Silicon Valley has been through several ups and downs, but the recent sexual misconduct fiasco at Google could prove to have a long lasting impact on the tech industry. The severe backlash from the employees as well as the common public has come as a warning shot not only for Google, but also for other tech companies in the valley.
What really happened at Google?
Three high profile executives at Google were accused of sexual misconduct by several women who worked at the company in various capacities. One of the executives was Andy Rubin, who is known for creating Android OS.
Many women who were coerced into having a relationship with Rubin filed complaints against him, after which Google formed an internal investigation committee to look into the matter. The committee decided that the allegations were indeed true and asked Rubin to resign from his position. The company accepted his resignation and offered him a payout of $90 million.
Apparently, the problem of sexual misconduct was pervasive in Google at an institutional level. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has stated that 48 employees, who were accused of sexual harassment and misconduct, have been terminated from their position so far.
The protests that followed
The New York Times’ story on Andy Rubin created a sense of concern and disgust among the female employees at Google. Several male employees also joined them in sharing their concerns about the culture of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse at their workplace. This led to a movement called Google Walkout.
The Google Walkout movement, created and sustained by the employees themselves, made headlines all over the world. Apart from those who work in the Silicon Valley office of Google, employees from several other countries like England, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Singapore also joined the protests and walked out of their offices on the same day.
Demands made by employees
The disgruntled employees, most of whom are women, made several demands to Google management to address the issue of workplace sexual harassment and misconduct and prevent such scandals in the future. The demands include
- The company should publish a report on disclosed cases of sexual harassment and misconduct at the workplace.
- A simple, well-defined process to anonymously report cases of sexual harassment and misconduct at the workplace.
- The Chief Diversity Officer should report directly to the CEO and make policy recommendations to the board.
- The company’s board should include an employee representative, who can address the issues faced by employees and bring it to the attention of the board.
- The company should end the practice of forced arbitration in cases involving sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.
Google’s response to the protests
Google, to its credit, has responded positively to the protests by its employees all over the world. The CEO has categorically stated that he supports the rights of employees to take legal action against the perpetrators and enablers of workplace sexual misconduct and harassment.
As a start, the company has stated that arbitration is no longer compulsory in cases involving workplace sexual misconduct and harassment. It will be optional from now on and it is entirely up to the victim to decide if they want to settle the issue internally or take legal action.
Industry observers say that this is a good move and a step in the right direction. Forced arbitration is seen as a coercive practice by many, as it forces the employees to settle their disputes internally without taking any legal action.
Forced arbitration is a common practice not just in the Silicon Valley, but in several large corporations across the country as well. Large companies like Google ask their employees to give their consent in writing to forced arbitration right at the time of recruitment. After signing the contract, an employee cannot bring any issue to the attention of the common public or take legal action against the perpetrator without breaching the contract.
Many people are okay with the idea of arbitration, which allows employers to settle inter-departmental disputes and issues between individuals amicably. Forced arbitration, however, violates the rights of an individual to take legal action against the perpetrator of a crime and seek justice.
The Impact on Silicon Valley
This is probably the first time in the history of Silicon Valley that such a well coordinated series of protests have taken place and a large number of employees, both men and women, have taken a collective stand against workplace sexual harassment and misconduct.
It goes to show that women are fed up with the work culture prevalent in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry. Today, however, things are changing rapidly. Women account for 30% of Google’s workforce globally. Same is the case with several other tech companies, where women form a significant percentage of the total workforce.
With this being the case, the work culture obviously needs to change and be more accommodative of women and people from ethnic and religious minority groups.
Already, Facebook has followed Google’s lead and put an end to forced arbitration. The company has stated that its employees will no longer be forced to settle cases involving sexual harassment and misconduct internally and will be allowed to take any action as they see fit.
Tech Workers Coalition, an advocacy group based in San Francisco, says that workplace sexual harassment and misconduct is one of the many issues that tech companies should address urgently. From violating people’s privacy to working with authoritative regimes, unequal pay for men and women, and lack of diversity in the workforce, there are plenty of issues that the tech industry as a whole needs to work on and rectify.
On the whole, there is no doubt that the sexual misconduct scandal at Google has resulted in what could only be described as an industry-wide movement to put an end to the sexist work culture prevalent in tech industry. If Google is sincere about reforming its work culture, it will probably emerge stronger from the current predicament. For other companies, this issue should serve as a constant reminder and make them realize the importance of institutional reforms to address the persistent problem of workplace sexual harassment and misconduct.
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