Digital MarketingIndustry DevelopmentsGoogle walkout: What started it and what it means for tech

Google walkout: What started it and what it means for tech

Thousands of Google employees walked out in protest of the company's alleged history of harassment, discrimination, and support for abusers. What's next?

Today at 11:10am, thousands of Google employees across nearly two-thirds of Google’s global offices walked out in protest of the company’s alleged history of harassment, discrimination, and support for abusers.

“We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us. So we are here, standing together, protecting and supporting each other. We demand an end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.”

In a post published this morning from the organizers of today’s Google walkout, they explain the rationale of their protest and list five demands from the company.

Instigator: Last week’s NY Times article

While the company has faced sexual harassment allegations in the past, this outrage surged again in response to a New York Times article published on September 25.

The article paints a harrowing picture of sexual assault by Andy Rubin, ‘The Father of Android.’ A female employee said he coerced her into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013.

While Google did ask for his resignation back in 2014, they let him go with a $90 million exit package, paid in installments of $2 million per month for four years.

The article also revealed that this was not an isolated incident: several other male executives have been paid millions in exit packages — or simply stayed employed — following accusations of sexual harassment.

In other accusation, a 24-year-old female reported that a director at Google X, Richard DeVaul, harassed her while in the process of interviewing for a job at Google, including asking her to remove her shirt and offering a back rub. A few weeks later, she was told she did not get the job.

Googlers say time’s up

Understandably, employees at the company historically famed for stellar culture and using technology for good did not take the news well. It seems that many found solace in the exposure of a reality they were already familiar with:

“The article provided a narrow window into a culture we, as Google employees, know well. These stories are our stories. We share them in hushed tones to trusted peers, friends, and partners. There are thousands of us, at every level of the company. And we’ve had enough.”

And so, today at 11:10am, Googlers around the world walked out of their offices. Some went back to work, some did not. Some carried signs, some spoke to the crowd, and all were there to show support.

Being Googlers, their walkout was accompanied by a list of 5 clear, stated demands, each of which is in the interest of equality, safety, transparency, and of course, data to back things up.

List of demands

  1. An end to Forced Arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees, along with a right for every Google worker to bring a co-worker, representative, or supporter of their choosing when meeting with HR, especially when filing a harassment claim.
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity, for example making sure there are women of color at all levels of the organization, and accountability for not meeting this commitment. This must be accompanied by transparent data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap, across both level and years of industry experience, accessible to all Google and Alphabet employees and contractors.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report, including: the number of harassment claims at Google over time and by product area; the types of claims submitted; how many victims and accused have left Google; any exit packages and their worth.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
  5. Promote the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors.

What this means for the industry

For anyone who’s been paying attention to #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the host of other marches, campaigns, and political debates on gender equality, none of this comes as much surprise. If anything, it’s only time that company employees begin to join forces and participate in the work of ending sexual harassment.

It will be fascinating to watch how today’s walkout — and the sustained demands for action — evolve and ripple throughout the industry.

This year in particular has been feisty for Googler sentiment toward company initiatives. They’ve dropped both Project Dragonfly (plans to enter Chinese market) and their contract with the Pentagon largely due to widespread employee protest — many Googlers resigned over both those issues, citing that they did not want the technology they built to be used for censorship nor war.

To me, the fact that Googlers were the first to stage such a walkout against sexual assault speaks to the high level of care, wisdom, and ownership they feel over their work and their company. 

At the march itself (our team was at Google walkout in New York), the energy was surprisingly calm, collected, and intentional. In my perception, it was in keeping with the organizers’ call for action:

“A company is nothing without its workers. 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.”

Going forward, companies will be wise to listen to and respect employee demands for safety, equality, and transparency — or risk losing them to companies who do.

On an industry level, crises like these are potentially further steps toward a future where a small handful of technology giants have don’t have so much dominance over information and wellbeing.

For more reading

Check out the post written by the seven Google employees who organized the walkout, along with their complete list of demands: “We’re the Organizers of the Google Walkout. Here Are Our Demands.”

This is last week’s NYTimes article that stirred much of this uproar: “How Google Protected Andy Rubin, the ‘Father of Android.'”

Follow along with  the @GoogleWalkout feed on Twitter for pictures of Googlers walking out all over the world.