Google employees worldwide walked out of their offices at 11:10 a.m. local time Thursday to protest the company’s treatment of women and its handling of sexual assault cases. The protest continues in other time zones today. The demonstration is named Google Walkout. Google and its parent company, Alphabet, employ about 94,000 people worldwide. 

Key Highlights

  • Nearly 17,000 employees from 40 global offices participated and all the offices, the organisers claim, aren’t even counted yet.
  • The protest is the result of a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, improve treatment of women and minorities.
  • Walkout comes a week after it appeared that Google gave a secret $90m exit package to Andy Rubin and hid details of a sexual misconduct allegation against him. Rubin is the Android software creator. 

Google Walkout For Real Change: Demands

A Twitter feed titled @googlewalkout has been documenting the movement at Google’s international offices. The seven core organisers of the Walkout, represent thousands of Google employees in their call to demand real change. Here are their five demands: 

  1. An end to Forced Arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees.
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
  5. Elevate the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors. Appoint an Employee Rep to the Board.

The New York Times investigation

The company’s management has been dealing with criticism after The New York Times investigation

As per the report, a Google employee had accused Andy Rubin of sexual harassment in 2013. Google investigated and it emerged that the woman’s claims were credible. They asked Rubin to resign. According to reports, the company, instead of firing Rubin, paid him a $90 million exit package and didn’t make anything public.

  • NYT also reported other instances when Google protected accused executives.
  • The report alleged Google has, at many occasions, ousted alleged offenders but softened the exit. The paper claims the tech giant has paid offenders millions of dollars on their departure.
  • Google engineer Liz Fong-Jones wrote on Twitter and spoke on record about the how the culture of stigmatisation and silence enables the abuse by making it hard to speak up and harder to be believed.

“A company is nothing without its workers. We’re told we’re owners and not just employees the moment we start working at Google. Every person who walked out today is an owner, and the owners say: Time’s up.”

Since the Times report, the company’s leadership is struggling to deal with the agitated employees. The walkout organisers believe although Google has championed diversity, it has weakened in addressing racism, increase equity, and stopping sexual harassment.

Gender inequality and systemic racism

Some demands are firmly directed to Google’s workforce gender makeup: As per reports, only 31 percent of its global workforce and slightly over a quarter of its executives are women. In 2017, the federal government had sued the company to release compensation data to ensure it was obeying equal opportunity laws.

Demands for improved treatment of sexual harassment comes since the company, currently, requires employees to waive their right to sue in such cases and often includes confidentiality agreements, the NYT reported.

Across the world walkout

Reportedly, before Google employees got to work in the United States, around 150 Google employees in India participated in the walkouts. Google has about 2,000 staff members across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Demonstrations took place at the company’s Singapore and Tokyo offices due to early time zone. In Europe, a small group of Google employees walked out at the company’s London headquarters. A larger protest happened in Zurich, Switzerland.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai emails employees voicing support for the walkouts

Pichai, in an email to the workforce, apologised for the company’s past actions. “I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel,” it said.

The email did not mention the reported incidents but Pichai also did not dispute the authenticity of the NYT story. “We let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for Thursday and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate,” Pichai said in a statement. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Earlier this week, Richard DeVaul, a director of Google X, resigned from his position. He had sexually harassed a job applicant. 

While the tech giant claims it has fired 48 people over sexual harassment accusations over the past two years without that an exit package, the global walkout clearly shows there’s more needed to be done in effective measures to ensure a safer and equal working environment.  

Featured image credit: BBC

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