Sundar Pichai, on stage at Google's 2014 Google I/O Conference. Credit: Maurizio Pesce via Wiki commons
Google Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai announced Thursday an “action plan” aimed at addressing sexual harassment and inequality at the tech giant, tweaking arbitration policies, training requirements and reporting processes in response to criticism that the company protected top executives and enabled misconduct to persist.
Pichai’s memo to employees comes after thousands of employees at Google staged a walkout last week at the company's California headquarters and offices around the country. The protest followed a New York Times report that noted instances where the company allegedly suppressed accusations of sexual misconduct among top executives.
Google joins an ever-growing list of companies that have been forced to reckon with accusations of workplace power imbalances between male and female colleagues. In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, many large companies have updated internal policies and sought to curtail the use of nondisclosure agreements that can silence victims of abuse.
Pichai said the revamped policies were part of “an area where we need to continually make progress and are committed to doing so.”
Read the Google memo below:
The Times, in its investigative report, detailed a $90 million payout to an executive, Andy Rubin, who had faced sexual misconduct allegations. Rubin said on Twitter that the report presented "numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation." The report also said Google chief legal officer David Drummond fathered a child with a subordinate in an extramarital affair and the woman left the department after it ended.
Google has said 48 people have been terminated at the company for sexual harassment in the past two years, which includes 13 people in senior management roles.
As part of its new efforts, Google said it will make arbitration optional for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. Pichai said, “Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g. personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be up to you.”
Arbitration and nondisclosure are new focus points in the wake of stories spotlight high-profile sexual harassment cases. Many states have pushed measures that would limit agreements that keep accusations private. Both defense and plaintiffs side attorneys say private settlements are often preferable for victims, but critics say they enable those in power to remain in the shadows and for harassment to persist.
Microsoft Corporation announced late last year it would end its practice of mandatory arbitration, and said it supported legislation that confronts this common employment practice.
Pichai also said the company will provide more detail about sexual harassment investigations and the outcomes and overhaul reporting channels by bringing them together on one site. He also said Google would provide more counseling and career support to employees during and after the process. Mandatory sexual harassment training will be expanded, Pichai said.
“We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes,” Pichai said in the email to employees Thursday. “Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.”
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