in a news release. "We are not going to stand for this anymore."

As the waves of .MeToo have broken over pockets of American industry, the movement’s presence in Silicon Valley has uncovered patterns of abuse, gender inequality and a hush-hush culture in a landscape known for its progressiveness.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai responded to The Times reporting in an email to employees last week, CNBC reported, in which he said Google had fired 48 employees, including "13 senior managers and above" for sexual misconduct in the past two years. These people had not been given payouts, Pichai said in the email.

Outrage about how the company handles these situations rippled as employees demanded change, both internally and on social media, culminating in worldwide walkouts.

In an essay published on The Cut, the seven core organizers of the protest said that over 60 percent of Google’s offices around the world were participating in the walkout, amounting to thousands of individual employees. The stories that appeared in The Times offered just a "narrow window" into tough realities of Google’s culture.

"All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority," the organizers wrote. "We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us."

News of the walkout spread earlier this week, when BuzzFeed reported that a group of "200 engineers" were organizing a "women’s walk" to protest the revelations in the Times. Since then, the movement has spread. Early Thursday, the walkout’s Twitter account, GoogleWalkout, shared photos of employees protesting at Google offices worldwide, including Berlin, Dublin, London, Singapore, Tokyo and Zurich.

The protest, called "Walkout for Real Change," has five goals, including bringing an end to forced arbitration, improved processes for reporting sexual misconduct and a publicly disclosed report on sexual harassment within the company.

In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Pichai said Google is supporting employees who choose to participate in the walkouts.

"Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward," Pichai said. "We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action."

Google is a high-visibility company, present in the daily lives of millions or more, and their power isn’t likely to be seriously threatened by the stories of rampant sexual misconduct or the walkouts alone, said Jeremy Robinson-Leon, president of Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis communications firm. But the company’s livelihood does depend on being able to attract talent that will help propel its products and projects forward - something it could struggle to do if it can’t prove its commitment to safety and transparency.

"If Google doesn’t make the changes necessary now, and doesn’t meet the expectations of the people who are walking out today and the others who share those feelings, that could be a significant problem and would not be one that would not just go away," Robinson-Leon said.

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