Over 1,000 Google employees and contractors in Asia and Europe staged brief midday walkouts on Thursday, with more expected to follow at offices worldwide, amid complaints of sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.
In a statement late on Wednesday, the organisers called on Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) to add an employee representative to its board of directors and internally share pay-equity data. They also asked for changes to Google’s human resources practices intended to make bringing harassment claims a fairer process.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement that “employees have raised constructive ideas” and that the company was “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”
Hundreds of workers filed out of its European headquarters in Dublin shortly after 1100 local time, while organisers shared photographs on social media of hundreds more leaving Google offices in London, Zurich, Berlin, Tokyo and Singapore.
“I haven’t experienced harassment myself, but if even one person has experienced it it’s important for us, for me, to show our solidarity,” said Kate, one of the workers who organized the walkout in Dublin, where Google employs 7,000 people, its largest facility outside the United States. She declined to give her surname.
Irish employees left a note on their desk that read: “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone,” national broadcaster RTE reported.
The dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 employees and tens of thousands more contractors has not noticeably affected company shares. But employees expect Alphabet to face recruiting and retention challenges if their concerns go unaddressed.
The demonstrations follow a New York Times report last week that said Google in 2014 gave a $90 million exit package to Andy Rubin after the then-senior vice president was accused of sexual harassment.
Rubin denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained “wild exaggerations” about his compensation. Google did not dispute the report.
The report energized a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, improve treatment of women and minorities and ensure the company upholds its motto of “don’t be evil” as it expands.
Much of the organizing earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers’ rights group Coworker.org.
Since its founding two decades ago, Google has been known around the world for its exceptional transparency with workers. Executives’ goals and insights into corporate strategy have been accessible to any employee.
But organisers said Google executives, like leaders at other companies affected by the #metoo movement, have been slow to address some structural issues.
“While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between,” organisers stated.
They said Google must publicly report its sexual harassment statistics and end forced arbitration in harassment cases. In addition, they asked that the chief diversity officer be able to directly advise the board.