Google Reels from Latest Harassment Claim
At Google’s weekly staff meeting on Thursday, the top question that employees voted to ask Larry Page, a co-founder, and Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, was one about sexual harassment.
“Multiple company actions strongly indicate that protection of powerful abusers is literally and figuratively more valuable to the company than the well-being of their victims,” read the question, which was displayed at the meeting, according to people who attended. “What concrete and meaningful actions will be taken to turn this around?”
The query was part of an outpouring from Google employees after a New York Times article published on Thursday reported how the company had paid millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of misconduct and stayed silent about their transgressions. In the case of Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, the company gave him a $90 million exit package even after Google had concluded that a misconduct claim against him was credible.
While tech workers, executives and others slammed Google for the revelations, nowhere was condemnation of the internet giant’s actions more pointed than among its own employees.
The employee rebuke played out on Thursday and Friday in company meetings and on internal message boards and social networks, as well as on Twitter. Jaana Dogan, who works in Google Cloud, the company’s cloud computing business, tweeted, “If you are worth of millions of dollars, you should be able to show the door to authoritarian governments and serial abusers. If not now, then when?”
Another Google employee, Sanette Tanaka Sloan, also posted on Twitter that the way Google had handled Mr. Rubin’s misconduct claim was “crushing.” She added, “We can do so much better.”
News like the @nytimes report on @google’s handling of Andy Rubin and other top execs is crushing. As much as I believe in supporting the company you work for, it’s equally important to voice what you vehemently disagree with. We can do so much better
— Sanette Tanaka Sloan (@ssktanaka) October 26, 2018
On Memegen, an internal Google photo-messaging board popular among employees for its humor, one of the top posts on Thursday featured a GIF of an overjoyed game show contestant showered with confetti. Beneath the image was the text “got caught sexually harassing employee,” said one employee who saw the post and who asked not to be identified because she was not authorized to speak publicly.
Google’s work force often takes to internal messaging platforms to protest management decisions. Employees have opposed the company’s decisions to work with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence technology and to create a censored search engine for China. (Google has since dropped its A.I. effort with the Pentagon and it has not introduced a censored search engine for China.)
On Thursday and Friday, some Google employees said they were dispirited by how some executives accused of harassment were paid millions of dollars even as the company was fending off lawsuits from former employees and the Department of Labor that claimed it underpaid women. Google has said in the past that it had found “no significant difference” in the pay between men and women at the company.
Other employees said they tried to calculate how many hours of their work would have gone toward generating the $90 million that Mr. Rubin obtained in his exit package. Mr. Rubin has denied any misconduct and said the report of his compensation was a “wild exaggeration.”
Some Google employees said they had more questions after Mr. Pichai and Eileen Naughton, vice president of people operations, wrote in an email on Thursday that the company had fired 48 people, including 13 senior managers, for sexual harassment over the last two years and that none of them received an exit package.
Some workers said they wanted more data on how many claims were investigated and how many were found credible before the 48 people were terminated, while others questioned the promotion and hiring system that allowed 13 people to become senior managers who harassed in the first place.
Liz Fong-Jones, a Google engineer for more than a decade and an activist on workplace issues, said in a tweet that judgments over misconduct claims can be clouded by whether a person’s boss feels they can “afford” to lose that person. In the case of Mr. Rubin and others, she said, that put Mr. Page in the spotlight.
“The decision maker must have been Larry Page,” Ms. Fong-Jones wrote. “The buck stops there.”
At Google’s employee meeting on Thursday, hours after Alphabet reported another quarter of blockbuster earnings, Mr. Page spoke to employees along with Mr. Pichai and Ms. Naughton. It was unclear how they responded to the question from employees, but the executives struck a conciliatory tone, according to remarks obtained by The Times.
During the meeting, Mr. Page and Mr. Pichai did not comment on specific misconduct cases. Mr. Pichai noted that Google had made some “important changes” in how it handles harassment cases, according to the remarks.
“We want to get better, and we want to get to a place where it truly reflects our values of respect, particularly respect for each other,” Mr. Pichai said.
Mr. Page said if employees suffered from harassment while at Google, then the company was not “the company we aspire to be.”
He also offered an apology.
“I’ve had to make a lot of decisions that affect people every day, some of them not easy. And, you know, I think certainly there’s ones with the benefit of hindsight I would have made differently,” Mr. Page said. “I know this is really an exceptionally painful story for some of you, and I’m really sorry for that.”