What The Google Walkout Could Tell You About Your Company


A Google doodle celebrating women.Google

Hooray for the women and men who organized the global Google walkout in response to the revelations of systemic sexism in the company. Hooray for the thousands of guys who left their desks in solidarity with their female colleagues. And hooray for the empathy demonstrated by Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, who didn’t stand in their way.

May the outcry at Google be heard by every female employee at every company in America. Because chances are, they have it worse than the women at Google.

Statistically, Google is one of the best companies for women in business today. But don’t take it from me, take it from the data. For the last three years, I’ve been working with Gender Fair, an organization that analyzes the diversity metrics of Fortune 500 companies to create transparency and accelerate equality.

Gender Fair looks closely at publicly available SEC filings and corporate information and grades companies on how fair they are. A few of the metrics evaluated are the proportion of women a company has in leadership and on the board; how fair its work environments are for all employees; if and how it invests in women and girls through its CSR; and if its marketing perpetuates or breaks stereotypes.

While data could never tell the full story of a company’s culture, Google scores pretty darn good relative to most.

Just 16% of the nearly 300 companies Gender Fair has analyzed even come close to having fair and equal practices.  Of those, only 14 score an “A+” for policies around leadership, employees, advertising, and philanthropy. Count yourself among the fortunate few if you work at Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly and Company, P&G, IBM, Microsoft, Diageo, JPMorganChase, Coca-Cola, HP, Danone, Metlife, or L’Oreal.

Nearly a third of the 300 companies studied have a severe shortage of female leadership, lack parental leave and family-friendly policies, and don’t significantly support philanthropic organizations for women and girls.

Look at America’s largest industries, and you’ll find only one airline that meets the most basic Gender Fair standard. And just one fast food company—if you count Starbucks. But none of the major shoe companies make the cut—and these are the kind of businesses that rely primarily on women to drive profits. Skechers, one of the worst-scoring companies analyzed, boldly refused shareholder demands to put a woman on its board.

“While it’s illuminating to call out companies that fall short, it’s more important to know which companies endeavor to close the fairness gap,” says Johanna Zeilstra, CEO of Gender Fair. “We can all use this insight to propel equality by supporting the fairest companies as consumers, employees, and investors.”

As Claire Stapleton, a Google employee who helped organize the walkout, told the New York Times, “Google is famous for its culture. But in reality, we’re not even meeting the basics of respect, justice, and fairness for every single person here.”

If Google isn’t meeting some important basics, imagine how companies like JetBlue, Burger King, Kraft, and Choice Hotels fare when it comes to respect, justice, and fairness. Each of these employers has dismal Gender Fair metrics, ranking in the bottom in their sectors.

Compare Google to your company: New parents at Google get up to 18 weeks of fully paid leave. Its largest employee network is [email protected], which offers mentoring and professional development to employees in 45 countries. It also produced a “We Love You Project” to stimulate a company-wide conversation about what it means to be black in America.  Google has put its philanthropic heft behind organizations that support women and girls, like GirlStart, Samasource, Black Girls Code, and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. And Google stands out for being one of the few companies that separates and publishes employee data on Latina and women of color—showing exactly where the most significant fairness gaps lie. What does your company do?

To be clear, Google is not a perfect company. It doesn’t have gender parity among its management, executives, nor its board. But not one company in the entire Gender Fair database does. There are allegations that Google has not been transparent about pay inequity, that it doesn’t promote enough women of color, and the process for reporting sexual misconduct is sketchy. Unfortunately, that may be true for just about every major corporation in America.

The allegations of sexual harassment are outrageous but as bad as Google might seem to some, its corporate policies sit high above the rest when it comes to all-around fairness. That says a lot about the actions needed across many American companies today.

For the last 20 years, Google has led as one of the most innovative technology companies. It would be amazing if Google met the demands of the employee walkout, took the lead in corporate innovation, and became the first and largest truly fair company in America.

Relative to most companies, Google doesn’t have as far to go.

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