A group of more than 200 engineers at Google are organizing a companywide “women’s walk” walkout for later this week to protest recent revelations about the search giant’s protection of employees that had allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct, according to four people familiar with the situation inside Google.
The protest, which is expected to happen on Thursday, comes in light of a story by the New York Times last week into the alleged misbehavior of Android creator Andy Rubin and other executives at the company, some of whom still have positions of prominence at Google. Google gave Rubin a reported $90 million exit package in 2014, following an investigation into an allegation that he had coerced another employee to perform oral sex on him. That investigation reportedly found that allegation to be credible.
“Personally, I’m furious,” said one Google employee who requested anonymity. “I feel like there’s a pattern of powerful men getting away with awful behavior towards women at Google‚ or if they don’t get away with it, they get a slap on the wrist, or they get sent away with a golden parachute, like Andy Rubin. And it’s a leadership of mostly men making the decisions about what kind of consequences to give, or not give.”
On Thursday, Google executives hosted an all-hands meeting, during which they attempted to explain their treatment of Rubin and apologize to employees. But over the weekend, frustrated employees in a group for women engineers began upvoting a post on an internal forum that suggested employees organize a walkout. By Monday morning, that post had hundreds of upvotes, according to a current employee, and the Google group of employees who planned to participate numbered more than 200.
The walkout is the latest in a series of employee-led actions at Google, where frustration with management has been mounting in recent months. Employees have organized resistance efforts in response to the revelation that Google was helping the Pentagon develop drone warfare technology as part of an initiative known as Project Maven, while workers have also pushed back on a censored search project the company was building for China code-named “Dragonfly.” Google promised not to renew its Project Maven contract with the Pentagon after a dozen employees quit their jobs in protest, but Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said the company is continuing to explore opportunities in China.
Employees participating in this movement for increased transparency and ethics within Google have presented management with petitions, made demands for greater employee oversight into product decisions made by management, and even quit their jobs in protest of Google’s decisions. Increasingly, employees have been signing their names to a spreadsheet, refusing to participate in screening interviews for potential new hires at Google as a form of protest.
“Some people are definitely talking about joining that now because of the latest harassment and abuse stories,” the anonymous Google employee said.
There have has also been internal discussions among employees about the possible removal of senior executives at the company who were also mentioned in the Times' story for their inappropriate relationships in the workplace. A source familiar with those discussions noted that some employees are unhappy that the "old guard" at Google remained in positions of importance at the company, pointing to cofounder Sergey Brin, who had a consensual extramarital relationship with an employee; Senior Vice President of Corporate Development David Drummond, who fathered a child with a junior employee; and Google X director Richard DeVaul, whose alleged sexual harassment of a prospective hire was detailed in the Times. On Tuesday, Axios reported that DeVaul resigned.
A Google spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
While there had been a previous report that Rubin had been dismissed for an inappropriate relationship, the Times story laid bare how the company not only paid him, but also shielded him to protect its reputation. In an exit email about his departure, then-CEO Larry Page, who was aware of the investigation, wished Rubin “all the best” in his next endeavor and failed to mention any misconduct. Google would also later invest in a Rubin-led venture capital fund.
"The New York Times story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation," Rubin tweeted last week. "Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign."
Following that story, Pichai sent an email to employees that did not call into question any of the Times’ reporting and said the company was “dead serious about making sure [it] provide[s] a safe and inclusive workplace.” He disclosed that in the last two years, the company had terminated 48 people for sexual harassment, including 13 who were senior managers or above. “None of these individuals received an exit package,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, Pichai sent out another email to employees saying that he supported the planned walk out.
“Some of you have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies going forward… I’m taking in all of your feedback so we can turn these ideas into action," Pichai said in the email, according to two sources. HR would make managers aware of the event planned for Thursday "and that you have the support you need," he wrote.
The story has been updated with information about a Tuesday email from Google CEO Sundar Pichai in which he said he supported the employee planned walk out. It also now has details about Richard DeVaul's resignation.
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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Ryan Mac is a senior tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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