On 1 November, 20,000 Google employees to protest how the internet company handles cases of sexual misconduct, gender inequality and systemic racism.
From London to Tokyo, women (and men) in 50 different cities left their desks to demand for a better, and more inclusive, workplace culture.
The catalyst? Just a week earlier, revealed that the company had given a senior executive, Andy Rubin, a £70 ($90) million exit package, but concealed details of a sexual misconduct allegations that triggered his departure. Rubin has denied the allegations.
The group of Google employees who organised the protest, called , set out five demands for the company. This included ending (whereby you effectively force workers to sign away their right to take a sexual harassment case to court) and a publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
One week later, and things have moved fast. Yesterday Google said it would overhaul its reporting process for harassment and assault, and arbitration processes .
Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that 'we try hard to build a workplace that supports our employees and empowers them to do their best work. As CEO, I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m committed to making the changes we need to improve.'
Pichai also said Google would provide more transparency to employees about incidents reported to the company and dock employees in their performance reviews if they do not complete sexual harassment training.
But the organisers of the walkout weren't completely satisfied.
, the group praised the tech company for taking swift action on the issue of sexual harassment.
'We commend this progress,' they said, 'and the rapid action which brought it about.'
But they also wrote that Google still hasn’t addressed many of the core demands of the walkout - namely diversity.
'The company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone,' writes the blog post. 'These forms of marginalisation function together to police access to power and resources.
'Sexual harassment is the symptom, not the cause. If we want to end sexual harassment in the workplace, we must fix these structural imbalances of power.'
Throughout the protests several female employees shared their stories while working at Google. One week later, we spoke to two women about how their thoughts on the walkout - and whether they believe change is possible.
Jenny, she's worked at Google for six years
The sign I made for the Google walkout read: ‘I reported and he got promoted’. It’s true and its happened to me three times. Each and every time I was really disappointed in the follow up – or lack of – from Google.
When the New York Times article came out, I felt a little stressed. My female co-workers and I – who I consider my closest friends – reached out and checked in on each other. We’ve all had experience of questionable incidences – in and out of the workplace. I felt like I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what.
Then the walkout was sent round internally and it felt like a wonderful place to put that energy. It was non-violent, non-aggressive, but exactly what it needed to be. It was our way of saying: if you continue to treat us like this, we won't stay at [at Google]. Listen to us because we’re done with not being taken seriously.
The actual day was amazing. People were rushing around beforehand, going to different rooms to pick up signs or grab a ribbon. There was a lot of security protecting us, and I had tons of supportive emails from management.
It was a little bit frightening because there was so much energy, and a lot of that energy is sad and frustrated, but it felt really wonderful when we gathered outside the building. Lots of women from different floors joined, and men, too, which was really great to see. Fellow Googlers asked about my sign, and hugged me – it felt like the Google family I know and love.
But it was a lot. Going back to work and eating my lunch after carrying that sign felt weird, you know what I mean? The back said: ‘Free food does not equal a safe space’ and I think that sums it up. I felt scared but because what I’m saying is true, it felt really important.
People have asked if I’m fired yet – I’m not. I’m driving to work right now. I want to lead by example. I don’t want to call anyone out. I don’t want to make anyone feel attacked or victimised in their workplace. And if that means I have to be gentle and empathetic towards my abuser, then that’s the route I’m going to have to take – but it feels like the most appropriate.
It’s so easy to stay angry. I could be on this phone call ripping Google apart but honestly? There’s far more good that outweighs the bad. I’ve worked at Google for almost six years and I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t think we weren’t capable of changing, or fixing this.
I was groped by a doctor the other day – a chiropractor (outside of work). When I complained about it, the first thing someone said was ‘oh my god, he has daughters!’. And it’s one of those things: you can be a father, but it doesn’t mean you will respect women. Sexual harassment is a cultural problem. It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s an issue for everyone.
Elise, she's worked at Google for five years
On the day of the walk out, I just kept thinking to myself: ‘this is bullsh*t’. Why do women still have to deal with crap like this? I have a Google home so I use the words, ‘Hey Google,’ multiple times a day. When I sat down to make my sign, the idea immediately popped into my head: 'Hey Google, this is 🐂💩.'
The office was really quiet – most people participated. No one was at their desk, and many people left notes letting others know that they were at the walkout.
I felt really emotional seeing pictures of Googlers around the world walking out of their offices—from Chicago to Dublin and Singapore. I was proud to see so many women and men participate.
At the San Francisco rally, where I was, the rally leaders asked those of us with signs to stand on the steps. I didn't hesitate, because I wanted to show my support. Once I got up there, the news cameras swarmed.
At first I thought, ‘Oh, crap. I haven't thought this through,’ but I decided to stay put. I wanted to make a statement: sexual harassment is not ok, and we won't stand for it.
It's frustrating to feel like you're powerless in initiating change, and unsure of what to do. But the walkout was a unified way for us to voice our frustrations.
My co-workers have been leaving newspaper clippings with notes of support on my desk. A lot of us still have our signs up as a reminder of the work that needs to be done. When I walk into the office, I now see the words ‘Women's rights are worker's rights’ every day.
When the New York Times article ran, everyone [at Google] was talking about it. But I want the world outside of Google, and outside of Silicon Valley, to know that as employees, we are taking a stand for what is right.
It's clear the current process isn't working. We need transparency, accountability, and structural change.