Google staff stage walkouts today as company admits $90m payout to exec fired over sexual misconduct

Walkouts are taking place today across the globe by angry Googlers after it high profile sexual harassment claims at the firm and the subsequent payouts made to high profile executives who have left after allegations emerged.  Such action is unprecented in Silicon Valley.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai is facing a worldwide revolt from employees who are angry at the way the company manages allegations of sexual misconduct – including a forced arbitration policy.

Organisers of the walkout told the New York Times that more than 1,500 employees, mostly women, are planning to walk out from more than 60 percent of Google’s offices at 11:10AM as timezones roll around the world.

“We don’t want to feel that we’re unequal or we’re not respected anymore,” said Claire Stapleton, a YouTube product marketing manager, to the Times. “Google’s famous for its culture. But in reality we’re not even meeting the basics of respect, justice and fairness for every single person here.”

It emerged this week that high profile executive Andy Rubin received a $90m pay-off after leaving the firm when what Google called a ‘credible’ claim of sexual harassment was made against him.  Rubin, widely credited as the creator of the Android operating system, continues to deny the allegations and says much of the reporting is inaccurate.  Another high profile executive, Richard DeVaul has also left after it emerged he made unwanted advances towards a female candidate in the past, which he put down to an ‘error of judgement.

Following the initial report in the Times this week, the company issued a statement where it admitted that that another 48 staff have been fired for the company over sexual harassment, which the company says took place without any settlements involved.

Angry employees are demanding several key changes in how sexual misconduct allegations are dealt with at the firm, including a call to end forced arbitration – a move which would make it possible for victims to sue.  Enforced arbitration clauses are common place in Silicon Valley, however staff are calling for change.  Staff taking part in today’s action will leave a note on their desks telling colleagues:

“I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone” .

Googlers have made a series of demands, including the appointment of an employee representative to the board.  Forced arbitration, a common contract clause for Silicon Valley workers, demands any disputes are dealt with internally rather than through other methods such as the courts.

Pichai sent an email to all staff saying he understood their anger:

“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.”

In a statement ahead of today’s action, Pichai also said on Wednesday evening:

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

Prof Kellie McElhaney, from the Haas School of Business, said:

“Women are fed up, and I don’t think it’s just women.  There are a lot of ‘manbassadors’ out there who are equally as fed up and using their positions of power and voice, which can cost Google money. I think you have to hit these companies where it hurts.

“I think it empowers other Google offices when women and men are watching this happen, that they can do a similar action that’s not just sitting by or making comments to one another or sharing emails.”

Pichai told employees he will support their walkout today and stated that the company will take a tougher line on harassment in future.  However, sex tech entrepreneur Cindy Gallop said that gender equality was the best way forward, writing on Twitter:

“Here’s a better idea, Sundar: hire, promote, champion, give juicy ‘moonshots’ to WOMEN. Sexual harassment disappears in a gender-equal work enviroment (sic).”

We await the results of today’s protests.


Thanks to sources:

BBC, Forbes, New York Times