On Thursday, November 1, over 60 percent of all Google offices and thousands of ordinary employees around the world took to the streets to protest what they say is a workplace culture “that has turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and discrimination.” The Googler protest (#GoogleWalkout) is one of the largest and most powerful employee-led demonstrations we’ve ever seen.
Putting aside concerns about how speaking out could have repercussions on their own careers, thousands of Googlers around the world marched and chanted in city plazas, demanding the company’s leadership to do the right thing. The walkouts were about sexual harassment as well as a lack of transparency and accountability at the company, according to the employees. These well-coordinated protests could become a playbook for successful corporate protests everywhere.
#GoogleWalkout: The Details
The demonstrations happened shortly after an outcry over a New York Times investigation that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations, multimillion-dollar severance packages for accused executives, and Google’s lack of transparency over the cases.
Protests were coordinated well in advance by a core group of seven Google employees. On the morning of the protest, the organizers announced their intentions to the world in an op-ed in The Cut:
“The New York Times published an article about Google’s history of harassment, discrimination, support for abusers, and the people whose lives and careers become collateral damage in the process. 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.”
“All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority. 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.”
Protests began in Asia at 11:10 a.m. local time and continued throughout Europe and to the United States. About 150 Google employees in India participated in the walkouts, according a company spokesman in the country who spoke to CNN. Protests were also reported in Google’s Singapore and Tokyo offices; though it was unclear how many people participated. In Europe, CNN saw a small group of Google employees walk out of the company’s London headquarters, and a larger protest was reported in Zurich, Switzerland. Over 1000 employees marched out of Google’s Mountain View headquarters into downtown San Francisco.
Organizers read a handful of anonymous stories about harassment from Google employees. In one heartbreaking story captured by a reporter at the Verge, an employee said a coworker attempted to “drag her away from the crowd” during a company event.
Nancy said she reported the incident to HR, which made it clear “that I was the problem”.
“They told me I’m no longer allowed to talk to anybody about this issue at all. They recommended therapy,” said Nancy, in tears. “They said, ‘don’t worry, keep working with this person;.”
Despite an investigation, nothing happened, and Nancy said she continued to work with the person for three months. During that time, she said she cried in her car every day before work for an hour.
Googler’s Key Demands
Organizers of the Google Walkout published an op-ed in the Cut on November 1st, which stated their 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 colors at all levels of the organization, and accountability for not meeting this commitment. To ensure the accountability piece, employees are demanding that corporate publish detailed data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap, across both level and years of industry experience, and make them accessible to all Google and Alphabet employees and contractors.
[Related: learn about the gender pay gap in 2018]
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. The core issue is that the current process is ineffective due in part to the fact that HR’s performance is assessed by senior management and directors, forcing them to put management’s interest ahead of employees reporting harassment and discrimination.
5. Promote the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations to the board of Directors. In addition, appoint an Employee Representative to the Board.
A Protest Without Precedence
The discussions stemming from the Googler protests spilled across news outlets and social media in a matter of minutes. There was simply no precedence for thousands of employees to take to the streets to voice their concerns about their employer — with so many of them on the record. The list of demands from the walkout organizers has been featured in every story written about the event. Photos and videos of the protests flooded Twitter. As Vox puts it aptly, “#GoogleWalkouts reflects the deepening moral crisis within the company.”
The Google leadership team had to offer an official endorsement of the event. CEO Sundar Pichai told said in a statement to CNN: “We let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for Thursday 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.”
The Google protests could inspire many other workers to follow suit and demand structural change from their employers to address issues like sexual harassment and pay and opportunity inequity. In the age of social media, following the #Metoo movement, workers have shown that they will no longer put up with employers who violate the values they hold dear as individuals (like treating everyone fairly) — and they will use the tools at their disposal to speak truth to power.
While the recent Google protest is the largest of its kind; it certainly isn’t the first. Over the course of 2018, employees from dozens of brands have gone on the record to speak out against what they perceive to be a culture of discrimination. I have no doubt they will continue to do so.
Banner image: Mashable/Johnny Lieu