17 days ago, I was away on a faraway island that had no internet connectivity (hard to imagine in today’s day and age). As I sat beside the beach sipping sangria, Google employees across the globe staged a walkout. Eight days passed before I read details on what was possibly one of the biggest movement in recent years on harassment and discrimination. Two months before, employees at McDonald went on strike in 10 cities to protest against sexual harassment at the workplace. Earlier in the year, 5.3 million people walked out for two hours in Spain to demand equality between men and women. Walkouts suddenly seem to be the flavor of the year. However, while the Google walkout may have been the third large-scale walkout of the year, it hit home for a number of reasons.
Outside of Microsoft, Lyft and Uber who ended forced arbitration in cases of harassment and assault so that employees do not have to choose between speaking freely about what happened and resolving them with the company, I know of few other organizations that allow this privilege. The demands made by employees at Google hold true for most organizations around the world. What happened at Google could have happened anywhere. What makes the Walkout remarkable are three key features:
- Support: Most leaders would balk at the thought of a walkout. Google has long encouraged employees to speak their mind and leveraged this opportunity to walk the talk. Sundar Pichai’s email to employees sets an example. “Some of you have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies going forward… I’m taking in all of your feedback so we can turn these ideas into action,” Pichai said in the email. He also mentioned that HR would inform managers of the walkout “and that you have the support you need.” While some have wondered if they’d still hold a job after the walkout, Google showing support helps.
- Action: While not all demands were addressed, the leadership made a point to address some of them within a week of the walkout. In a public memo, Google ended forced arbitration, promised to provide more transparency in Investigation Reports and revamp how they handle concerns. They are also making their sexual harassment training mandatory and recommitting to company-wide OKRs around diversity, equity and inclusion, focused on improving representation and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone.
- Ripple Effects: While the swift action by Google was notable, I was even more impressed by other organizations that decided to learn from what happened at Google and took pro-active steps. Facebook, Airbnb and eBay ended forced arbitration soon after and it is likely that over the next few months, other organizations follow suit. And that ultimately is the strongest success measure – when you make an impact not only within your organization but across some the largest in the world.
A part of me feels terrible that we needed a walkout for some basics to be addressed, part of me feels proud that it happened. What emotions did the #GoogleWalkout evoke in you?