Strategy & LeadershipMass walkout at Google over sexual harassment claims

Mass walkout at Google over sexual harassment claims

Thousands of Google workers participated in a walkout this week due to the way that Google address sexual harassment. What caused this outbreak and what can other companies do to prevent this in their workplace?

On the 1st of November, thousands of Google employees participated in a number of walkouts to address the companies handling of sexual harassment.

What initiated this story to be brought to light was the New York Times alleged that a high profile executive received a £69m payout after he left the firm, despite what Google considered a “credible” allegation of sexual misconduct. Andy Rubin, the “creator” of the Android operating system, denied this allegation. In addition to this, another executive also resigned. It was reported that Richard DeVaul made unwanted advances towards a woman who was recently interviewed for a job in which she would have reported to him. This lack of transparency and clarity into these claims have frustrated a significant percentage of Google staff.

Eric Pliner, chief commercial officer at leadership consultancy firm YSC Consulting, commented on the Google scandal and what business leaders need to be doing to avoid similar situations emerging within their organisations.

He said “The sort of sexual harassment that senior execs at Google are being accused of is a fundamental violation of workplace and community norms and culture. Harassing behaviours erode trust, wellness, and safety – both physical and psychological – and is first and foremost an issue of our humanity. All business leaders need to work to create a healthy, psychologically safe culture that openly and actively rejects harassing behaviours”

Eric carries on to discuss the effect that this can have. Saying “Sexual harassment is also a business issue, as it affects employees’ ability to be fully present at work, their belief in their ability to be successful in their organisations, and their ability to collaborate successfully. This can then have financial ramifications through significant productivity loss, contractual or punitive resolution fees (both to harasser and those harassed), and employee turnover and replacement costs – as evidenced by Google’s recent actions.”

Once this information about sexual harassment was revealed to the public, Google announced that they had fired 48 people for sexual harassment over the last two years none of these 48 people received any payment package. Nevertheless, this dissatisfaction in Googles dealing of this did not seem to settle amongst the critics. As on Thursday, thousands of Google employees successfully walked out across a large range of company offices around the world to protest against this treatment.

A Twitter user named @googlewalkout updated throughout the day. Staff based in Singapore, Zurich, London, Tokyo, Berlin and New York were those to take part.

Gemma Lloyd, co-founder at Work180, an international job network connecting businesses with talented women, commented on this walkout positively, saying “The Google walkout has forced the firm’s chief executive to comment on the issue so hopefully change will happen.? More companies need to take the treatment of women in the workplace seriously given that employees will no longer stay silent on unfair conditions.“

As well as walking out of Google offices. Employees also issued demands to the management team. These were:

  1. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality
  2. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report
  3. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously
  4. The elevation of the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO, and make recommendations directly to the board of directors
  5. The appointment of an employee representative to the board
  6. An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees

Eric Pliner discusses about how companies can avoid these issues by creating a safe culture amongst the workplace “A psychologically safe corporate culture can be achieved by arranging visible outlets for anonymous reporting, articulating and publicising clear e-mail and social media policies, and establishing clear policies and guidelines for employee intimate relationships, including expectations to report the relationship to HR, particularly where power or level differentials exist, like in the case of the recently revealed incidents at Google. While developmental coaching can sometimes be helpful in supporting a broader approach to building empathy and interpersonal understanding, it cannot resolve harassment, which tends to be a violation of workplace rules (and sometimes the law). Rather, focus needs to be put on completing swift and thorough investigations in the face of accusations of harassing behaviour, followed by full and appropriate disciplinary action.”

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