Google hit by #Me­Too walk­outs

Em­ploy­ees at of­fices world­wide protest firm’s han­dling of sex­ual mis­con­duct

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ethan Baron ebaron@ ba­yare­anews­

In an un­prece­dented show of de­fi­ance, thou­sands of Google em­ploy­ees walked off the job Thurs­day from com­pany of­fices around the world as anger over the tech gi­ant’s han­dling of sex­ual mis­con­duct in their work­place erupted into highly un­usual pub­lic protest.

“The land­scape has changed,” said San Jose State Univer­sity man­age­ment pro­fes­sor Meghna Vir­ick, who stud­ies work­place gen­der is­sues. “This is sort of the next wave of the #Me­Too move­ment.”

Or­ga­niz­ers said the pro- test hit at least 60 per­cent of Google of­fices world­wide, spread­ing across var­i­ous time zones at 11:10 a.m. from Asia and Europe to New York and the Bay Area.

At the com­pany’s Moun­tain View head­quar­ters, at least 2,000 women and men walked out Thurs­day morn­ing, some hold­ing signs and chant­ing. “Hey lead­er­ship, this is what Goog­ley­ness looks like,” said one speaker. “Time is up for sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Time is up for abuse of power. Time is up for sys­temic racism.”

The protests were fu­eled by rev­e­la­tions that Google awarded Andy

“We love the peo­ple who change the­world. Now we’re look­ing at a shift: Just be­cause you’re a star per­former doesn’t mean you can get away with be­ing a jerk.” — Meghna Vir­ick, San Jose State Univer­sity man­age­ment pro­fes­sor

Ru­bin, con­sid­ered the fa­ther of the com­pany’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem, a $90 mil­lion golden para­chute af­ter he was asked to re­sign over al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct. The New York Times re­ported late last month that Ru­bin was among three ex­ec­u­tives Google pro­tected af­ter such ac­cu­sa­tions. Ru­bin has said the al­le­ga­tions are false.

“We have al­ways idol­ized star per­form­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Sil­i­con Val­ley,” Vir­ick said. “We love the peo­ple who change the world. Now we’re look­ing at a shift: Just be­cause you’re a star per­former doesn’t mean you can get away with be­ing a jerk.”

Thurs­day’s walk­out was the lat­est em­ployee protest at the dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing ti­tan. In the spring, Google backed away from its lu­cra­tive “Project Maven” deal pro­vid­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy for the Pen­tagon’s drone pro­gram af­ter em­ploy­ees protested. In Au­gust, Googlers pushed back over the com­pany’s plan to of­fer a cen­sored search en­gine in China.

But the walk­out, its ac­com­pa­ny­ing hash­tag and a set of pub­licly re­leased de­mands by seven em­ploy­ees who iden­ti­fied them­selves as or­ga­niz­ers, was a wide­spread, pub­lic re­buke of their em­ployer.

At the head­quar­ters rally Thurs­day, one woman took the mi­cro­phone to tell the crowd she had been sex­u­ally ha­rassed by a com­pany ex­ec­u­tive and it took three years and com­plaints from many more women be­fore Google got rid of him. An­other woman told the au­di­ence a male co-worker had com­pli­mented her on her lip­stick, then asked her to lick her lips.

The Google protest would not have hap­pened in the ab­sence of the # Me­Too move­ment against sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault, Vir­ick said. “Peo­ple would not have been as open to shar­ing some of their sto­ries had the #Me­Too move­ment not hap­pened. It is now ac­cept­able for women to say, ‘Some­thing hap­pened, and it wasn’t my fault.’ ”

Also un­prece­dented at Google was pub­li­ca­tion by protest or­ga­niz­ers of a list of de­mands, in­clud­ing an end to forced ar­bi­tra­tion in ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion cases; an end to al­leged in­equities in pay; a com­mit­ment to

“Th­ese ar­bi­tra­tion clauses have­m­an­aged to veil the un­pleas­ant­ness that has hap­pened in th­ese cor­po­ra­tions. Com­pa­nies have to come to the re­al­iza­tion that you can no longer as­sume that you can keep things un­der wraps.” — Meghna Vir­ick, San Jose State Univer­sity man­age­ment pro­fes­sor

plac­ing women of color at all lev­els of the com­pany; a pub­lic sex­ual-ha­rass­ment “trans­parency re­port,” a clear process for anony­mously re­port­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct; and pro­mo­tion of the firm’s diver­sity chief to a po­si­tion re­port­ing di­rectly to the CEO, plus ap­point­ment of an em­ployee rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the firm’s board.

“A com­pany is noth­ing with­out its work­ers,” the seven core or­ga­niz­ers said in a state­ment pub­lished on web­site The Cut. “From the mo­ment we start at Google we’re told that we aren’t just em­ploy­ees; we’re own­ers. Ev­ery per­son who walked out to­day is an owner, and the own­ers say: Time’s up.”

The protest will put pres­sure not only on Google, but on other Bay Area tech com­pa­nies to take ef­fec­tive ac­tion against sex­ual mis­con­duct, Vir­ick said.

“A lot of our com­pa­nies here in Sil­i­con Val­ley still have the bro cul­ture. They still tend to be pri­mar­ily male- dom­i­nated,” Vir­ick said.

In its 2018 diver­sity re­port, Google said women make up 30.9 per­cent of its global work­force, a num­ber it ac­knowl­edged had re­mained largely un­changed from the pre­vi­ous year. Women hold 21.4 per­cent of tech jobs, up 1.2 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

The pro­test­ers’ top- ofthe-list de­mand for an end to forced ar­bi­tra­tion in sex­ual ha­rass­ment cases — a prac­tice widely seen as a tac­tic for com­pa­nies to skirt ac­count­abil­ity and avoid hav­ing their im­ages tar­nished — will res­onate among em­ploy­ees in other Bay Area tech firms, Vir­ick pre­dicted.

Pres­sure on com­pa­nies has al­ready grown as # Me­Too has em­pow­ered women to ex­pose ha­rassers re­gard­less of com­pany poli­cies, she said.

“Th­ese ar­bi­tra­tion clauses have man­aged to veil the un­pleas­ant­ness that has hap­pened in th­ese cor­po­ra­tions,” Vir­ick said. “Com­pa­nies have to come to the re­al­iza­tion that you can no longer as­sume that you can keep things un­der wraps.”

In a state­ment re­leased Thurs­day, Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai said, “Ear­lier this week, we let Googlers know that we are aware of the ac­tiv­i­ties planned for to­day and that em­ploy­ees will have the sup­port they need if they wish to par­tic­i­pate. 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.”

In re­sponse to the Times ar­ti­cle about Ru­bin, Pichai and diver­sity chief Eileen Naughton said in a let­ter to em­ploy­ees that the re­port was “dif­fi­cult to read,” but that the com­pany re­views and in­ves­ti­gates ev­ery com­plaint about sex­ual ha­rass­ment or in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct, and takes ac­tion.

“In re­cent years, we’ve made a num­ber of changes, in­clud­ing tak­ing an in­creas­ingly hard line on in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct by peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity,” the let­ter said. “In the last two years, 48 peo­ple have been ter­mi­nated for sex­ual ha­rass­ment, in­clud­ing 13 who were se­nior man­agers and above. None of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als re­ceived an exit pack­age.”

But or­ga­niz­ers of the protest said in their state­ment that not enough has been done. “All em­ploy­ees and con­tract work­ers across the com­pany de­serve to be safe. Sadly, the ex­ec­u­tive team has de­mon- strated through their lack of mean­ing­ful ac­tion that our safety is not a pri­or­ity,” the state­ment said. “We’ve waited for lead­er­ship to fix th­ese prob­lems, but have come to this con­clu­sion: no one is go­ing to do it for us.”

Vir­ick said the key to the suc­cess of Thurs­day’s protest and oth­ers that may fol­low in other in­dus­tries will be over­com­ing re­sis­tance.

“Com­pa­nies, I think, have to re­ally shift and say, ‘ Rather than try­ing to keep all this sex­ual mis­con­duct from the pub­lic’s eye, we have to openly ad­dress it,’ ” Vir­ick said. “Lip ser­vice isn’t go­ing to work any­more.

“This is a wave of cul­ture change that ba­si­cally is go­ing to have to hap­pen across­many dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies.”


Google em­ploy­eeswalk out of work at com­pany head­quar­ters in Moun­tain View on Thurs­day protest­ing the tech­nol­ogy gi­ant’s ac­tions on sex­ual mis­con­duct.


Work­ers leave Google’s Moun­tain View main quad af­ter some Google em­ploy­ees walked off the job Thurs­day in a protest against what they said is the tech com­pany’s mis­han­dling of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against ex­ec­u­tives.

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