Google walkout protests mishandled sexual harassment

Thousands of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job Thursday to protest what they said was the technology giant’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives.

From Toronto and Tokyo to London and San Francisco, highly paid engineers and other workers staged walkouts of around an hour, reflecting rising #MeToo-era frustration among women over frat-house behaviour and other misconduct in heavily male Silicon Valley.

In Dublin, organizers used megaphones to address the outdoor crowd of men and women, while in other places, workers gathered in packed conference rooms or lobbies. In New York, there appeared to be as many men as women out in the streets, while in Cambridge, Mass., men outnumbered women by perhaps six to one.

Read: A workplace guide for the #MeToo era

“Time is up on sexual harassment!” organizer Vicki Tardif Holland shouted, her voice hoarse, at a gathering of about 300 people in Cambridge. “Time is up on systemic racism. Time is up on abuses of power. Enough is enough!”

About 1,000 Google workers in San Francisco swarmed into a plaza in front of the city’s historic Ferry Building, chanting, “Women’s rights are workers’ rights!”

The demonstrations reflected a sense among some of the 94,000 employees at Google and its parent Alphabet Inc. that the company isn’t living up to its professed ideals, as expressed in its “Don’t be evil” slogan and its newer injunction in its corporate code of conduct: “Do the right thing.”

“We have the eyes of many companies looking at us,” Google employee Tanuja Gupta said in New York. “We’ve always been a vanguard company, so if we don’t lead the way, nobody else will.”

The protests unfolded a week after The New York Times detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google’s Android software, Andy Rubin. The newspaper said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations were credible. Rubin has denied the allegations.

Read: What does the film industry’s #metoo moment mean for employers?

The same story also disclosed allegations of sexual misconduct against other executives, including Richard DeVaul, a director at the Google-affiliated lab that created self-driving cars and internet-beaming balloons. DeVaul had remained at the “X” lab after the accusations surfaced a few years ago, but resigned on Tuesday without severance, Google said.

In an unsigned statement, the Google protesters called for an end to forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases, a practice that requires employees to give up their right to sue and often includes confidentiality agreements.

Besides being angry about what they contend has been lenient handling of executives who mistreat women, the protest organizers demanded more aggressive steps for gender pay equity and more inclusive hiring practices to reduce the high concentration of white and Asian men in the industry’s best-paying programming jobs.

Women account for 31 per cent of Google’s employees worldwide, and it’s lower for leadership roles. The numbers are similar elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

Read: Editorial: We are woman: A call for gender diversity, pay equity and workplace mentorship 

Beyond Google, Facebook has faced criticism over pay inequity and discrimination. The appearance of a Facebook executive behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings also caused rifts inside the company.

As Thursday dawned, organizers had predicted about 1,500 employees would participate in the walkouts, mostly women. But the numbers appeared to exceed that, based on media accounts and images posted on the protest’s Twitter account.

The protests at Google are the latest sign that frustrations among women are reaching a boiling point, said Stephanie Creary, a professor who specializes in workplace and diversity issues at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“People simply aren’t willing to put up with it anymore,” said Creary. “The workers at Google seem to be saying, ‘How is it that we are still having to have this conversation?”’

Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai assured employees earlier this week that the company would support them in their protest. He also apologized for Google’s “past actions.”

“I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel,” Pichai said in an email. “I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society . . . and, yes, here at Google, too.”


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