Google on Thursday announced a number of changes to its sexual harassment policies a week after thousands of employees walked out of their offices as part of protests against the company’s treatment of women.
“We recognise that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that,” Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees that was published on its blog. “It’s clear we need to make some changes.”
Pichai said the company will end its policy of forced arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, enabling lawsuits in these matters. Google will provide enhanced care and resources, including counselling and career support, for complainants and will also dock performance reviews for employees who fail to complete the mandatory sexual harassment training. The company will also provide more details and clarity about the outcome of sexual harassment allegations.
Ending forced arbitration was one of the key changes that employees had sought. Their other demands included equal pay and opportunity for all, a publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report, and a clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
Alcohol consumption was one of the most common factors among the harassment complaints and the note said that “harassment is never acceptable and alcohol is never an excuse”. Leaders at the company are “expected to create teams, events, off-sites and environments in which excessive alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged”, it said.
The protests on November 1 began at 11.10 am from Google’s Tokyo office and were organised under the #GoogleWalkout. Employees walked out of their offices in several places including London, Dublin, Singapore, Berlin, Haifa in Israel, and Zurich.
They were organised days after a report published in The New York Times claimed that Android creator Andy Rubin received a $90 million (Rs 660.19 crore at current exchange rate) exit package in 2014 despite facing sexual misconduct allegations. It also alleged that Google protected two other unnamed executives accused of sexual misconduct, removing one with a severance package while retaining another.
While #GoogleWalkout organisers commended the progress, they expressed disappointment that the company had ignored other core demands, including elevating the diversity officer and employee representation on board.
“We demand a truly equitable culture, and Google leadership can achieve this by putting employee representation on the board and giving full rights and protections to contract workers, our most vulnerable workers, many of whom are black and brown women,” organiser Stephanie Parker said in a statement.
The company should also address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment. “They all have the same root cause, which is a concentration of power and a lack of accountability at the top,” Parker said.