The #Google Walkout Demands Are Transformational. Google — and Everyone Else — Should Fully Adopt Them
Pamela Coukos, CEO, Working IDEAL
A few weeks ago, upwards of 20,000 employees walked off the job at Google with a transformational call for change. Organizers released a set of demands for transparent, accountable and effective responses to workplace harassment and discrimination that provide a best practices roadmap to workplace equity. Google has now taken some important initial steps to respond to these demands by adopting some of the changes on the list, but the company needs to do more.
The Google employees have called for real structural reform, not just good intentions or symbolic responses. Their list of demands reflects the very best current thinking on meaningful practices to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. And that’s not surprising. In my experience after years of listening to workers, they are the very best experts on how to make their own workplaces more safe, fair, equitable and inclusive — and to do it in ways that best align with their organization’s mission and work.
Board members and senior managers at Google (and at every other company in America) should implement all of the asks on this list.
For example, the Googlers called for an end to Forced Arbitration — the secret law that makes it easy to avoid accountability for workplace harassment and discrimination by requiring employees to give up their right to a day in court. They asked for a more responsive and supportive process when going to HR — and full transparency on sexual harassment claims and the company’s response.
Why does this matter? Because the #MeToo movement shows that our current system has failed, and because research shows transparency and accountability are powerful levers of change. Although employers and the “cottage industry” of workplace harassment trainers and consultants have begun to consider and apply more best practices, internal and external stakeholders are right to ask tough questions and demand meaningful disclosure.
But employees victimized by harassment and discrimination in the workplace do need confidentiality when it is designed to foster reporting and response, not to hide problems and duck accountability. The Walkout Demands include “a clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.”
This key reform — an ombuds type program that creates a safe and confidential reporting system — is exactly what my partner @JennyRYang has called for in her testimony before Congress on responding to harassment in the judicial system. These programs are an emerging best practice and an opportunity to fix broken reporting.
Google has responded, in part, to several items on the list. In an email on November 8, CEO Sundar Pinchai sent an email describing changes that Google was committing to make in response to the walkout. These commitments included a limited elimination of forced arbitration for individual sexual harassment and assault complaints, which also implies the company is keeping it in place for racial and other forms of harassment, for discrimination in hiring, pay or promotion, and for any kind of collective legal challenges on any of these issues. In addition, Google agreed to some improvements in investigations and response, and more disclosure. But these commitments do not include implementation of an ombuds program, and they do not fully address the change employees believe is needed.
Another area where the response falls short of transformational change is representation and compensation equity. The employees have called on Google to make “a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity” but also identify the mechanisms needed to make that a real, not just a symbolic, commitment.
They call for “accountability” for ensuring meaningful representation of women of color “at all levels of the organization” and for “transparent data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap.”
They call out “under-leveling at hire, the handling of leaves, and inequity in project and job ladder change opportunities” as key practices that impact pay and advancement. They ask Google to apply the same rigor it uses to test and refine its products to learning whether its employment practices are fair and equitable and promote equal opportunity for all.
And most importantly they ask for Google to show its work: “The methods by which such data was collected and the techniques by which it was analyzed and aggregated must also be transparent.”
This matters because some companies’ public reporting seems too good to be true, like the tech firms who report no gender wage gap without explaining how they calculated it.
In response, Google has agreed to establish a “Rooney Rule” diverse slate requirement for Director and above positions. This is an important and positive initiative. However, Google has not defined its diverse slate requirements, or set out a clear program to monitor implementation and ensure accountability — which in our experience is critical to success. Nor has Google agreed to assess compensation and opportunity gaps in a robust and transparent way.
Another key demand — responsive leadership — also remains unfulfilled. The employees who walked out sought a Chief Diversity Officer who answers to the CEO and a seat at the Board table — reforms that are emerging best and promising practices to promote real accountability.
Walkout organizers “commend” the progress Google has made but believe that more can be done. Organizer Stephanie Parker said, “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.”
While the improvements related to sexual harassment are positive steps, the organizers challenged the company to go further. They questioned the singular focus on sexual harassment, which “erased” demands related to structural discrimination and systemic racism, pay and promotion inequity, and the “class system” that differentiates full time from contract workers.
And the organizers have also identified another accountability gap that should be addressed — who is at the table when decisions are made. As Demma Rodriguez said, “The process by which we build a truly equitable culture must center the voices of black women, immigrants, and people of color — those who too often pay the most in the face of these intersecting problems. We are committed to making this happen, because true equity depends on it.”
The Walkout Demands are a list of reforms that could make Google a better place to work for everyone. It asks for fair, practical and cost-effective changes that we know can make the workplace more fair, and more inclusive, which can foster innovation, productivity and even stronger financial performance.
So I hope that Google will recognize this as a change to engage the best experts it has, to apply its creative spirit and data-driven approach, and to instantly become a leader on workplace equity and inclusion.