Today, thousands of Google employees walked out to protest the company’s approach to sexual harassment and general fairness. Following reports that the company let male executives accused of sexual misconduct leave with multimillion-dollar exit packages for years, employees wanted to make their displeasure known.
But the walkout wasn’t just a walkout for its own sake. The organizers had a goal in mind. On their Instagram page they listed five demands:
- An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.
- A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
- A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
- A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
- Elevate the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the board of directors. In addition, appoint an employee representative to the board.
Each one has a very specific intention. Ending forced arbitration, for instance, would stop the highly questionable act of forcing employees to waive their right to sue the company.
The protesters are also asking the company to take real steps toward being more accountable and fair. Committing to pay and opportunity equity would force the company to deal with the gender wage gap–an issue that plagues the entire tech industry. The company has faced lawsuits by female employees claiming it systematically underpays them. Employees now want proof that the company is working toward a more equitable workplace–for example, by pledging to include more diversity at the executive level.
The subsequent two demands try to create better processes and accountability. A transparency report would let employees know exactly how many incidents happen every year, how many people were victims, how the company responded–be it by letting employees go, or offering exit packages, etc. While it’s important to report when these events happen, it’s just as important to codify the process by which the company handles allegations of sexual misconduct. Thus, demand No. 4.
Lastly, the final demand attempts to make diversity something for which top executives are accountable. Many tech companies create roles to appear as if they’re trying to be more inclusive. Many of these roles, however, have no institutional power or channels to discuss issues with the top decision makers. By making employees part of the board, and by making its chief diversity officer a direct report of the CEO, Google would be showing that these issues are something even the top brass are taking seriously.
It’s important that employees are speaking out. But it’s more important that Google adequately responds. CEO Sundar Pichai, in a statement, said the company is “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.” We will know if he’s serious once he directly responds to these demands.