Nearly 17,000 Google employees walked off the job Thursday as part of a massive, worldwide protest against the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment cases.
The walkout, which was organized by seven Google employees, was a response to a New York Times report on the multimillion-dollar payouts offered to high-level employees who had been accused of sexual misconduct. Some protesters carried signs that read, “Happy to quit for $90m,” a reference to the exit package Google gave Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, who was forced to leave the company in 2014 after an employee accused him of forcing her to perform oral sex on him. “What do I do at Google? I work hard every day so the company can afford $90,000,000 payouts to execs who sexually harass my coworkers,” read another.
It was also an opportunity for Google employees — who have repeatedly clashed with senior management on a number of topics, from censorship in China to the company’s role in government projects — to put forth a vision for a better, more equitable company.
“A company is nothing without its workers,” the organizers wrote in a piece for the Cut. “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.”
Some of the employees who chose to speak with me about why they protested asked to be referred to by a pseudonym and to not specify which campus they work at, but felt that it was important to come forward. Two of the three people who agreed to speak with me are men, as are nearly 70 percent of all Google employees, according to the company’s annual diversity report.
All of them emphasized that despite enjoying their jobs, they felt responsible for creating an environment where anyone could thrive, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, and where no one was afraid to report harassment or assault. They also referred to past Google controversies, like the sexual harassment reported by former Google software engineer Kelly Ellis, who quit the company in 2014 because of its “sexist culture”; and the fact that internal company communications, including a video from an all-hands meeting, were leaked to the right-wing website Breitbart.
Despite the massive size of the protests and the fact that Google sanctioned the walkout, support for it wasn’t universal. One employee told me that there were “people in the company who are against the walkout” and disagree with the organizers’ demands. (It’s worth noting that James Damore, the author of an “anti-diversity” manifesto who was fired in 2017, had plenty of ideological allies at the company.) Those who did participate in the walkout, though, view it as a necessary step in the ongoing fight toward equity and transparency at one of the world’s biggest companies.
Their responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Ashley*, a major US campus that isn’t Mountain View
I’ve worked here for 11 years. I’m now a manager with around twenty people in my group. I have never experienced direct gender-based discrimination at Google, which I count myself lucky for. I have heard many other people’s stories, however — enough to make me sure that there’s an overall problem.
I decided to participate because I wanted the execs to get the message that this is something a lot of people care about. Whether I participated was going to be visible to the people in my office, because there are literally five women at my site at this level.
We need to end forced arbitration in case of harassment and discrimination. I would also like a real commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity. I would be okay with starting with pay, which is easier. Transparent data on gender, race, and ethnicity compensation across all levels — accessible to all Google employees — would be really nice. This is something the US Department of Labor asked Google for, and [Google claims] it’s too expensive to provide while also claiming there is no gap. That doesn’t make sense to me or a lot of other people.
I’ve been seeing more and more of a rift between the top-level execs and the rest of the company, and I’ve seen it growing slowly over time. It seems like some people are actively trying to make it worse. We have a real problem with [people] leaking internal communications, especially to right-wing sites, in a way that’s extremely divisive [and] corrosive to the idea of trust and open communication within the company, which is something that we really used to rely on. Google used to have this weekly meeting where the execs would take all kinds of hard questions from the employees, and they would field them pretty honestly and transparently. That was great. Without that kind of channel, it’s been pretty tough.
I’ve been working in the tech industry for about 20 years, and this is the most concerted effort I’ve seen by engineers in the tech sector [to address these issues]. Today was really astonishing. Frankly, there were more men than women walking out — that’s the demographics [at Google]. But it’s great to have allies.
I didn’t say anything either way to my team, because I didn’t want there to be social pressure to do it or not do it. But at 11:08, my entire team stood up simultaneously around me and I got shivers. I got up too, and we all walked out together.
Our incredible Googlers in Pittsburgh braved the rainy weather for #GoogleWalkout then hit us with this lovely team photo! pic.twitter.com/0DnN3eb2FS— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) November 2, 2018
Jacob*, a West Coast campus
I participated to show solidarity and support for my co-workers.
I’m a guy; it’s so much easier to shoot the shit with other guys, and stuff like that helps [professionally]. But I don’t think that’s what this walkout is about. This walkout dealt with things that are a lot more severe. I had heard stories regarding Kelly Ellis. That was the first Google [sexual harassment] story that broke out a few years ago.
What’s most important is getting rid of [forced] arbitration. Uber got rid of it after their big scandal, and I think Google needs to follow suit.
We need accountability, transparency, and making sure it’s easier for people to report harassment. I’ve never reported harassment, but from what I’ve heard from my friends, it is not fun. It’s scary as hell. [The person you’re reporting] might not be your boss but your boss’s boss. They have all the power over your career. If they do a shitty thing, we should be empowering employees to say, “Hey, stop that.” That’s what I think the demands are trying to cover.
Heads up view from earlier today at the Google Dublin office. #GoogleWalkout pic.twitter.com/0mfZnr37kI— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) November 2, 2018
Alex, San Francisco campus
I’ve heard too many stories from friends, some co-workers, about being sexually harassed or assaulted at Google, but also in other parts of the tech industry or more generally. I work with several women engineers, and I really think it’s important for them to feel safe and to actually be safe at work and in general. I don’t want these people to be in a position where they have to be constantly worrying about that sort of thing.
I have worked with an overwhelming majority of men. That, in and of itself, leads me to think that the fact that I am male-identified and male-presenting makes things easier for me. It’s been mostly subtle things, like [women] being interrupted more often [or] ending up in all note-taking responsibilities for meetings. Sometimes managers and team members are good at trying to fix [that], but those more subtle things are not always very obvious. It’s the nature of privilege that as a man, some of these things I just don’t see and I’m just used to, unfortunately.
We need more employee representation and more ability for employees to [raise concerns with] people who are actually on their side. I think there’s not much trust in human resources to do the right thing for employees. There’s a lot of trust that they’re going to do the right thing for the company, which is sometimes the same thing, but sometimes it’s not.
I also think there’s a dearth of transparency about compensation. Several of us have asked, in the past, for the company to release salary data, so we could look at it ourselves and say, “Well, it looks like this is biased toward a particular demographic.” Management has been reluctant to do that, claiming it would put them at a competitive disadvantage, which I frankly don’t buy.
Transparency and letting employees have a seat at the table are two things that would be most impactful in letting us address these issues, not just in terms of gender but also race. I like my job, but everybody has concerns.
If you participated in the Google walkout and want to talk about your experience at the company, you can contact me by email here.
*Names have been changed.
Correction: A previous version of this piece misstated the Google campus where Alex works. He works at the company’s San Francisco campus. An earlier version of this piece misstated the number of people on Ashley’s team.