On Nov. 1, 20,000 Google employees and contractors walked out of the company’s offices around the world, one week after the New York Times reported that Google had protected three executives accused of sexual misconduct, including Android founder Andy Rubin.
But the protests were about more than just how Google handles harassment. On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, six of the walkout organizers — Erica Anderson, Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker, Stephanie Parker, Cecilia O’Neil-Hart and Amr Gaber — explained that employees’ grievances included a history of pay discrimination, systemic racism and the unequal treatment of contract workers.
And Google executives have neglected to even talk about some of the five demands that the workers presented in conjunction with the walkouts.
“They did not ever address, acknowledge, the list of demands, nor did they adequately provide solutions to all the five,” said Stapleton, a marketing manager at YouTube who has been at Google for more than 11 years. “They did drop forced arbitration, but for sexual harassment only, not discrimination, which was a key omission. Nothing was addressed regarding TVCs [contract workers] ... I think we didn’t see accountability in action.”
“You don’t have 20,000 people in the streets planned in three days if there isn’t something deeply, structurally wrong,” added Whittaker, the founder of Google’s Open Research group.
Parker, a policy specialist at YouTube, initially read a prepared statement to her San Bruno, Calif., colleagues during the walkout, but then asked them a question she hadn’t written down. Where, she asked, did Google get the tens of millions of dollars it paid to Rubin and other senior executives accused of sexual misconduct?
“They got it from every time you worked late,” Parker said. “Every promotion you didn’t get because they said there’s not enough budget, you have to wait. It’s from every contractor who came to work sick because they have no paid time off. These are conscious decisions that the company is making, and abusers are getting rich off of our hard work.”
And the walkouts, the organizers agreed, have in some cases turned strangers into allies. People who had been raising red flags for years and felt they weren’t being heard suddenly realized that they were not the only ones who thought Google wasn’t hearing what it needed to hear.
“We’re giving our feedback about what’s wrong through all of the official channels,” Parker said. “We’re filling out the surveys every year. We are talking back in TGIF [all hands meetings] and asking these questions, and nothing is happening. But once we begin to find each other, and see each other all speaking out and all saying, fundamentally, the same thing, then the fear starts to go away. Once we start taking collective action, then we can’t be stopped.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with the organizers.
Kara Swisher: Today we have a really special show. I’m joined by six of the organizers of the Google Walkouts. These are the protests at several Google campuses that formed after the New York Times reported that the company was promoting and paying off people accused of sexual harassment, but it’s so much more than that.
Normally, I would tell you the names and titles of my guests, but I have three people here with me in the New York studio and three on the line from California. So just for listeners to keep everyone’s voices straight ... everyone when they talk they’re going to say their names, but first we’re going to introduce everybody. So let’s start here in New York.
Claire Stapleton: I’m Claire Stapleton and I’m a marketing manager at YouTube.
Meredith Whittaker: I’m Meredith Whittaker, I founded Google’s Open Research group and I’m the co-founder of the AI Now Institute at NYU.
Erica Anderson: Hey, I’m Erica Anderson. I’m with the Google News Lab and have been at Google for three years.
All right, California.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Hi, I’m Celie O’Neil-Hart and I work on YouTube marketing.
Stephanie Parker: Hi, my name’s Stephanie Parker and I’m a policy specialist on the trust and safety team at YouTube.
Amr Gaber: Hi, I’m Amr. I’m an entry-level engineer.
Kara Swisher: All right, okay. Amr is Amr Gaber. Anyway, so this is going to be a large conversation. I’m going to start, I think, with you, Claire, because you started it off, and you work at YouTube under Susan Wojcicki, who’s the CEO of YouTube. So why don’t you start us off?
Everyone’s going to talk about a different part of this. So let’s get the background of how this started, and then I want to get into, in each section, to talk about what happened, where it’s going, and end up talking about what’s going to happen next.
Claire Stapleton: Sure. Lots to say. I started at Google 11 years ago, straight out of college. Important to note that my first job was actually doing TGIF with Larry and Sergey, so sort of like the ultimate Google cultural institution. And consequently, I was a huge believer, and am, in the culture of openness and transparency in the company.
And explain TGIF for people that don’t ... because it’s an unusual thing.
Claire Stapleton: TGIF, you know, it’s like the existential crisis around tech and its influence has been mounting forever, but there’s this very folksy grounding, kumbaya ...
From the beginning.
Claire Stapleton: ... moment every week. It’s an hour long at Mountain View. Larry and Sergey still do it, if you can believe it. People come, full-time Googlers, come and ask questions. And there’s sort of this ... From my perspective, having worked on this for five years, it really is about holding leadership accountable.
And it has been. I mean, I’ve had people argue everything from the Kombucha shakes to ...
Claire Stapleton: M&M’s, the wastebaskets. But the questions have gotten increasingly serious, and there is a lot of dialogue, I think, about the ethical direction of the company, which is really interesting. But anyway, lots of simmering anxiety at the company, suffice to say, and the New York Times article about Andy Rubin was a major reckoning moment for the culture building upon all this anxiety.
From where I was sitting, I’m in New York now, in the office, in meetings, in the internal threads, the temperature just shot up. And people weren’t just outraged, they were sharing their experience and their stories, which was incredibly eye-opening for me, as somebody who’s been around forever. It’s sexism and bro culture, it’s racism, opportunity discrimination, throughout your career at Google and elsewhere. It’s so big, it’s so huge and it goes on and on and on.
I think what was really interesting for us, and we talked about this a lot, was the article was ostensibly kind of a bombshell about some sordid executive ...
But this has been reported ... A lot of it had already ... It was collectively.
Claire Stapleton: Totally.
Because I wrote about Amit, and also Andy.
Claire Stapleton: Right, we’d heard all these. We know all this. I think what it gestured to and what it harnessed was so much more, and the sort of sense that there’s really bad things happening under the cover of darkness at Google and elsewhere. So that was really interesting for me, and I was really following it closely and just hearing all these women I knew in the office telling their stories. I’m like, “I had no idea you were forced into arbitration. And I had no idea you weathered opportunity discrimination on the level that you did.”
But the real turning point for me was the way that the execs handled it that day at the TGIF that followed. The Googlers, as always, showed up. I mean, they had really smart thoughts. They brought their outrage, but it was also constructive ideas and questions. And it was so dismissed. I think that it was a very awkward, hollow, somewhat disastrous TGIF which, you know, has been much-reported, but we needed to see accountability and commitment, and neither happened.
I think it’s actually really followed that way since then. For me, it was basically like, look, the Google culture that I believe in, that I have been talking about forever and thinking about deeply, this place is structured for voices, but it’s not going to fix this. We’ve got to try something else.
Right. And you also, just to be clear, you also have ... Google has more message boards, more places to communicate, they won’t shut up in a lot of ways. There’s a lot going on in all these things.
Claire Stapleton: The dialogue is so constant and so fierce. I pity the corporate talking points person who’s sent in to these threads — you know, with the approved messaging — because people are so unbelievably engaged, committed, intelligent. It’s fierce. That’s what happened with the walkout as well.
So this was the TGIF right after the article.
Claire Stapleton: The day-of.
The day of, that they didn’t ... What in the response — then we’re going to go Meredith to talk about the ethical implications of this.
Claire Stapleton: Yes.
What was the problem with the response? Because I think they had a similar thing recently, too, when the demands came out, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Claire Stapleton: Yeah, there’s so much to say about that. I mean, I think that the ... There was a decision, first of all, to carry on with the regular presentation, which was ... I think it was the Google Photos team. So you’re sort of putting ...
“Oh, let’s talk about photos.”
Claire Stapleton: The optics were really tough because like I said, the community was gripped by this. And I think it was the sort of moment where we needed to hear that the system needs to change. We needed to see a genuine commitment to that, and I think it was ... There was a kind of dismissiveness to it. There was a sort of, “We care. We’re going to follow up on this.” It did not at all match the urgency and intensity of what happened.
And I think that we knew we needed to switch it up, try something else, exert power and come together in a way that would be more disruptive and that they would have to listen to, because lining up to ask questions at TGIF, in this case, wasn’t good enough.
Wasn’t enough. Okay, Meredith, why don’t you talk about the ethical implications around what was going on.
Meredith Whittaker: Well, it’s a backdrop ...
This is Meredith Whittaker. Go ahead.
Meredith Whittaker: Hello. Yeah, I guess to back up a little bit, this is sort of what my research has focused on for a while. So I’ve been looking at issues of race, power, gender and artificial intelligence, and some of the issues around tech culture.
Meredith Whittaker: Over the past year, I think what we’ve seen — and what you’ve documented, Kara, really well — is this heightened divide, increasing divide between the rhetoric of tech as tech products, like they’re good for people, it’s all got a net positive in the end, just bear with the disruption, and the rhetoric about the tech culture, like it’s the best place to work. You’re lucky if you’re here, shut up and bear it. And really seeing this sort of ... you know, the fact that those promises are increasingly threadbare on both counts.
Meredith Whittaker: And so I have been involved with people like Amr and others in leading some of the work against Maven, against the ...
This is the defense ... Explain that for people.
Meredith Whittaker: This was a more-or-less secretive contract with the DoD that was essentially leveraging Google’s artificial intelligence capabilities to build surveillance for drones.
Meredith Whittaker: And this was done in a way that did not have the buy-in of, let’s say, the broader Google community. It was done in a way that was not explicit, even to some of the people that were working on it. It was done in a way that I think really exploded some of the comfortable mythologies around tech as a beneficent force in the world.
Meredith Whittaker: Benign, either one. Yeah. And I think this was a moment when the contradictions inherent in this culture, the late-stage capitalism versus this idealistic utopian engineering rhetoric, were in stark relief. I think what we’re seeing here is the personal and the political meet, in a way.
Meeting. And it was interesting. One of the things that’s about this, it’s not just about sexual harassment, which has to be beyond it. There’s issues around who you want to work for, there’s the James Damore thing that happened, there was the China stuff, so in terms of the ethical considerations, all these things are sort of hurtling towards these companies, that they are very willing participants in and causes of it.
Meredith Whittaker: Yeah, and I think part of what we’ve seen is while we do have this proliferation of means to get our voices heard, we don’t have many ways to hold anyone in power accountable. And we don’t have the means to actually create that change without this type of corrective action.
Right, so they’ll let you speak up, but not do much in that regard.
Meredith Whittaker: Yep. And there are many of us within the company who’ve been pushing for changes for a long time through the established mechanisms. We’ve seen OKRs, we’ve seen working groups, we’ve seen meagerly funded diversity efforts, we’ve seen ethical councils and self-regulatory promises. None of which have netted in any change, and we continue towards the iceberg with increasing stakes both within the company, for the people who work there and, I would argue, societally for the people that have to bear the brunt of the ...
The inventions you’re making.
Meredith Whittaker: Exactly.
Right. Okay, Celie, can you sort of set the stage of the letter that went out that was sent by Claire, and the demands, how you all formulated the demands?
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Sure, absolutely. It was a really collective effort from the beginning, buoyed by or really inspired by the stories that were coming from the community. So, for example, Claire actually had heard from a group of mothers at Google, just these endless stories, this thread of stories that was going around in an internal email chain, and was inspired from those stories to send an email out to a large group of women on a Google group and essentially say, “Hey, I feel like we have to do something.” And that started it all.
Immediately, people were suggesting demands, so I took note and started gathering those into a Doc. It was just completely a process of defining what we wanted in solidarity with each other. I think it showed me the power of collective action, writing the demands quite literally as a collective. Hundreds of Googlers were weighing in on email threads, in the actual doc.
I have a memory of being on the phone with Amr debating demand No. 1 and watching as 27 Googlers in a Doc, were editing in the Google Doc live, and then watching Meredith come in and say, “We already have that one here. Can we reduce from 10 demands to five?” I mean, it was just this truly collective action, living, moving in a Google Document that we were all watching and participating in.
Using Google technology.
Claire Stapleton: Internally, yeah.
Meredith Whittaker: The means of production.
Isn’t that a commercial? Thanks, Google.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: I know.
Erica Anderson: It was very efficient.
Claire Stapleton: Make Google do it.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: It is important to call out the demands, where we may have facilitated gathering them, they weren’t new. I think we would all say that they represented asks that many groups at Google had been making toward equity for years. So we might have facilitated and brought together that collective in a document, but we were putting them in one place.
All right, Amr, why don’t you go through with us what those demands were and why they came down to the ones you all decided on.
Amr Gaber: Sure, so the first demand is an end to forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination. And also the right for a Google worker to bring a coworker or other supporter in to an HR investigation, because that can be a very daunting process.
Amr Gaber: The second demand is a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity. And this is for all levels of the organization, not just full-time employees, but contract workers as well and even subcontract workers, because we know that leads to a lot of the power imbalance that leads to these abuses.
Also, the third one is a publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report. After the article came out, there was all these numbers that the leadership team was throwing around about cases where they took action, but all of that was completely brand new to us, even though for us, there’s thousands of these stories going around, but the company keeps them hidden as much as possible.
Amr Gaber: The fourth one is a clear, uniform and globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct, safely and anonymously, because obviously the process today is not really working that well. I mean, at what point does the failures of the claims become just an accommodation of the process?
Amr Gaber: And then the last demand is promoting the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO and the Board. And in addition, appointing an employee representative to the Board to be able to make recommendations.
Right, which is an important thing. We’ll get to what happened after this, but first, Stephanie, one of the things that’s in that is contractors too. The concept that people don’t realize how many contractors there are at Google, and these are people without rights, essentially. And there is sort of an elite group above that who are much better paid. Can you talk a little bit about them too? Because they have been left out of the system for a long time, it seems, like at Google.
Stephanie Parker: Yes, so just to set the tone here. When there was the shooting at the YouTube headquarters at San Bruno earlier this year, contract workers like cafeteria workers, security guards and those that sit next to us every day doing all kinds of jobs in all departments, they were out there in the line of fire. They had their safety in danger.
And the day after the shooting, when Susan called a Town Hall for all employees to hear updates and to support each other, TVCs, or contract workers, were excluded from that. Even though they were just as much in danger, if not even more because during the time of the shooting was happening, security updates were sent via text to full-time employees and not to contractors so they ...
Explain what contractors are so people understand, people who don’t know.
Stephanie Parker: Sure.
These are not just cafeteria — this is all levels of Google, everywhere.
Stephanie Parker: Exactly. We have contract workers. At Google they’re called temps, vendors, contractors, TVCs. We have them in all organizations at Google. They’re managing marketing projects. I have a friend who’s a contractor who is a compliance manager and helps to set payroll for other Google employees. We have contractors that manage teams of upwards of 10, 20, even more other people but continue to be perennially left in this second-class state where they don’t have healthcare benefits, they don’t have ... for the most part, what I hear is they don’t have paid sick leave and they definitely don’t get access to the same well-being resources: Counseling, professional development, any of that.
What we’re seeing is Google is deciding to lean in to changing more of their roles, more of their positions to be contract. Changing them ...
Right, it’s cheaper. It’s easier and cheaper, right?
Stephanie Parker: That’s what it comes down to.
It’s an easier and cheaper in this gig economy.
Stephanie Parker: When we confront them about this, when we ask, why is it this way, that we have people that sit right next to us doing the same work but are not compensated fairly or even treated with respect, we hear that, “Well, there’s legal distinctions. If we treated them like full-timers then maybe we would have to compensate them like full-timers.”
That’s exactly why.
Stephanie Parker: To me, and I think all of us, the solution is to convert them to full-time, or to treat them fairly with respect. Not to throw up our hands and say, “Oh well.”
Or somehow figure out new ways of having contractors that have rights.
Stephanie Parker: Sure.
You know what I mean? I think the whole idea ... I’ve had this actually very lively discussion with Gavin Newsom, who’s now the Governor of California. I think there’s going to be legislation on this because he’s like, “We have these two bifurcated systems, there’s got to be a new way of thinking about employees.”
But in this case, in this particular case, these people are at more risk because they work for other vendors that Google does not have control over. And it was interesting because I had a discussion with one of your bosses and I said ... They’re like, “Well we don’t have control over them.” I’m like, “Aren’t you Google? Aren’t you the smartest people in the world? Didn’t you put Quonset huts in your things for new offices? That was a kind of interesting idea. Can’t you do something special here?” kind of thing, which they can’t, apparently.
Erica Anderson: Well, I think that it’s actually worth mentioning that other companies ...
I’m going to get to that. Let me introduce you. This is Erica Anderson.
Erica Anderson: Yes.
So go ahead.
Erica Anderson: In doing research and preparing these demands and just knowing what we know, I mean, Harvard is an example of an organization that is given ... I think they created a parity policy for all their contractors, they get the same benefits, the same healthcare benefits. Rent the Runway, I think in May of this year, came out, its CEO said, “I don’t want to have different classes of workers. I’m going to pay the people in the warehouse in Ohio the same benefits that our full-time employees get.”
So this is also a situation that’s been so interesting for Google because actually Google doesn’t lead in this space. And I think that’s what makes the whole thing kind of interesting to me is that we talk about wanting to be the best workplace in the world, the most competitive, and offer the best benefits. But I think what we’ve seen here is that it’s just not a place where Google is leading, and we wanted to bring that to the attention of everyone.
Right, which they would prefer you not to. All right. So when we get back, we’re going to talk about what happened after you made these demands. And Claire, just set us up for this. You sent this letter out.
Claire Stapleton: Mm-hmm. Yep.
They had this crappy TGIF.
Claire Stapleton: Yes, that was Thursday. Friday, I set up a Google group and sent it around to some women at the company and it clearly struck a chord. A couple of hundred women, and men, immediately we took women out of the name of the ... out of the branding because there were so many allies. Really there were so many issues people were bringing to the table about inequity, and Monday ... There were 1,000 people in the group and we said, “F it. Let’s do it Thursday.”
Okay then. On F it, we’re going to get back. When we come back we’re going to talk about more of what happened after we F’d it. We’re going to take a quick break now. We’ll be back in a minute with the organizers of the Google Walkouts. That is Erica Anderson, Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker, Stephanie Parker, Celie O’Neil-Hart and Amr Gaber.
Okay, we’re here talking in an unusual Recode Decode. I really wanted to do this, I’ve never had this many people in one place talking about something. I thought it was really important to have all the different perspectives and what’s going on here. These are the people — or some of the people, because there’s many more, I think — that organized the Google Walkouts and the thinking behind it. Because it’s very hard to collectively do something together, because what happens is instantly disagreements happen between people, also the company is operating from a single source and you all have to all sort of join together which is what they try to do, which is break you apart in some way.
And so I wanted to talk a little bit about what happened next. Celie, why don’t we start with you. So you guys came up with these demands, right? And then what? And then you ... Claire was saying just a second ago, you said, “Fuck it, we’re going to have a protest to start with.” Are you laughing there, Celie?
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Yeah, absolutely. I am laughing. I will admit that it leaked and that was a bit of the “F it” experience for many of us. There was quite a debate, hundreds of voices on when it should be. And then when it was announced somehow that it was going to happen Thursday, we really felt that the momentum was suddenly there and we needed to pull it together. So we rallied.
I remember sending an email to the group called, “It’s happening.” And it just listed the initial resources, and Amr responded to that note and said, “Here are some different ways that you can actually take action on that day; take the full day off versus walk out for an hour. Whatever you’re comfortable with.” Planning was a really important part of that because we had TVCs, contract workers, walking out alongside their full-time colleagues. Figuring out what was right for you on that day was a huge part of the planning process as well.
So, Amr, why would you think walking out was the thing to do, since you were saying, “Here’s the different things you could do”? What was the concept behind it? A visual of Google people just saying, “We’re walking out.”
Amr Gaber: The walkout wasn’t actually my idea. That was more the idea from Claire and the moms group, but when I heard walkout, I was like, “Okay, well, this is something that I’m a little bit familiar with.” I know that we’re kind of in a new moment in tech, and I think just in general.
I thought this would be, one, a powerful action, but two, also a great learning experience for a lot of tech workers, just a lot of people in general about how this stuff kinda works and how we can exercise the power that we have.
Who are relatively docile, I have to say, tech workers. I find that, you know, you guys ...
Claire Stapleton: All the snacks.
All the snacks, and all your special things. They’re docile, and they don’t protest. It’s not a ... And many of them are very well paid, or most of them are very well paid.
Erica Anderson: I mean, this was extraordinary, right?
This is Erica.
Erica Anderson: We had one key organizer who does operations at the company, and she’s a program manager. She set up an extraordinary amount of spreadsheets. She set up a website that was internal. I remember looking at it, maybe Tuesday, and there were two cities listed. Then as word got out, more and more cities were listed, and the website continued to get updated until we had over 30 cities around the world listed. Every city had a field organizer, like a lead, a person that was then in touch with us, getting information, support, ideas on how to safely do this walkout, what to talk about once the walkout happened.
Yeah, it really was just this extraordinary effort. I think we all kind of joked after the walkout, none of us really knew each other before. So talk about like getting to know each other very quickly, learning to trust each other’s instincts, having really honest debates about how to work through different challenges. I think it was extraordinary because we all really fundamentally just believed in what we were doing, so we really carried each other. Obviously, every office around the world carried each other, too.
All right, Stephanie, can you talk about that concept of being collective, as a group of people?
Stephanie Parker: Yes, of course, I think Erica stated it beautifully when she said that all of us coming together and putting our hearts together and putting our skills and our heads together to work on this was a really great, beautiful, amazing experience.
What about fears?
Stephanie Parker: Yeah, what I was going to add was that you mentioned that the tech workers have largely been docile and don’t like to protest that much. I would say that a lot of tech workers are afraid, that a lot feel isolated. They feel hopeless. I speak for myself when I say that I spent the past four years at Google thinking that we’re telling the company what we care about. We’re giving our feedback about what’s wrong through all of the official channels. We’re filling out the surveys every year. We are talking back in TGIF and asking these questions, and nothing is happening.
But once we begin to find each other, and see each other all speaking out and all saying, fundamentally, the same thing, then the fear starts to go away. Once we start taking collective action, then we can’t be stopped.
I do think the tools keep you apart, too, don’t they? If you have an ability to, you know, with Twitter, what is it hashtag-ivism? If you go, “Oh, I’m against that guy who killed the journalist in Saudi ...” That’s enough. Like it’s the concept of that, that’s sort of ...
Stephanie Parker: Sure, yeah, I think we’re definitely encouraged by the powers that be to funnel our anger and our energy into places that it will not grow into anything actually powerful. We have to figure it out on our own with each other, how to actually build power and hold the powerful accountable.
Talk about this, Meredith, because you were just talking about the idea that nothing ever happens. In terms of, you’re working on AI stuff, is that they talk about it, then 97 percent of people who make AI are white guys.
Meredith Whittaker: Yeah.
Meredith Whittaker: I think what we’ve seen this year, but sort of in ... we hit a step function maybe a couple years ago, is that the stakes of this technology have just increased exponentially.
Explain that. Explain why for people who don’t ...
Meredith Whittaker: I will try to Twitter-summarize this, but I think we’ve seen the consolidation of the tech industry into a handful of big players who have incredibly powerful infrastructures, who have more or less, they are the only ones who are able to collect the kind of data they have, draw the kinds of insights they can draw from it. They are creating AI-based technologies, to use that term kind of colloquially, that are now being deployed throughout our core social institutions. They are shaping our politics. They are shaping decision making. The benefits of those are accruing to a very small few. That’s what we’re seeing.
We have seen a number of instances where the narrative of tech has sort of ruptured and been shown to be not correct this year. I think there are a lot of people in tech who are ready to take action. What I think we saw is some catalytic moments after a year of speaking your mind, of trying to sort of forward these complaints, seeing nothing happen, and saying, “Hey, I don’t want my name on this,” right? I don’t wanna be involved in this. I don’t wanna be part of a culture that does this, and I don’t wanna build things that do that. It’s time for leadership, right?
In a lot of ways, the employees are the base. You know, Trump always talks about “the base.” Employees are the base for these people, and they can’t mess around with them. It’s harder to hire people, right? This is a very competitive talent environment.
Stephanie Parker: Why do you think they’re hiring so many contractors?
That’s right, exactly. They’re keeping them in positions of lack of power. Oh, absolutely. It’s textbook. It’s like coal mines back in the 18-whatever. I know why they’re doing it. They’re just a nicer version of that, I think that is.
Erica, talk about this. So you make these demands, you put them up and you do the walkout. What do you expect will happen next?
Erica Anderson: Well, so much happened when we did the walkout. I mean it was, first of all, just ...
Got coverage across the world.
Erica Anderson: Extraordinary, yeah, it started in Asia with Singapore and Tokyo walking out. It was a rolling thunder around the world at 11 a.m.
Did we call it “rolling thunder?”
Erica Anderson: No, but now I do.
Erica Anderson: It was truly extraordinary. By the time we woke up in New York City, there was already a massive press cycle around it, of course. We actually set up an email alias for all press to reach out to us because we knew we wouldn’t be able to handle the scope of what was coming in.
We basically took the day, we all did the walkouts and we did some press. I mean, very selectively, but we did talk to some places. And then we waited. We didn’t necessarily just wait, but we knew, “Okay, now the ball is in the executives’ court, so what are they gonna do?” It took them exactly a week to come back. I think it was Wednesday, so six days after the walkout we received an email that there would be a town hall. We knew that that would be kind of the answer.
Yeah, I got that email too.
Erica Anderson: You did?
Claire Stapleton: LOLs.
Meredith Whittaker: It “leaked.” They said it leaked.
What a surprise — there’s millions of you, come on! You’re not as leaky as Yahoo and Facebook, but you’re right up there.
Erica Anderson: Yeah, I think we were all excited. And by the way, we had all been talking every night, having meetings. We just were continuing to do work, well, how do we catalyze the group that’s now in place, the thousands of employees. Yeah, we all showed up to our respective offices to listen to the response to the demands.
So, Meredith, what did you think was gonna happen? Then I want Celie to respond to that.
Meredith Whittaker: I wasn’t sure because I knew this sort of rattled them, but frankly what I’d seen in the past is not much of a response, right? Applying the same old tools to a very new situation, even though those tools have been proven ineffectual.
What I saw was them doing the minimum viable to try to tamp down the situation, both claiming credit for it, “This is a great walkout, and this has been such a wake-up call, and we’re so happy to be now leading the industry in this,” which is ... you know, I think, Ruth [Porat] said that recently. Also, trying to minimize the concerns, and frankly, erasing a number of the core issues around racism, discrimination and the abuse of power, while highlighting one type of behavior.
One thing. What about you, Claire, what did you think? I want each of you to respond.
Claire Stapleton: You know, there are a couple of executives that, when they spoke to their team, I thought, “You get it.” I really hoped that that would shine through. I thought we’d see some leadership. The town hall was really tough to watch.
We’ll get to the demands. I wanted to say, what did you expect from them? Did you expect them to just try to roll you?
Claire Stapleton: I thought they would do it. Maybe I’m an optimist. Everyone keeps saying I’m like the executive apologist here. I thought they were reasonable. We were kicking around, donate $90 million ...
That was my idea, I thought they should.
Claire Stapleton: Yeah, right to ...
$90 million was the amount, explain...
Claire Stapleton: $90 million is the amount that Google paid Andy Rubin as part of his exit package. This is someone who had a long history of sordid misconduct. The more radical among us were calling for the ouster of people at the top, and we kept it to systemic change. All of these things are interconnected: Sexism, racism, discrimination writ large, the experience of contractors at this company.
We very specifically wanted the demands to reflect the system, wanted to see steps toward ... This isn’t the tablet of Moses, but we wanted to see steps towards change in all of these categories. They gestured to the demands as they responded. They did not ever address, acknowledge, the list of demands nor did they adequately provide solutions to all the five. They did drop forced arbitration, but for sexual harassment only, not discrimination, which was a key omission. Nothing was addressed regarding TVCs, though people did ask about that in the town hall.
Then there was a sort of packaging of other work streams that have been going on in HR around pay inequality, etc., and saying, “This is what we’re gonna do.” And they also offered a new sexual harassment training that we did not ask for.
And then have it on their performance review, “you didn’t do it.” It doesn’t matter for the top executives if they get a ding or not.
Claire Stapleton: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, I think we didn’t see accountability in action.
All right, so Celie, what did you think of the response? I want each of you to sort of respond to the response.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: I had a process as the response was coming in by which I kind of checked the response, which was actually the stories from the women in the Mountain View rally. I watched this line form behind me, in Mountain View, of women who were willing to just get up onstage and tell their stories of where the process had failed them.
So I had two or three stories. One of them was this incredible story from a woman who was drugged at a work party. Every time I heard a response, I sort of checked like, “How would her experience have been different? How would her experience of HR have changed with this response to the demands?” I just cannot come up with how the process would not fail these women who stood up onstage in Mountain View and risked their jobs in front of 5,000 of their colleagues. I can’t come up with how the process has changed to lift up those voices in a way that’s different or more supportive than it was before.
So that to me is like the ultimate check: Where will these stories change?
Right, exactly. Yeah, where would you get the disclosure, the transparency, and things like that. What about you, Stephanie? How did you think about it, the response to your demands?
Stephanie Parker: Yeah, so I would say that I was not as optimistic as Claire, or maybe others in the group.
“They’ll do it. They’re super nice. They all have Teslas!”
Stephanie Parker: Right, exactly. They all care so deeply about these issues, you know, so I was not very surprised...
Claire Stapleton: Sundar said he was “oozing” empathy, which I thought was great.
Stephanie Parker: Oh, yeah. But what I was disappointed by was that they did not even acknowledge that the HR processes and systems are not working. They heard loud and clear from 20,000 of us that these processes and reporting lines that are in place are set up the wrong way and need to be redesigned so that we normal employees have more of a say and more of a look into the decision-making processes, and they didn’t even acknowledge that as a valid sentiment or idea.
They said, “Oh, you know, we’re gonna do a survey to see how people feel about HR.” We just told you!
Yeah, right. They just got a survey.
Stephanie Parker: They really took the conversation back two steps, which was pretty insulting.
They were actually undercutting your authority, just so you know. Just FYI. I specialize in power politics, and I can tell you that’s just what they were doing.
What about you, Amr? What did you think about that? What was your reaction?
Amr Gaber: My immediate reaction was that they completely whitewashed their response. They avoided talking about race in any way, shape or form. Saying they’re just gonna recommit to OKRs. You’ve been committed to those OKRs for years.
Explain what an OKR is. Explain what that is for the regular people.
Amr Gaber: It’s an Objective and Key Result, it’s like a goal, main goal for the company as a whole. You’ve been committed to those OKRs for years and nothing has changed. Then on top of that they excluded contractors from being allowed in the meeting to hear these things. They wouldn’t remove arbitration for discrimination. Basically saying, “Yeah, we’re gonna keep discriminating, deal with it.”
I just wanna say, the other thing is that they still keep looking for ways to, kind of like you were saying, divide and conquer us. I said in the beginning, I’m an entry-level engineer. I got five years of industry experience before I hired at Google. Even though these issues impact some groups more than others, they affect all of us. Just because the name of the company is a baby word doesn’t mean that it’s not greedy or exploitative.
The company doesn’t care what race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, national origin, religious belief, history of military service or job type you have as long as you’ll accept less than you’re worth.
Okay. What do you really think, Amr? No, but I agree with you. It’s very interesting. Talk about the divide and conquer, how that impacts things. Because they want you all not to be collectively talking, which is very hard because it’s a very diverse culture at Google, with different opinions. One of the dings on Google is everyone has the same opinion, but they don’t necessarily.
Amr Gaber: Mm-hmm. Yeah, there’s a lot of big ways and small ways. Some big ways, for example, some contractors recently in some offices got moved to completely different offices. Now we can’t even interact on a daily basis. The divide between full-time employees and contract workers is a big one. The systemic racism, actually, in hiring and promotion for certain job ladders like engineering, versus other job ladders, versus contract work, is also another big one.
Then there’s a lot of small things like they took away contractors’ ability to read those chat rooms, to be involved in those kinds of chats, just recently. They do things like, “Oh, we’re gonna have a holiday party,” but none of the contractors can be involved.
Amr Gaber: They can’t be invited. It’s just full-time.
Yeah. So Erica, what was your response, finally? And then we’re gonna talk about what you guys are gonna do next.
Erica Anderson: Yeah, naively, like Claire, I was really excited. I thought they were gonna make a change. I was like, “Wow, they’re coming together. They’re putting a meeting together. They’re all getting up onstage.” I was pretty disheartened. I mean, I had a pretty big eye-opening personal experience about how the response to the demands were whitewashed.
Yeah, just really disappointing, because ultimately I think it’s such an opportunity for leadership, just to say, “We need to do better.” For someone to break away, in the executive rank, and to say, “We are so creative. We are so innovative. We can figure out a legal solution to this. We can figure out a way to bring people along with Google’s success, to make it more diverse, more equitable.”
And so it was really disappointing. I just think, in the days after, I’m just sitting here thinking like, “Where’s the leadership?” If I actually ... I know Facebook’s in their own challenges right now, but if I was at a competing company that was trying to retain Google talent ...
They won’t be going to Facebook.
Erica Anderson: Yeah, yeah, I would just address all the demands. Any other tech company should just address this because there is so much inequity. It’s so difficult for ... Someone said earlier, I think maybe it was Celie, these demands were really a consolidation of a lot of things other groups have asked, like the Black Googler Network. They’ve been on the forefront of this, asking for transparency around pay equity because they have a hunch, maybe we have a hunch, that pay equity is just ...
Google says they do release this data.
Erica Anderson: Well ...
I know, I know.
Erica Anderson: I think actually it’s important to define “pay.” I just wanna say that. Pay is a base. It’s also bonus and it’s also equity. Actually, in Laszlo Bock’s book, you know, the architect of Google’s HR system ... I was spinning through it the other day. There’s a whole chapter called “Pay unfairly: Why it’s okay to pay the same person differently.”
This is in the early days of Google, but it’s worth looking back at. The system was set up to reward people who had high impact, which is probably technical people, and literally talks about paying people 300 or 500 percent more equity based on their perceived impact. If we have nothing to hide, let’s share that data. Let’s actually look at how that breaks down across gender and race.
Yeah, and you also recall, when Erica Baker did it, she got into trouble. Erica Baker put out the salaries, and she did a group thing, and ...
Erica Anderson: I just saw that spreadsheet the other day. I loved that.
Yeah, it’s an amazing spreadsheet.
Erica Anderson: Also, like, we don’t talk about it. In my department we’re discouraged to talk about leveling, what we make. I remember when I was at Twitter, I asked a guy, “Hey, what’s the range that you make?” He told me and it was way more than what I made, and I was like, “What the heck? We’re the same.” I had to go to HR.
But they kinda like discourage you from talking about this stuff, which, there’s power in talking about it and finding out so that we can ... I want a seat at the decision-making table.
Stephanie Parker: That’s why they discourage us from talking about it. Laszlo famously said onstage ...
This is Laszlo Bock, who was the head of HR before. Now it’s Eileen Naughton. Go ahead.
Stephanie Parker: Yes, exactly. Laszlo famously said that if we all talked about our pay and if we released that data, imagine how it would make people feel to learn that they are making less than the person sitting next to them.
Claire Stapleton: They might even rise up.
They might even rise up, yeah, absolutely.
Stephanie Parker: They might even get mad and demand more.
Meredith, why don’t you finish on the meeting that happened, and then we’ll get to what you guys are gonna do next. The second meeting after the demands. You may not be able to talk about it ...
Meredith Whittaker: Ye olde town hall.
... but I understand it was quite disturbing, and one executive, I think it was Urs, got up and felt like a victim, which sounds like Urs to me. Sundar wasn’t as present. There’s some others. Ben was okay, different people said, but it was sort of ... How did you feel after it?
Meredith Whittaker: Lackluster.
Lackluster, I think it was like, “We feel for you, but ...”
Meredith Whittaker: It was joyless. It was ... What there wasn’t was leadership. What there wasn’t was an understanding that accountability was necessary, and we were ...
I’m sorry. Were Larry and Sergey there?
Meredith Whittaker: No. No one who would possibly be problematic was there that I know of.
Problematic, what do you mean?
Meredith Whittaker: Named in the Andy story.
Sergey had issues, we’ve reported on those issues, yeah.
Meredith Whittaker: There are other people up there, but there was like ...
David Drummond, yeah.
Meredith Whittaker: But it wasn’t ... they were pulling from a toolbox that no longer works, right? There was excuses for their own sort of ... They were making excuses that centered themselves as almost victims. There was defending a system that is resoundingly broken, that you don’t have 20,000 people in the streets planned in three days if there isn’t something deeply, structurally wrong.
There didn’t seem to be an acknowledgement of the gravity of the issue they’re facing here, and the gravity that this industry is facing, the issues that have now fallen at their doorstep, right? We did not see leadership there.
It’s really interesting because when I got on the phone with a lot of them they were like, “You know, Kara, it’s really hard.” I’m like, “I don’t care.” They were like, “It’s hard.” I’m like, “Aren’t you the smartest people on the planet? I thought you tell me that every week.”
Meredith Whittaker: I’d love to understand what’s so hard about it.
Amr Gaber: Yeah.
You know what I mean? I think it is ...
Meredith Whittaker: They’re all rich. They could do it instantly.
Stephanie Parker: It’s hard, but they’re making conscious decisions here. They often come back to us and say, “We need more data. We need to really understand the problem.” But they have more data than all of us and are making conscious decisions every day that impact and destroy the lives of people that work for this company.
This is Stephanie, by the way, talking.
Stephanie Parker: A highlight for me, leading the walkout at the San Bruno headquarters was, I read the scripted speech and then I threw the paper away and I just spoke what was on my mind. I asked the crowd, “Where do you think Google got that $90 million they used to pay out Andy Rubin? They got it from every time you worked late. Every promotion you didn’t get because they said there’s not enough budget, you have to wait. It’s from every contractor who came to work sick because they have no paid time off. These are conscious decisions that the company is making, and abusers are getting rich off of our hard work. It’s just not fair, and they completely know what they’re doing.”
All right, before we get ...
Amr Gaber: Yes. I just want to add, in three days we organized a walkout of 20,000 people across the entire planet, and in three days, they came up with a nifty slide deck and a policy that matches Uber’s — you know, the paragon of how we should deal with sexual harassment in the tech industry.
All right then. Okay, on that note, we’re gonna take a very short break. We’re gonna go long, I think, here. We’ll be back ... because it’s my podcast, and I can do whatever the fuck I want. We’ll be back after this with the organizers of the Google walkouts. That includes Erica Anderson, Claire Stapleton, Meredith Walker, Stephanie Parker, Cecelia O’Neil-Hart and Amr Gaber. We’ll be back.
Okay, we’re back now with the organizers of the Google walkouts, who have gotten really feisty, which is fantastic as far as I’m concerned. One of the things that people do when they look at you is say, “Oh, you’re all a bunch of Google people. You’re all elite. You’re all rich. You’re all this.” That’s one of the tools against you.
I don’t care. Anyone who organizes is good as far as I’m concerned, and work is work, but it’s one of the concepts of tech that people shouldn’t say things because they’re so over-privileged anyway. Does anyone have ... please, anyone, speak up on that.
Claire Stapleton: This is Claire. One of the 10 things we know to be true, you know, Google’s credo manifesto thing was Google is not a conventional company, but I think that what we’re talking about is it actually very much is. I think all of these systemic issues ... The deep down in the bones, the discrimination and the inequity, Google is no different. The executive mismanagement, the abuse of power, all that stuff exists here, just like anywhere else. We’re reckoning with Google exceptionalism. And putting it aside, because we really want to drive change forward, in an idealistic ... Let’s think about the world. What’s the change we want to see?
Certainly there’s many aspects of this walkout which speak to the uniqueness of Google. I mean, we’re using all the Google tools, the way we came together was such, you know, type-A overachiever madness collaboration, which is incredibly exciting and interesting. But I think that we’re looking at the problems of this company and of the world around us, the sociopolitical hellscape that we’re all in, with total clarity and purpose, and we’re not really giving up. I think that it’s sort of like the genie is out of the bottle for this.
Right. So Erica, talk about this, because you and I have talked about this concept a lot in that... I’ve been hammering on the drum of tech responsibility for two years now. Like, what are they doing? What is the damage? They’re not benign, these platforms.
Obviously, Facebook started the six-car pileup right now happening with another New York Times article, which also brought together stuff that had been there at the beginning and which people had talked about. One of the things about the Google story is, again, I think we had broken two of the sexual harassment stories or sexual problematic issues. The Information did a bunch. This was all out there from the beginning of Google.
And one of the things [people] said, “the media should have reported it.” I’m like, “We did. Nobody cared.” We wrote about Sergey, we wrote about David Drummond, we wrote about Amit. I think I was the person who told Travis Kalanick that Amit was in problematic investigation at Google, which I shouldn’t be the one to have told Uber this.
So, how do you look at the idea that people in tech think of themselves as better? People at Wall Street don’t go around and say, “We are exceptional people,” or, “We’re better than other people.” There’s this idea in tech that there is a better world to live in. That’s what they’re selling, at least.
Erica Anderson: Yeah. I think actually, that’s one of the unattractive aspects of being in tech. I think there is an extraordinary amount of influence that’s come along with the products and tools and services that have been built, but there’s also been a lot of unintended consequences and disruption of traditional analog environments, whether that’s the news industry, which I’m focused on, or just a variety. Right? The spread of propaganda, which is something I think a lot about.
So I don’t know, I come at this from a level of, there should always be humility. With great power, right, comes a lot of responsibility. Yeah, I think it’s really important. I think that the amount of influence, the amount of money that’s being made can sometimes make people feel like other ... I actually think that’s probably an unproductive stance for a company that’s building tools and technology for everyone.
And so I don’t know, that’s just why the ... No one should be out of the reach of accountability, and that’s why that, I think, Rubin story really affected us all. No amount of money or privilege can actually put people outside of that.
Right. Meredith, what do you want now? What’s going to happen now? Here you are, you’ve made this noise, and I want each of you to talk about this. What do you want to have now? How can you pressure these executives? Because they can go back and hide into the money and the power and everything else. It’s very easy to do nothing. That’s the easy stance is to sit back and wait for it to ... Like the #MeToo thing, anything else. All these things can be easily exhausted after the anger is over. Each of you, I want to think about what you think should happen next.
Meredith Whittaker: I think our demands should be met. I think an employee representative on the board is key.
Meredith Whittaker: We need representation and we need to begin ... You know, if we’re such a novel and creative company, if we’re gonna stand before the hype, then let’s figure out a way to make these decisions more democratic, more deliberative. Let’s look for mechanisms of public accountability and let’s examine the claims that we’ve bought about ourselves. Right? Why are we special? Let’s look under the rocks and be like, are we able to cash these checks we wrote? Are we what we say we are? And I think that this is not a Google issue. I’m at Google, that’s why I’m doing it at Google. Right?
Meredith Whittaker: But this is an issue I think for the tech industry overall and for the way that businesses are run, generally.
If you’re going to change the way business is done.
Meredith Whittaker: Yeah.
If you claim to do that. Right now you’re not special, just so you know. I never thought you were.
Meredith Whittaker: We’re not “special.” Big air quotes, for the radio audience.
Meredith Whittaker: But I think we need accountability systems and I think frankly we need to begin connecting these cultures within these companies that use racism, discrimination, abuse of power, sexism, to exclude many from power and sort of accrue resources to a very few. We need to start connecting those to some of the broader social issues that these companies are responsible for.
And actually, AI Now is publishing a report later this month that is going to look at those issues in connection to AI and begin to sort of try to tie out some of the bigger social issues that ...
Because it does have social implications in future technologies.
Meredith Whittaker: Absolutely.
And especially these new technologies are so much more disturbing: AI, robotics, automation, self-driving, all of these things.
Meredith Whittaker: The realities within these companies, the culture within these companies, the assumption, the life experience of the people in these companies are inscribed in these technologies and remapped onto the world.
All right, Stephanie, where do you think it goes from here?
Stephanie Parker: So it’s like I said before, where is all this money coming from that they can throw around?
Stephanie Parker: It’s coming off the backs of the employees who are working overtime and competing against each other for the little bit of money that’s left, so that a few people at the top can get even richer and have even more power over our lives. The company cannot run without us. Like you said, Kara, earlier: We’re the base. It can’t run without us. And what we just saw at the walkout is that we, the workers, have the ability to turn off that faucet if we get mad enough and if we work together on it.
I think the reality is, that is what we’re going to have to keep doing if we want to see more change than ...
Do you see you all doing it? Stephanie, do you see you all doing it, because after a while you go back into your cafeterias ...
Stephanie Parker: Well, no one’s going to do it for us, and these problems aren’t going to go away, so I only see it moving forward.
Do you feel that there’s any leadership initiative behind ... that they do get it?
Erica Anderson: I mean, we hope so.
Stephanie Parker: Given their most recent response, we know that they are continuing to discuss and talk about this, but it’s going to be us who needs to push the conversation forward every step of the way.
All right, Amr?
Amr Gaber: I would just echo what Stephanie said. I think we’ve seen ... I mean, that’s why it’s super important that this isn’t just about tech workers actually, this is ... We didn’t just walk out by ourselves, there were contractors that walked out with us, people of all different types that walked out. That’s what makes this so powerful and that’s what we have to keep doing moving forward, is make this a completely inclusive movement.
And it can’t, like Meredith said also, it can’t just be at Google, we know these problems are larger than that. And that’s what we’ve got our sights set on, and we’re not going to back down. Period.
All right, Celie?
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: I’d go back to what I said earlier where I checked it against the stories, right? I think we need to not be afraid to say the real words. I want to hear our execs say the real words like “discrimination,” which was erased from their response to the demands. Like “systemic racism,” I want to hear those real words.
And I think when we say, an end to pay inequity, again to echo Erica’s point, it’s not just about salaries, it’s also about bonuses and staff benefits, but it’s also about under-leveling ...
Yeah, talk about that.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Going back to checking ...
Explain what that is really briefly.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Absolutely. So at Google, we are all in these levels, the way they sort of make sense of the hundreds of thousands of employees, or rather, hundreds of thousands of contract workers and employees, is these leveling systems.
And when I speak with black women at Google I hear story after story about under-leveling. A black woman with a PhD who comes in at the same level of a brand-new college grad white male, right? Or a fellow marketer and dear friend who has an MBA from an Ivy League and came in two levels below any other MBA I know of at Google. Right? Like, these are real stories.
Stephanie Parker: I can jump in and offer an example. I, as a black woman at Google, came in with an undergraduate and master’s degree from Stanford and three years worth of experience working in the tech industry, and they chose to put me into an entry-level six-month contract position in recruiting.
Right, so it’s putting you in the wrong place in the first place, and then not supporting you as you move up the promotion scale. Because to me it’s bringing ...
Stephanie Parker: Exactly.
What I’ve heard from so many people, especially people of color, is they bring people in to get these numbers up and then there’s no support to move people up. And then they say, “Look, it didn’t work.” When they give so much support in other ways that isn’t ...
Stephanie Parker: “Look, it must be a pipeline problem. We need to go to more schools and teach them how to code. There’s something wrong with these students and something wrong with the pipeline.” But no, black women have the highest attrition rate. They’re leaving Google at higher rates than ...
Not just Google, all of these.
Stephanie Parker: ... any other group, all over the industry.
Right, because of this ... The way it’s ... You can’t win. That’s what I always ... I think about it … I was having an argument with another CEO and I said ... They’re like, “Oh, we brought them in to work.” I said, “Did you give them support? Did you give them mentorship that you give everybody else? Are they comfortable in the social environments there? Are the parties that are being done that create these opportunities there for them?” Like, the social parts. You know, there’s all these elements that don’t ... Or else just change it and don’t make it run like that. You can either do one or the other and change the thing, which I think is interesting.
All right, Celie, so what of the demands — then we’ll go to Erica and finish up with Claire — what of the demands do you think are most important, of those, the ones that they didn’t answer?
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Yeah, I mean for me, No. 2. We’ve got to talk about No. 2, ending pay inequity and what that means.
To me, that’s it. Money is everything, that’s how they listen. I don’t know, it just seems to me. Even beyond ... and titles, same thing. You’re talking about pay and title.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Yep, level. Yeah.
Level, and what was the response? They were just saying, “We’re looking into it.” Right? Nothing. “We’re looking into it. We’re studying.”
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Actually, it was unacknowledged, yeah. I think that’s why I said the thing about saying the words, right? I want to hear these execs ... You know, another story, I was in a meeting with an exec last week and a victim was asked to retell her story to this exec. We come out of the meeting and I was like, “Oh, these are all the actions I want to see. I want to see action A, B and C, and demand C, D and Y.” And the victim said, “You know, it’s so funny Celie, I just wanted her to say, ‘I believe you.’”
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: “I believe you,” and lean toward believing women, lean toward believing people of color at this company when they say they’re experiencing inequity. Let’s lean toward believing those stories instead of believing this problem is going to fix itself through care and wanting it to.
One of the other issues in that is that it quickly moves to after they say they’re sorry ... Like just this week with the Facebook thing, they said they’re sorry and the next minute they couldn’t tolerate a bit of criticism. It’s, “You’re after us!” I’m like, “Yeah, I am after you. That’s right.”
Claire Stapleton: Accountability.
It’s really an inability to take an “I’m sorry” beyond — and like really do say that and not immediately feel victimized, which is to me the people who hold all the power feeling victimized is an exhausting ...
Meredith Whittaker: Yep.
You know what I mean? It’s sort of like the person with the gun aimed at your head is like, “Look, I’m in real trouble right now.”
Meredith Whittaker: “My hand hurts!”
So Erica, what about you ... Stop having a good time, this is a serious subject. Erica, what about you and then we’ll finish up with Claire.
Erica Anderson: Yeah, I mean, plus one to Celie, the second demand on pay inequity is so important. And yeah, I just want the company to raise the bar and to come back and surprise us. Like, show us that you’re really listening, that you’re going to be creative and that you want to address these systematically.
All right, let me just ask you Claire, you’ve been around ... How long have you been at Google?
Claire Stapleton: Eleven and a half years.
Okay, so you know, since I’ve been there longer than you, since I’ve been in the drainpipes of Google for longer than you, this to me, comes from the very beginning of this company. This is a DNA of behavior in terms of a lot of the top executives. Initially, it’s a startup behavior that’s not different than others, but it’s also as they become wealthier and as they become more insulated they are surrounded with people licking them up and down all day, and how smart they are. You know what I mean?
Claire Stapleton: Mm-hmm.
Do you know what I mean? Then they’ve changed in that way, since I knew them when they were in the garage, for example.
Claire Stapleton: Sure.
How do you change that? Is it new leadership at the company, or you just slap them silly until they get the point? And there are executives, let me just say, who are concerned, but don’t know quite what to do, and it’s unusual to hear very powerful people saying, “I don’t know what to do.” But what do you imagine is going to happen next, and what are you all going to do next as a group?
Claire Stapleton: We actually have an easy job, which I think is to continue driving this conversation forward and continuing to put pressure on them. The reason why this is easy is because we didn’t manufacture the outrage that got us to the walkout, the 20,000 people walking out around the world. We harnessed it, sure. We sent out some organizing details. But really, this stuff is on the front burner for so many people at the company, which I think is incredibly powerful.
After being here 11 years, I completely agree with you that this is DNA stuff. However, the lights are on right now. This is a huge moment for the culture, and if I were an executive, if only, I think that what they have to do is embrace the tough critique that they’ve gotten and try to understand where we’re coming from and make these changes, and make them in collaboration with us, which has not happened.
Or they can follow the path that they have been on up until now: Take it personally, defend what they’ve done before, defend the executives that don’t think that they should be blamed. And what is so amazing and so powerful is, that’s not working. It’s going to be whack-a-mole until some real reckoning happens on that level.
And we keep saying that this is a marketing opportunity for some exec out there. Stand up. Be the voice. Be the change. There are people who have the power to meet the demands, to make this right and to push the culture forward in a way that will change history.
Is there someone in mind? Do you have people in mind?
Claire Stapleton: I’d like to be surprised. Larry and Sergey, where are they?
Sorry, I’m going to give you that piece of information. One of them’s in a hovercraft and the other I don’t know what he’s up to. He’s wandering around on a 10-wheeled bicycle.
Claire Stapleton: I think it’s hard to stay in touch, when you’re really on that level and you’ve had the insane life story that they’ve had. They want to change the world, I think that they have to reckon with what’s going on at Google. It is so profound. It’s really ... I think that there are a lot of execs out there who are crossing their fingers and hoping this blows over. I’m telling you, it’s not blowing over. This is going to keep rolling. Rolling thunder!
What’s really interesting is the founders, though they were the ones that tolerated and created it, both created and tolerated it, or tolerated it at the very least. And that’s what I wonder ...
Claire Stapleton: But they’re also New Age-y. Where’s their Reiki master guy?
Well, we’ll see about that. So are you all hopeful, each of you, of what’s going to happen next? That you’re going to keep at it?
Claire Stapleton: This is Claire again. I am unbelievably fired up and inspired by the people I met through this process. It was like a sort of Justice League. This is not even just the people in the room, this is the field organizers, the people who shared their stories, the contractors who took part in this at tremendous personal risk, which we can all agree... This company is full of amazing people. And again, the genie’s out of the bottle. We are all sort of together in this in a way, which is incredibly powerful and exciting, so yes.
Meredith Whittaker: I am so optimistic. And I feel like one of the experiences I had is what does it mean to find the power of our collective selves, right? If we use these tools, as I think Erica and Stephanie were saying, if we use the skills we have toward building a culture and a future we want, what happens? What happens if we’re not waiting on the executives to wake up, but if we just start taking it?
Meredith Whittaker: I really feel the possibility of building this new source of power, figuring out what it means to use these skills collectively toward a vision that we think is healthier and better and safer for everyone. And hopefully they wake up, because I do think it is a marketing opportunity for them. They could be heroes and they’d still have a yacht and two houses. They could be fine.
Yeah. It’s two yachts and three houses, just so you know.
Meredith Whittaker: I’m so ... I’m always in the last century.
Erica, we’re going to go through everyone really quickly. Erica, quick.
Erica Anderson: Yeah, well, I’m optimistic, but I have to say I was having a few hard months at Google and I was like, ah, it was tough to work on different projects, and then I met all of you. It’s just reengaged ... Like Google has incredible people at the company.
Yes, they have assembled an amazing group.
Erica Anderson: Yeah, absolutely, but we found each other in a really unexpected way, and so it’s been so inspiring and I don’t know, something I’m really excited about.
Stephanie Parker: Yeah, I want to say that I’ve worked on a few different teams at Google, all on meaningful, purpose-driven projects. I’ve worked on the news team, I’ve worked on policy most recently. But I’ve never felt as much purpose and meaning as when I’ve come together with these people here and working to challenge Google to be a better place for everyone. It has never felt so right to be here and doing this. I hope we keep going, yeah.
Amr Gaber: I want to say thank you to all of the people, all of my coworkers at Google that stood up and made this happen all over the world. Thousands and thousands of people came together to make this happen. I want to say thank you to them and I want to say what’s amazing is that every day we walk in and work on the company’s vision for the world, and that week, we came together and worked on our vision for the world altogether on something that really mattered. And so that is just incredibly inspiring and I think we’ve got ... we’re just getting started and I think that we’ve got a long way to go but I’m hopeful about it.
All right, Celie, finish up.
Cecelia O’Neil-Hart: Yeah, I just echo what everyone has said. I’ve been so inspired by this group of brilliant humans in this room and so far beyond. Again, the local organizers, everything from blue ribbons in Mountain View to vests in Germany. It’s just been amazing to see what everyone has done.
You know, we’ve called this the “Walkout for Real Change” for a reason. Even if all of our optimism comes true and the best outcome and our demands are met, real change happens over time and we’re going to hold people accountable to that real change actually going down, and hold us accountable for demanding it also, because we’ve got to get the rest of the demands met.
All right, well, thank you all so much. I promise also to drive them crazy. I think I’m good at it and I have all their cellphone numbers so I can text them. I’ve written so many “you suck” texts to these people that you would be surprised. “You really suck.”
Erica Anderson: Send them this podcast.
They’re like, “Kara!” And I’m like, “You suck so bad.” That’s what I’ll contribute to this.
Erica Anderson: A dragon.
It’s surprisingly effective. You’d be surprised. Anyway, thank you so much Erica Anderson, Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker, Stephanie Parker, Celie O’Neil-Hart and Amr Gaber. Thank you so much for doing this and I can’t even tell you. Get over to Facebook and help those people over there immediately because they don’t seem quite as angry, but you need to show them that this kind of stuff matters and that they can have an impact on making things better. We really appreciate it and thank you for doing this.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.