Leadership

Google employees stage global walkout: 'Let's talk about being held accountable'

Thousands of employees walked out of Google offices worldwide today in protest of the company's handling of sexual harassment claims.

Dubbed the "Walkout for Real Change," the demonstration came a week after a New York Times article detailed sexual misconduct allegations against former exec and Android creator Andy Rubin. According to the Times, Rubin received a $90 million exit package despite what Google believed to be credible allegations. Rubin has denied any misconduct.

After the story published, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai emailed workers to tell them that the company was committed to providing a safe environment for staffers. He noted that the company had fired 48 other employees for sexual misconduct, employees who did not receive exit packages.

In the wake of the New York Times story, workers at the internet giant called for more employee empowerment overall. They requested increased transparency regarding sexual misconduct claims and pay. They also asked for the end of forced arbitration, a process that prevents staffers from taking certain cases to court.

CNBC Make It took to the streets of New York to talk to staffers outside of Google's Manhattan offices, where organizers said approximately 3,000 employees walked out. (The park where the protest was held in New York City was overflowing its capacity of 750, police told CNBC.) Some held signs that read "$90 million = 3,000 years at $15/hour" and "Ok, Google. Set a timer for 'Up.'"

Google reportedly paid Android creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package.
Ruth Umoh
Google reportedly paid Android creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package.

Several protesters we spoke with said Google's handling of sexual harassment claims was the final straw after a series of company policies that have received internal backlash, including a leaked plan for a censored search app in China.

"It was just like ... how much more are we going to find out?" said Google software engineer Jon Cohen.

Others were simply surprised. "There was a little bit of regret there that I didn't know a lot of what had been going on at the higher levels like that," said Julian Bardin, a Google account manager. "I was caught off guard," he said, "but motivated to do something about it."

Google employees walked off the job in New York to protest the company's handling of sexual misconduct allegations. 
Ruth Umoh
Google employees walked off the job in New York to protest the company's handling of sexual misconduct allegations. 

While some appreciated that Google had taken steps to address misconduct, they still wanted to send a strong message to higher-ups. "$90 million just doesn't seem like something that's going to be giving [Rubin] a lot of pain in the near future," Google software engineer Amelia Brünner told CNBC Make It. "Let's talk about being held accountable for things."

For its part, the company said it was listening to the protesters. Pichai told workers this week that those who participated in the walkout would "have the support they need if they wish to participate." He added, "We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action."

At The New York Times DealBook conference on Thursday, Pichai addressed the company-wide protests. "Moments like this show that we didn't always get it right, and so we are committed to doing better," he said on stage.

While Thursday's protest targeted Google's management practices, employees want to see changes across the tech industry. Asuka Qin, YouTube global brand strategy lead, said she wants workers to feel comfortable speaking up and would like to see the #MeToo movement spread more throughout tech. "I'm sure we're not alone," said Qin.

Attending a demonstration, Brünner told CNBC Make It, was a crucial step for female tech workers, a group that is "typically not structurally supported" within the industry.

Others hope that the walkout will simply show the power of protest to the public at large. "I personally hope that it will empower other people to voice their concerns the same way," said Cohen.

This article has been updated to reflect the number of estimated participants worldwide.

Video by Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo and Jon Fazio

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