Google staff walk out over harassment, inequality

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Thousands of Google employees and contractors staged brief midday walk-outs on Thursday at offices across Asia, Europe and North America to protest sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.
Google employees in Singapore protesting against the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations yesterday. The Singapore office was the first to stage a walkout, followed by others worldwide.
Google employees in Singapore protesting against the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations yesterday. The Singapore office was the first to stage a walkout, followed by others worldwide. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO • Hundreds of Google employees and contractors in Asia staged brief midday walkouts yesterday, 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 Wednesday, the organisers 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".

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 US$90 million (S$124 million) exit package to Mr Andy Rubin after the then-senior vice-president was accused of sexual harassment.

Mr Rubin, known as the "creator" of the Android mobile operating system, denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained "wild exaggerations" about his compensation. Google did not dispute the report.

The report energised 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 organising earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers' rights group Coworker.org.

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

The first walkout was at Google's Singapore office. Google staff in Zurich, London, Dublin, Tokyo and Berlin also staged walkouts.

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 organisers 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," organisers stated.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2018, with the headline Google staff walk out over harassment, inequality. Subscribe