Since the #MeToo movement started gathering momentum in Hollywood last year, there have been questions about whether the reckoning would come for other industries — whether this moment was a real sea change or just more Hollywood showmanship. But an international walk-out by Google employees Thursday morning to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment shows time may be up in tech, too.
Last week, the New York Times revealed that Google had paid out millions of dollars in exit packages to executives accused of sexual misconduct despite no legal obligation to do so, and kept quiet about the accusations against them and the real reasons they left the company. This included a $90 million exit package for the creator of Android mobile software Andy Rubin, who was let go in 2014 after another employee said he coerced her into performing oral sex on him in a hotel room.
When this information became public, Google employees planned a walk-out in protest. Google took steps to remedy the situation and prevent the walk-out, firing an executive who had kept his job after accusations of sexual misconduct against him — without an exit package — and making multiple statements of apology.
Despite the company’s gestures, thousands of Google employees around the world walked out Thursday, presenting five demands: “An end to Forced Arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination; A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity; A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report; A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously; Elevate the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors. In addition, appoint an Employee Representative to the Board.”
The company has been in hot water for “pay and opportunity inequity” before, with a class action lawsuit brought by former employees claiming women are paid less than their male counterparts, which Google denied. Only 31% of Google’s employees are women, and only about 26 percent of executives. This is a wide-spread and well-documented problem in the tech world, with Silicon Valley often seen as a “boys’ club.”
“All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority,” the core organizers of the walk-out wrote. “We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us. So we are here, standing together, protecting and supporting each other.”
This walk-out is significant in the broader landscape of #MeToo not only because it’s happening in a job sector outside of Hollywood, but because the employees involved are calling for more than just the firing of alleged abusers; these men have already been let go, but Google employees are protesting the way they were let go, the fact that they were sent off with gigantic golden parachutes rather than just shown out the back door, and calling for broader systematic changes. They’re not just ousting problematic individuals, but calling for actual, substantive reform of the culture that protected them to prevent future abuses — in other words, they’re doing what the whole movement needs to do across sectors if any lasting change is going to be made.
The initial wave of the ousting of “bad men” in Hollywood was cathartic and necessary, and helped draw attention to the larger issues of sexual harassment and abuse and the ways powerful men are protected, but it’s been clear from the start that focusing only on individual bad actors was never going to be enough. The Google employees who walked out today know that, and they’re pushing the movement forward.