By Jennifer Calfas
November 1, 2018

From Singapore to New York and London to San Jose, thousands of Google employees walked out of their offices Thursday in protest of the internet giant’s handling of sexual misconduct at the company.

The wave of walkouts started around 11:10 a.m. in each office’s time zone as employees left their desks with signs and gathered outside in a protest touted as “Walkout For Real Change.” The latest uproar amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment in the workplace, the slew of coordinated protests come a week after the New York Times revealed sexual misconduct allegations against Google’s Android software creator, Andy Rubin, as well as the $90 million severance package he reportedly received upon his departure from the company in 2014.

In the aftermath of the explosive story, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees that the company fired 48 employees following sexual harassment allegations over the last two years, clarifying that none of them received severance pay.

But the employees who organized and participated in these protests want more action. “For every story in The New York Times, there are thousands more, at every level of the company,” organizers said in a statement over email. “Many have not been told.”

Organizers created a list of demands for Google, with requests ranging from elevating the role of the company’s chief diversity officer to ending forced arbitration.

“A company is nothing without its workers,” organizers said in a statement. “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.”

What Google employees are demanding

The protesters’ demands, which were published on The Cut Thursday morning, include a number of policy and personnel changes that organizers believe would result in meaningful change in preventing and handling sexual harassment at Google. Here’s the significance of each demand:

The first calls for an end to forced arbitration in cases involving harassment or discrimination for employees. Mandatory arbitration requires employees to settle disputes privately — meaning they can’t sue or participate in a class action lawsuit against their employer even if they find necessary. Activists point to forced arbitration as a mechanism that can silence victims of sexual harassment or assault. In September, California — where Google is headquartered — almost passed a law that would ban forced arbitration at companies. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, saying it “plainly violates federal law” following recent decisions from the Supreme Court.

Organizers are also asking Google executives for “a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity” through ensuring women of color hold roles “at all levels” of the company and producing data on pay gaps based on gender, race, and ethnicity. Elevating women of color in the workplace ensures their voices are heard in crucial decision-making, according to advocates pushing for pay equity, and creating a transparent database on salary ranges, promotion rates, and more gives employees the resources to see how they stack up, and hold their employer more accountable.

“A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report” and “a clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual harassment,” protestors say, will make the company more accountable for these instances and allow for more accessibility in the reporting process. “The improved process should be accessible to all: full-time employees, temporary employees, vendors, and contractors alike,” organizers said. “Accountability, safety and an ability to report unsafe working conditions should not be dictated by employment status.”

Finally, the employees are asking for two crucial personnel changes: “elevating Google’s Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO” and “appointing an Employee Representative to the Board.” Elevating and creating these two positions, organizers say, can help “allocate permanent resources” to implement the other proposed initiatives, as well as “ensure accountability” and “propose changes when equity goals aren’t met.” A number of countries in the European Union have laws that require some sort of employee representation on boards. Earlier this year, Sen. Tammy Baldwin proposed legislation that would allow workers to elect one-third of their company’s board of directors.

Google employees walk off the job to protest the internet company's lenient treatment of executives accused of sexual misconduct, in New York, November 1, 2018. Employees staged walkouts at offices from Tokyo to Singapore to London.
Bebeto Matthews—AP/REX/Shutterstock

How Google has responded

Pichai said in a statement Thursday that the company informed employees that they “were aware” of the protests and “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,” Pichai added. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Where Google employees protested

Organizers say about 60% of Google’s more than 70 offices around the world participated in the walkouts. The Google protests started at around 11 a.m. Thursday in each office’s time zone, so that means employees in international offices in Singapore, Tokyo, Dublin, Zurich, London, and Mumbai, were among the first to walk out.

Protests spread across the U.S., too, with employees walking out of the company’s offices in New York City, Atlanta, Boulder, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Chicago, and numerous locations in California, including Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.

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