What Google Can Learn From adidas In The Wake Of The Employ…


Workers leave Google’s Mountain View, Calif., main offices on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 in a protest . (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

If you are just as frequently present at HR, workplace, and Future of Work conferences as I am, you couldn’t have noticed, that for the past 10 years, Google came up more than any other organization when speakers cited Good Practice. Laszlo Bock’s book, Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead was a beacon for HR and people managers worldwide to emulate the Silicon Valley giant’s culture and talent practices.

So it was all the more shocking, when on the 1st November 2018 thousands of Google employees decided to stage a walk-out from the company in over forty offices worldwide, protesting how the company handled  – or rather didn’t – sexual misconduct and complaints about its workplace culture.

Claire Stapleton, who is one of the organizers of the walkout, a product marketing manager at Google’s YouTube told the New York Times: “Google’s famous for its culture. But in reality, we’re not even meeting the basics of respect, justice, and fairness for every single person here.” The 7 women organizers of the protest also drew up a list of demands to the leadership of the company, ranging from equal pay and opportunities for all, more transparency in the handling of any kind of complaint about gender bias, sexual misconduct, and harassment.

What is remarkable about the walkout, is that a lot of men also joined the women in their protest from Singapour to Japan, from Ireland to the different offices in the United States.

Some eyebrows have been raised already back in 2017, when among Apple and Facebook, Google introduced a new perk, offering female employees oocyte cryopreservation, or egg-freezing. The benefit was meant to allow female employees to delay family planning, perhaps even beyond their natural fertile years, sending the very message, that work is more important than family. This perk just further perpetuated the broken system, which simply does not take into account the fact that employees have a life outside of work, which they want to spend as meaningfully as possible, with family, friends, activism, looking after themselves and loved ones. This mentality was famously echoed by Marissa Mayer, who swore by 130-hour workweeks back when she was at Google, regularly pulling all-nighters, and claiming that this was the only way to succeed.

The leadership of Google was supportive of the walkout – after all, this is a very important outlet for feedback, which as a software and tech company is vital for improvement. It also shows, that discontent was simmering for a while inside the Google campuses and that despite the many perks and benefits, and the sheer prestige of working for Google, are not enough to make employees happy and engaged.

So where next for Google? My advice would be to take a look at other sectors and other companies, break out from the Silicon Valley echo chamber and take a look behind the scenes of some of the most successful companies in terms of work-life integration, gender equality and employee wellbeing, like adidas, headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany.

They have already implemented one of the demands raised by Google employees. Google employees ask for the elevation of the Chief Diversity Officer to report directly to the CEO and also make recommendations to the board. adidas has found a way to do this, by appointing Karen Parkin, Chief HR Officer, to the Executive Board of the company, whose direct report is the Global Director for Diversity and Work-Life Integration, to make sure that diversity and work-life issues are on the agenda of the Board meetings.

What does this cautionary tale of Google tell us? That due to the internet and social media the world has become a tiny place, and we all have a front-row ticket to what until recently has been kept well hidden inside company board-rooms and corner offices. Can we expect more employees at other companies follow suit? We sure can!

Employees today have a voice, and they will use it to express what they want in exchange for their talent and hard work. They want organizations to be responsible, decision-making to be transparent and leadership to be trustworthy. They want a culture that not only celebrates the Ideal Worker type and sacrifice but also values employees as whole humans, normalizes parenthood and caring responsibilities and allows their people to have a happy and fulfilled life outside of their work and careers.

So it’s definitely time to close the fruit-bowl gap – the reality of what makes a difference for employees is often different from what leadership believes their people need or want. By all means, keep the yoga and the ping-pong table and the paninis, but think deeper, think simpler. Paid parental leave, childcare support, mental health assistance, regular breaks – these are the new differentiators of amazing company cultures. And if you want to find out how adidas is doing it, there is a new book out detailing just that: One Life – How the most forward-looking organisations leverage work-life integration to attract (and retain!) talent and foster employee wellbeing.

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