After a day of global protests, employees at Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters added their voices to calls for major change to company policies on gender pay equity and sexual misconduct.
Chants of “Stand up, fight back” and “Women’s rights are worker’s rights” reverberated through a crowd of several hundred workers who gathered on the eastern edge of the company’s vast Mountain View campus around 11am on Thursday.
Though the “Googleplex” is famous for over-the-top employee perks such as free food, free childcare and free massages, female employees who spoke in a packed courtyard aired much more fundamental grievances.
One organizer of the California headquarters event shared the story of an anonymous co-worker who said she complained of sexual harassment by a Google vice president, who then kept his job at the company for three more years.
Another employee, who gave her name as Nancy, said she was the victim of what she feared was an attempted sexual assault at an off-site company event.
“The last thing I remembered was a co-worker who asked me to switch drinks with him,” she said, drawing boos from the crowd holding signs with phrases such as, “Hey Google, you can’t erase us.”
The woman said a supervisor later informed her that she had been separated from the co-worker after he attempted to “drag” her out of the event. She then complained to Google human resources, she said.
“The first thing that HR did was silence me,” the woman said through tears. She added that company officials asked for names of co-workers she had told about the incident and was forced to continue working with the alleged harasser. “Did anything change?” she asked. “No.”
The global walkout on Thursday which saw mass demonstrations by Google staff in Asia, Europe and the US took place less than 24 hours after a small group of employee organizers announced the protest on social media and released a list of demands.
Among their five priorities are an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in cases of discrimination or harassment and a commitment to gender pay parity – the latter of which is an increasingly familiar issue at Google.
Last April, after the US Department of Labor filed a lawsuit seeking data on gender pay disparities, the agency concluded that Google fostered “systemic” inequity.
By early this year, dozens of female employees in positions ranging from engineers to on-site preschool teachers joined a class action lawsuit over the alleged pay gap.
After the walkout on Thursday, one local organizer, who asked to be identified by her first name, Marie, said she was “cautiously optimistic” Google leadership was listening this time around.
“There has been formal communication,” she said. Organizers are also considering additional actions as soon as the next two weeks “depending what happens”.
To date, however, Google and parent company Alphabet have pushed back on allegations of inaction on harassment and rejected the notion of a pay gap. When the Guardian approached Google for comment about the demonstrations there was no immediate response.
Officials at the company with a market cap currently over $720 billion also testified in federal court last May that the estimated $100,000 it would take to comply with the request for salary data was too financially burdensome.
The claim is seemingly at odds with a recent New York Times revelation that Android creator Andy Rubin received a $90m exit package after an internal investigation found evidence of sexual misconduct. Rubin contends that the allegations against him contained inaccuracies.
Among the slogans written on protester signs as employees marched through an on-site urban garden and past a mobile salon offering free haircuts on Thursday was, “Happy to quit for $90 million. No sexual harassment required.”
Though concerns about sexual harassment and unequal pay are not unique to Google or the tech industry, civil rights lawyers in Silicon Valley said they hadn’t seen walkouts like this before. Still, it’s unclear whether Google leadership is taking this seriously, said Therese Lawless, an attorney behind prominent tech industry discrimination cases.
“They should be coming out and saying, ‘We messed up. This is abhorrent and it’s got to stop’,” Lawless said. “You’re going to have to have boards and people in leadership who are not part of the problem, but are interested in changing the culture.”
For Tanya Gupta, a Google employee who spoke at the protest Thursday, the event marked an important next step in airing allegations of misconduct. Organizers welcomed speakers who read their own allegations and others who spoke on behalf of people who asked not to be identified for the sake of their mental health, temporary immigration status, fear of retaliation or other concerns.
“I’m impressed by the number of people that came out and shared their stories,” Gupta said. “I’m hoping that it brings about a lot of change.”