Google pledges to overhaul its sexual harassment policy after global protests

The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, said the company would overhaul its sexual harassment policies.

On Tuesday, Pichai said Google would end arbitration for sexual misconduct claims, revamp its investigations process, share data on harassment claims and outcomes, and provide new support for people who like to forward. Roughly 20,000 workers to walk out of the corporation's offices across 50 cities last week.

Some critics, however, said the commitments were inadequate, failed to address pay disparities, and ignored the rights of temporary employees and contractors.

The massive protests came after a New York Times investigation revealed that the tech firm gave a $ 90m payout to a top executive after determining that sexual misconduct allegations against him were credible. The revelations sparked intense backlash and reignited concerns about Silicon Valley.

"We recognize that we are not always sorry for that," Pichai wrote. "It's clear we need to make some changes."

Sundar Pichai sent an email to staff addressing concerns about sexual harassment. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage / AFP / Getty Images

Walkout organizers demanded an end to forced arbitration, a popular corporate practice that has long enabled HR departments to push employee complaints into secretive hearings. This system can silence victims with non-disclosure agreements, conceal labor violations from the public, and protect serial offenders. Uber engineer Susan Fowler spoke out about harassment last year.

Pichai said Google would now make arbitration "optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims", but noted that they could still be confidential. This is a significant shift for the company, which has been pursuing private arbitration in a lawsuit brought by a female software engineer. That plaintiff, Loretta Lee, described a "bro-culture" that she said enabled daily harassment, including "lewd comments, pranks and even physical violence".

Although Microsoft and Uber have been backed up with forced arbitration policies, Google was previously resistant to similar reforms. An attorney for the company told the Guardian in March that arbitration was efficient and effective, saying: "Arbitration has been in use for literally decades."

Pichai also said Google would like to disclose trends about investigations and disciplinary actions and create "one dedicated site" that included "live support" for people with complaints. Google would now also offer "extra care and resources" to employees, including counseling and "career support" and "support person", the CEO added.

The original walkout demands for a "clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously" and stated that it should include those who are not full-time workers.

The Tech Workers Coalition, a group of labor organizers that includes Google employees, criticized Pichai 's message in a statement to the Guardian on Thursday, saying that "temps, vendors and contractors" (TVCs) "continue to have no adequate protections from sexual harassment" .

Google staff stage at walkout at the company's UK headquarters in London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen / AFP / Getty Images

This workforce, which is disproportionately women and people of color, said: "This deliberate negative demonstrates the caste-like system deployed by Google, which fails to protect its workers and our colleagues. For a company that likes to innovate, it's striking to see such a lack of vision for treating all of their workforce with basic dignity. "

The coalition also criticized Pichai for ignoring the walk of the board.

Pichai's email also made no mention Google, based on an ongoing class-action lawsuit and US labor investigators. The walkout organizers had demanded "commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity".

Google has previously said it closed its gender pay gap.

Google remains overwhelmingly white, Asian and evil. In leadership positions, 2% of employees are black, 1.8% are Latino and 25.5% are women, according to the company's figures.

Asked about temporary workers, a spokesperson pointed to Pichai's statement saying Google investigates "all matters in which a complaint is made by a TVC against an employee". A "code of conduct" also requires Google suppliers to "demonstrate a commitment to identify, measure, and improve a culture of diversity and inclusion through the aspects of workplace management", the statement said.


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