Google employees protest over complaints of sexism, unchecked power in workplace

Google employees posted about the walkout and were set to deliver speeches in public plazas.

Hundreds of Google employees and contractors in Asia staged brief midday walkouts on 1 November, with thousands more expected to follow at offices worldwide, amid complaints of sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.

In a statement late on 31 October, the organizers called on Google parent Alphabet Inc to add an employee representative to its board of directors and internally share pay-equity data. They also asked for changes to Google’s human resources practices intended to make bringing harassment claims a fairer process.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement that “employees have raised constructive ideas” and that the company was “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Google employees protest over complaints of sexism, unchecked power in workplace

People gather next to the Google office to attend the Google Walkout in Zurich, Switzerland on 1 November  2018. Image: Reuters

The dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 employees and tens of thousands more contractors has not noticeably affected company shares. But employees expect Alphabet to face recruiting and retention challenges if their concerns go unaddressed.

The demonstrations follow a New York Times report last week that said Google in 2014 gave a $90 million exit package to Andy Rubin after the then-senior vice president was accused of sexual harassment.

Rubin denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained “wild exaggerations” about his compensation. Google did not dispute the report.

The report energized a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, improve treatment of women and minorities and ensure the company upholds its motto of “don’t be evil” as it expands.

Much of the organizing earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers’ rights group Coworker.org.

On Thursday, employees posted on social media about the walkout and were set to deliver speeches in public plazas.

Since its founding two decades ago, Google has been known around the world for its exceptional transparency with workers. Executives’ goals and insights into corporate strategy have been accessible to any employee.

But organizers said Google executives, like leaders at other companies affected by the #metoo movement, have been slow to address some structural issues.

“While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between,” organizers stated.

They said Google must publicly report its sexual harassment statistics and end forced arbitration in harassment cases. In addition, they asked that the chief diversity officer be able to directly advise the board.

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