“Show me what Googley looks like!” Google product manager Cathay Bi shouted.
“This is what Googley looks like!” responded hundreds of her fellow employees, chanting a word used internally to describe company culture.
Like workers at the other company offices around the world, Google employees in San Francisco took part in walkouts on Thursday morning. Around 11 a.m. local time, they filled into a plaza outside the city’s iconic Ferry Building to protest the handling of sexual harassment at the prominent tech company, as well as what employees described as “unequal treatment” of women and minority groups. Attendees held signs with slogans such as “Free Food ≠ Safe Space” and “Don’t Be Evil,” turning Google’s long-time unofficial motto into an implicit allegation.
Several women also carried signs alluding to a in The New York Times that Google agreed to give former executive Andy Rubin, known as the “father” of Google’s Android mobile operating system, an exit package worth $90 million after there was a claim of sexual misconduct against him. “Happy to Quit for $90M,” the sign read. “No Sexual Harassment Required.”
Speaking to News time as employees from various Google offices around the city filed into the plaza, Bi described the Rubin report as one “spark” among many. “We are staging this walkout in support of everyone around us who has experienced sexual harassment and unequal rights at Google,” Bi said.
When asked why she took on a leadership role in the San Francisco walkout, Bi said that it was because she is one of those individuals. “I have been sexually harassed at Google, and I never reported it, and I’ve always blamed myself for not reporting it,” Bi said. “But you know what, the fact that I didn’t feel safe enough to report it is what is motivating me right now. I hope that we can come together to make Google a safer place for everyone.” (A Google spokesperson told News time that the company does not comment on the cases of specific current or former employees.)
Thursday’s protests, which Bi said came together in about 48 hours, took place in offices stretching from Singapore to Ireland to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Along with the walkouts, Google employees published a list of demands for the company’s leadership, including an end to forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment; a promise of equal pay and better representation for women of color; the public disclosure of a report on sexual harassment at the company; and an improved process for reporting sexual misconduct.
In response to a question about whether the company would meet those demands, a Google spokesperson provided News time a statement from CEO Sundar Pichai. “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward,” he said. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”
Around the same time that employees were chanting “Time’s up at Google!” in San Francisco, Pichai was taking the stage at a conference for business leaders hosted by the Times in New York City. “At Google we set a very, very high bar and we clearly didn’t live up to our expectations,” Pichai said about the walkouts in an on-stage interview, adding that the leadership supports employees who chose to protest. He also said the company had made mistakes “years ago” and had “evolved” since then. “It’s been very important to me, personally meaningful to me, that we draw a hard line on inappropriate behavior, and we have done so for the past few years,” he said.
“Sexual harassment is a societal problem,” Pichai said, when asked whether there is a systemic issue with misconduct inside Google. “We are definitely doing our best.”
At the protest in San Francisco, the leaders read aloud several anonymous, first-person accounts of misbehavior at the company, though it was not clear when various incidents were alleged to have occurred. One of those accounts described a “boys’ club culture” at Google. In between stories, employees broke into call-and-answer chants.
What do we want? Equal pay.
When do we want it? Right now.
If we don’t get it? Shut it down.
The event lasted only a half hour, though Bi promised it was “the first step of many” in pursuing change from inside Google. As it wrapped up, an employee named Jennifer Brown cried as another employee embraced her. Brown held a sign that read, “I Reported and He Got Promoted.”
There may be an impression that sexual harassment would not be a pervasive problem inside tech companies that are renowned for having progressive cultures. But “it happens everywhere,” Brown said, “because everyone allows it to happen and no one speaks up for themselves. This is the first step, letting people know that this happens.” Brown has continued to work at Google despite her disappointment in the company and described the walkout as “a huge step.”
“I have to hope it will get better. There’s momentum. There’s movement,” Brown said of fighting sexual harassment. “People are sick of it.”