Google To Change Sexual Harassment Policies

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Weeks of protests draws concession from senior management over the way it handles sexual harassment

Google is to penalise staff for fail to complete mandatory sexual harassment training as part of changes to the way it handles sexual harassment claims.

The search engine giant said arbitration would be optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, which according to Reuters could pave the way for lawsuits on those issues.

Earlier this month up to 20,000 staff around the world staged walkouts at their local offices, in protest over the firm’s handling of sexual harassment claims.

Sexual harassment women work office © Shutterstock Piotr Marcinski

Sexual harassment

Google reportedly said that staff who fail to complete mandatory sexual harassment training once a year will be docked in performance reviews.

“We recognise that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that,” said CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post addressed to staff. “It’s clear we need to make some changes.”

“Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns,” he wrote. “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.”

He said that Google would arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims; would provide more granularity around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes; revamp the way it handles and investigates staff; and would update and expand its mandatory sexual harassment training.

“We will recommit to our company-wide OKR around diversity, equity and inclusion again in 2019, focused on improving representation – through hiring, progression and retention – and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone,” he wrote. “Our Chief Diversity Officer will continue to provide monthly progress updates to me and my leadership team.”

But Pichai failed to address a couple of staff demands, including Alphabet adding an employee to its board and share gender-related pay data.

Whilst Pichai’s changes were welcomed by walkout organisers, they warned they would not stop putting pressure on the other issues.

Executive payouts

“They all have the same root cause, which is a concentration of power and a lack of accountability at the top,” organiser and Google employee Stephanie Parker was quoted by Reuters as saying in a press release.

Google boss Pichai recently admitted that the company had fired 48 employees for sexual harassment over the past two years.

The admission from Pichai came in response to a New York Times article that alleged that Google had protected three senior executives from allegations of sexual misconduct, which allegedly included the father of Android Andy Rubin.

Rubin stepped down from his position as Android boss in 2013, and eventually left Google altogether in October 2014.

Rubin however has denied the sexual misconduct allegations and has said that the New York Times story contained ‘numerous inaccuracies,’ and wild exaggerations about his compensation.

Staff anger

Yet Google has experienced tensions with its workforce in recent years.

In 2017 Google famously fired James Damore, the software engineer whose memo last year criticised the company’s diversity programme.

In January this year Damore sued Google for allegedly discriminating against conservative white males.

Damore accused the technology giant of “systematically” singling out, punishing and terminating employees whose views on diversity, social justice and gender bias differed from the majority view at Google.

Damore had reportedly said it was the inherent biological differences between men and women, more so than explicit discrimination that accounts for any gaps that might exist between the genders in the workplace.

And in February this year former Google employee Tim Chevalier hit the search engine giant with another lawsuit, in which he alleged he was fired for his liberal political activism whilst working for the company.

Chevalier’s lawsuit said that he identifies himself as a liberal and as “disabled, queer, and transgender.”

Chevalier alleged that Google staff frequently posted discriminatory and harassing comments about him on internal social forums.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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