Thousands of Google employees across the world walked off the job Thursday to protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment claims.
The protests started at Google’s offices in Tokyo, then Singapore, followed by massive walkouts across Europe and the East Coast of the United States. They happened at 11:10 am local time in each time zone and were meant to send a clear message to Google executives: The company’s culture is unacceptable.
Employee anger has been building since the New York Times published an article last week detailing how Google paid millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of sexual harassment, while staying silent about the misconduct.
That included a $90 million payout in 2014 to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android phone, who allegedly coerced a female subordinate into performing oral sex on him. (Rubin denies it, though a Google investigation found the claim credible.) After leaving, Google invested in his next business venture, according to the Times.
Google has not denied the allegations in the article. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Larry Page, a co-founder of Google and CEO of its parent company, Alphabet, apologized in an email to company employees last week and said that the company has fired another 48 Google employees over sexual harassment claims in the past two years, but that none of those employees received payouts (that number does not include Rubin, he left in 2014).
That was not enough to satisfy many of Google’s 94,000 employees, who are growing increasingly frustrated with the company’s overall corporate culture. They’ve been complaining about rampant sexism, racism, unethical government contracts, and a general lack of transparency.
“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,” wrote several of the walkout organizers in an essay published Thursday in New York magazine. “We demand an end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.”
Photos of the protests from around the world
Thousands of Google employees around the world have been posting photos of the walkout on Twitter as clocks hit 11:10 am in their time zones. Here is a roundup so far:
New York, New York
Employees are requesting five specific changes
Employees shared a list of demands with company executives that they believe will help end “the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.”
These are the five things they are asking for:
- An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees
- A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity
- A public report on the number of sexual harassment complaints made against Google employees and the outcomes of those claims
- The creation of a clear process for employees to report sexual misconduct safely and anonymously
- To have the chief diversity officer answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to Alphabet’s board of directors, and to appoint an employee representative to the board
“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,” the organizers wrote in New York magazine.
The protests reflect a deepening moral crisis within Google
The Google employees who organized the walkout say their frustration with the company has been building for years and that the allegations revealed in the Times article represent only a fraction of the stories employees have to tell.
“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,” wrote the organizers.
The protests reflect a deepening moral crisis within Google. Thousands of tech workers at Google have been questioning whether the company has “lost its moral compass” in the corporate pursuit to enrich shareholders.
In April, more than 3,000 Google employees protested the company’s military contract with the Pentagon — known as Project Maven — which involved technology to analyze drone video footage that could potentially identify and kill human targets.
About a dozen engineers resigned over what they viewed as an unethical use of artificial intelligence, prompting Google to let the contract expire in June and leading executives to promise that they would never use AI technology to harm others or cause human suffering.
A few months later, an investigation by the Intercept revealed that Google is secretly working on another questionable project: a censored search engine for Chinese officials in Beijing.
The search engine under development, known as Project Dragonfly, is designed to hide search results that China’s authoritarian government wants to suppress, such as information about democracy, free speech, peaceful protest, and human rights, the Intercept reported.
In addition to hiding search results that the Chinese government wants to suppress, Google’s new search engine would also track a user’s location and would share an individual’s search history with a Chinese partner, who would have “unilateral access” to the data. This includes access to a user’s telephone number, according to an employee memo obtained last week by the Intercept.
After the news of Dragonfly leaked in August, more than 1,400 Google employees signed a letter demanding more transparency and accountability about the project’s potential impact on human rights. The controversy has reportedly prompted at least five Google employees to quit in protest.
Google executives have defended the Dragonfly project and tried to downplay concerns, saying that it was merely in the exploratory stages.
But then Google planned to bid on another Pentagon contract, known as JEDI, which involved building cloud storage for military data. There are few public details about what else the $10 billion project would entail. But one thing was clear: The project would involve using artificial intelligence to make the US military a lot deadlier.
Earlier this month, facing mounting internal pressure, Google announced that it would not submit a bid for the contract. Then last week, Google employees heard more unpleasant news: that the company had secretly given million-dollar exit packages to executives accused of sexual harassment.
That’s why Google employees are walking off the job today. Whether the company will implement any of their demands remains unclear.