By Michael Liedtke
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Carrying signs that included a mocking reference to the company’s original “Don’t be evil” motto, thousands of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job Thursday to protest what they said was the tech giant’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives.
From Tokyo and Singapore to London and San Francisco, highly paid engineers and other workers staged walkouts of around an hour, reflecting rising #MeToo-era frustration among women over frat-house behavior and other misconduct in heavily male Silicon Valley.
In Dublin, organizers used megaphones to address the outdoor crowd of men and women, while in other places, workers gathered in packed conference rooms or lobbies. In New York, there appeared to be as many men as women out in the streets, while in Cambridge, Massachusetts, men outnumbered women by perhaps 6 to 1.
“Time is up on sexual harassment!” organizer Vicki Tardif Holland shouted, her voice hoarse, at a gathering of about 300 people in Cambridge. “Time is up on systemic racism. Time is up on abuses of power. Enough is enough!”
About 1,000 Google workers in San Francisco swarmed into a plaza in front of the city’s historic Ferry Building, chanting, “Women’s rights are workers’ rights!”
Not living up to its slogans
The demonstrations reflected a sense among some of the 94,000 employees at Google and its parent Alphabet Inc. that the company isn’t living up to its professed ideals, as expressed in its “Don’t be evil” slogan and its newer injunction in its corporate code of conduct : “Do the right thing.”
“We have the eyes of many companies looking at us,” Google employee Tanuja Gupta said in New York. “We’ve always been a vanguard company, so if we don’t lead the way, nobody else will.”
The protests unfolded a week after The New York Times detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google’s Android software, Andy Rubin. The newspaper said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations were credible. Rubin has denied the allegations.
The same story also disclosed allegations of sexual misconduct against other executives, including Richard DeVaul, a director at the Google-affiliated lab that created self-driving cars and internet-beaming balloons. DeVaul had remained at the “X” lab after the accusations surfaced a few years ago, but resigned on Tuesday without severance, Google said.
In an unsigned statement, the Google protesters called for an end to forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases, a practice that requires employees to give up their right to sue and often includes confidentiality agreements.
Besides being angry about what they contend has been lenient handling of executives who mistreat women, the protest organizers demanded more aggressive steps for gender pay equity and more inclusive hiring practices to reduce the high concentration of white and Asian men in the industry’s best-paying programming jobs.
Women account for 31 percent of Google’s employees worldwide, and it’s lower for leadership roles. The numbers are similar elsewhere in Silicon Valley.
Beyond Google, Facebook has faced criticism over pay inequity and discrimination. The appearance of a Facebook executive behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings also caused rifts inside the company.
As Thursday dawned, organizers had predicted about 1,500 employees would participate in the walkouts, mostly women. But the numbers appeared to exceed that, based on media accounts and images posted on the protest’s Twitter account.
Frustration reaching a boiling point
The protests at Google are the latest sign that frustrations among women are reaching a boiling point, said Stephanie Creary, a professor who specializes in workplace and diversity issues at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
“People simply aren’t willing to put up with it anymore,” Creary said. “The workers at Google seem to be saying, ‘How is it that we are still having to have this conversation?'”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai assured employees earlier this week that the company would support them in their protest. He also apologized for Google’s “past actions.”
“I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel,” Pichai said in an email. “I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society … and, yes, here at Google, too.”
In recent months, Google and other Silicon Valley companies have also been plagued by dissension over privacy, misuse of technology and other corporate policies.
In August, more than 1,000 Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship rules.
Earlier, thousands signed a petition asking Google to cancel an artificial-intelligence protect to help the Pentagon improve the targeting of drone strikes. Google later said it won’t renew the contract, according to published reports, and opted not to bid for another military contract that could be worth $10 billion.