Google Employees Walk Out for Better Business Culture
In early November, Google employees harnessed the power of G-Suite and the skills they amassed while being employed at Google to organize a rolling protest involving thousands of people across the globe. The walk-out was meant to highlight a laundry list of company misdeeds, but largely focused on the subject of sexual harassment.
Since the #MeToo movement caught fire on social media, these kinds of protests have been popping up here and there, but nothing has matched the sheer intensity of the walk-out planned and executed by fed-up Google employees using their own project management tools.
Andy Rubin, Suspicious Payouts and a Fiery Response
Outside of Silicon Valley, the name “Andy Rubin” may not ring a lot of bells.
But, among the tech elite, he’s been put on a pretty high pedestal for the creation and further expansion of the Android operating system. When Google bought the OS for $50 million in 2005, Rubin came along for the ride. Incidentally, his brain child is now resident on about 80 percent of smartphones. It’s no small victory, to be sure.
But Rubin was employed and retained long-term by Google at a cost. From security staff finding bondage sex videos on his work computer to what his ex-wife describes in a civil suit as “multiple ownership relationships” with the women of Google, Rubin’s very presence was problematic for some and threatening to others.
When a woman brought a complaint against him in 2014 for forcing her to perform a sexual act, Google, for its part, did investigate the situation. It found the accusation plausible, and wrapped Rubin in a fiction that made it appear that he was leaving of his own accord. Ultimately, Google paid him $90 million in cash and made a loan for $14 million to Rubin at less than one percent interest so he could buy property in Japan..
Arbitration is Google’s Answer
The Rubin case is an extreme example of the happenings behind the scene at Google, but it is far from an isolated incident. Instead of the victim of these situations being protected, the aggressor is protected. Victims are also forced into arbitration by a contract they signed when they first joined the Google team.
Forced arbitration, one of the chief complaints of Google workers, is a practice in many industries that keeps altercations within the corporation involved. It can be argued that this practice protects the reputation and privacy of companies, but those who have been through arbitration also say that it is an effective method of silencing victims since they’re not allowed to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.
This leaves women who feel that justice hasn’t been served with no options but to accept the arbiter’s decision. That means either allowing the kind of harassment they originally complained about to continue or finding a job elsewhere, hoping that the future employer won’t be influenced by past arbitration.
How Deep Do Google’s Scandalous Secrets Go?
After The New York Times published a scathing and detailed report on the Rubin scandal, but before the walkout, Google elected to defend itself by disclosing that it had fired 48 people over the last two years for sexual harassment. None, it claims, received any sort of exit package. Another Alphabet executive resigned during this period due to a sexual harassment accusation.
Beyond that, the details are few, but the employees who walked out are demanding this change immediately. They want Google to increase transparency by releasing a publicly disclosed sexual harassment report. This would include items like the number of harassment claims over time and by department, the kind of claims that are submitted, how many people have left over these claims (both victims and the accused) and any exit packages and their real values.
#MeToo started the ball rolling for sexual harassment victims everywhere, but Google’s own employees could easily influence a lot more than their own company. As Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times puts it: “However Google responds, little at the internet search giant — and, perhaps, little in Silicon Valley — will be the same again.”