Google employees staged a worldwide protest on Thursday. They walked off the job to demand changes in how the company addresses sexual-harassment allegations at the company.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Thousands of Google employees around the world hit the streets today to show that they are fed up with the way the company handles sexual harassment complaints and to demand changes in workplace culture.
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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Time is up. Time is up. Time is up.
SHAPIRO: Chants there of time is up from employees outside Google’s offices in New York City. Joining us to discuss the protest and Google’s response is NPR’s Yuki Noguchi. Hi, Yuki.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: How did Google reach this point?
NOGUCHI: Well, workplace tensions at Google have just bubbled over worldwide, as it turns out. Employee activists, in a fairly short period of time, were able to mobilize many people across 70 of Google’s offices worldwide. And it’s because there’s this concern that Google is mistreating women. That is, they might be letting harassers off the hook, or protecting executives that are accused of harassment or not paying women equally.
And the backdrop to today’s movement is that The New York Times last week detailed allegations against top executives, including Andrew Rubin, who was a key figure in creating Google’s famous Android platform. Rubin denies sexually harassing anyone, but Google said it had credible evidence against him yet allowed him to resign quietly in 2014 and, notably, gave him a $90 million severance, which was, of course – you know, sparked a lot of outrage.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Golden parachute by any definition. How is Google responding to today’s protests?
NOGUCHI: Well, it’s in a weird position because it’s actually supporting its protesters. They don’t obviously want to be seen as fighting the changes that their workers are asking for. And this afternoon, CEO Sundar Pichai spoke at a conference sponsored by The New York Times, and here’s what he had to say.
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SUNDAR PICHAI: Moments like this show that we didn’t always get it right, and so we are committed to doing better. We are listening to employees. That’s partly why today is important. And, you know, and I think there are concrete steps coming out in terms of what we could do better.
NOGUCHI: So basically what he’s saying is that the company is taking this seriously and we’re in the process of changing. Now, remember, this all happened before the #MeToo movement started and before the public was clamoring for accountability on this kind of thing. Google says that since Rubin’s departure, the company has fired nearly 50 workers for sexual harassment, and none of them got any severance.
SHAPIRO: And yet today’s walkout shows that many employees are not satisfied with what the company has done. What are those people saying?
NOGUCHI: Their position is that the company has a long way to go. There’s still more that needs to change. And not just for Google itself, but for Silicon Valley at large, where you see a lot of these similar problems. One of the protesters in Washington, D.C., was Aerica Banks. She’s a patent analyst for Google who says she’s been harassed throughout her career.
AERICA BANKS: If Google is able to make these changes to end and appropriately give consequences to harassment and abuse and assault then hopefully that will ripple across the industry.
SHAPIRO: Briefly, what changes is she talking about there?
NOGUCHI: There’s a list of demands that they want. They all kind of boil down to this idea of greater transparency around how the company deals with harassment and other issues, and equal opportunity and pay for women. And the CEO says he’s looking at those and he’s considering them.
SHAPIRO: That’s NPR’s Yuki Noguchi. Thank you.
NOGUCHI: Thank you.
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