Thousands of Google employees joined a coordinated worldwide walkout Thursday to protest the US tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment as the chief vowed “concrete steps are coming” in response to the concern.
Google employees poured out of buildings at the company’s Silicon Valley “Googleplex,” filling courtyards and patios in solidarity with workers around the world who held similar protests over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct.
Demonstrators streamed across the Mountain View campus, some waving signs bearing messages such as “Time’s Up Tech” and “Happy to quit for $90 million — no sexual harassment required.”
The turnout in California was the final stage of a global walkout that began in Asia and spread to Google offices in Europe.
Some protesters chalked statements such as “Not OK Google” in large letters on pavement as television news helicopters circled overhead.
Pictures, videos and comments steadily flooded a freshly-launched “Google Walkout For Real Change” account on Twitter as employees and contractors left their workplaces to rally.
“There’s been anger and frustration within the company,” Google chief executive Sundar Pichai was quoted as saying at a New York Times Dealbook conference on Thursday.
“At Google, we set a very high bar, and we clearly didn’t live up to our expectations.”
Pichai was quoted as saying Google has “drawn a very hard line” on improper behavior in recent years but that “moments like this show we didn’t always do it right.”
He reportedly added that “there are concrete steps coming up.”
In New York, where Google has a large office in the Chelsea neighborhood, hundreds of employees took to the streets.
“I think we are a really powerful collective and we all want to see change,” said Claire Stapleton, one of the New York organizers. “I think leadership is listening.”
The protest took shape after Google said last week that it had fired 48 employees in the past two years — including 13 senior executives — as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct.
That statement came after The New York Times reported that a senior Google employee, Android creator Andy Rubin, received an exit package worth $90 million as he faced allegations of misconduct, and that Google had covered up other claims of sexual harassment.
Rubin has denied the allegations and claimed he was the victim of a “smear campaign.”
Protesters pointed out that women make up only about 31 percent of the workforce and 25 percent of executives at Google.
Demma Rodriguez, head of equity engineering and a seven-year Google employee, said the protest was an important part of bringing fairness to the technology colossus.
“We have an aspiration to be the best company in the world,” Rodriguez said.
“But we also have goals as a company and we can’t decide we are going to miss those.”
Dublin and London
At Google’s Dublin campus, the company’s European headquarters, around 500 people walked out in chilly conditions but were reticent about speaking to the media.
Organizer Kate, who did not want to give her surname, told the crowd that she coordinated the Dublin walkout “in solidarity with anybody who has experienced any form of sexual harassment or misconduct in our workplace.”
She told reporters afterward: “If even one person has experienced it, it’s important for us — for me — to show our solidarity and say that we don’t agree with that, and that it shouldn’t happen.”
In London, hundreds of workers packed into the biggest room at their main office in protest and later headed outside.
“We’re walking out to support colleagues in any workplace that have suffered harassment and to ensure that perpetrators aren’t protected or rewarded,” Sam Dutton, a developer advocate, told AFP.
Demands posted by organizers included 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 when filing a harassment claim.
CEO ‘deeply sorry’
The walkout call came as Google’s parent company Alphabet confirmed Wednesday that Richard DeVaul, an executive reportedly accused of sexual harassment, left the company without an exit package.
Pichai sent a message to employees late Tuesday, a copy of which was posted online by technology news website Ars Technica.
Pichai said he has heard from many employees on the subject of inappropriate behavior at work and was “deeply sorry for the past actions and the pain they have caused employees.”
The concerns at Google have added to the growing chorus of voices denouncing the existence of a sexist culture in male-dominated Silicon Valley, which has knocked a number of internet industry executives at other tech giants from their perches.