How much does sexual harassment cost? If you are Google, it may cost up to $90 million per case.
Last week the New York Times reported that a female employee accused Andy Rubin, the inventor of the Android and former Google employee, of allegedly forcing her to perform a sexual act at a hotel in 2013. According to the reporting, the company investigated and found the claim credible enough to let him go in 2014. But not without toasting his achievements and sending him off with a $90 million exit package.
Whether spurred on by the gigantic price tag or the tech giant’s silent acceptance of alleged sexual misconduct, now the women of Google are ready to walk. As first reported by Buzzfeed, more than 200 women engineers are planning to walkout this Thursday to protest the company’s handling of the situation. Many employees seem crushed by the realization that their company rewards innovation at the cost of women’s wellbeing and safety.
While Rubin released a statement to the New York Times saying its story contained “numerous inaccuracies,” this is just one of three cases of Google executives who, after being accused of sexual misconduct, were either quietly let go with generous compensation or, in one instance, kept on in a well-paid position.
To make matters worse, Larry Page, cofounder of Google and CEO of parent company Alphabet, seemed to have missed the mark when addressing the issues at a company meeting. According to the Times, he told employees: “I know this is really an exceptionally painful story for some of you, and I’m really sorry for that.”
But shouldn’t this situation be painful for everyone, most especially Google leadership? Is this really the best response possible from the company that includes “Don’t Be Evil” in its code of conduct? Or is it simply unsurprising given the tech culture’s history with lack of empathy? One instance that comes to mind is the ten-page memo that fired Google engineer James Damore wrote in 2017 explaining why women make bad engineers and arguing against the advancement of women in STEM
Will the planned women’s walkout make any difference in the corporate culture and executive behavior at Google and other tech giants? Maybe, but it’s going to be an uphill struggle. A recent study by Lean In and McKinsey, “Women In The Workplace” says that despite the #MeToo movement, women are not feeling confident that their claims about sexual harassment will be taken seriously. The study shows that 30% of women are skeptical that the changes taking place around sexual harassment policies and programs are effective, and women are twice as likely as men to say that it would be risky or pointless to report an incident.
That is the concern that Liz Fong-Jones, workplace activist and former Google engineer, was referencing when she told the New York Times: “When Google covers up harassment and passes the trash, it contributes to an environment where people don’t feel safe reporting misconduct.” She added, “They suspect that nothing will happen or, worse, that the men will be paid, and the women will be pushed aside.”
The response by Page and the consistent bad corporate behavior indicate that real change can’t happen until the men in leadership and corporate boards value the pipeline of women and their contributions as much as the work of one man, even if he invented the Android. Here’s hoping that this walkout inspires the company, as well as others, to walk the talk and commit to real change.