Employees at Google offices around the world held a wave of walkouts Thursday to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment.
The walkouts, which started in Asia and spread across continents, were planned for around 11 a.m. in their time zones. Protests were expected through the day in Google offices in the United States.
The backlash was prompted by an article in The New York Times last week that revealed that Google had paid millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of harassment, while staying silent about the transgressions.
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As late morning arrived in different time zones Thursday, Google employees walked away from their work at offices in Singapore; Hyderabad, India; Berlin; Zurich; and London.
Photographs were shared on social media, but it was unclear how long the protests lasted because many of those who stopped working stayed inside the buildings.
Brenda Salinas, a Google employee in London, did not come to work Thursday because of an injury, but she expressed her support for the walkout.
“I’ve been at Google for over a year,” she said. “Last week was one of the hardest weeks of my yearlong tenure at Google, but today is the best day. I feel like I have thousands of colleagues all over the world who, like me, are committed to creating a culture where everyone is treated with dignity.”
Salinas also noted that contract workers were included in the demands from the organizers of the protest. “That doesn’t get talked about enough in tech,” she said.
A news release from the organizers noted that “the power structure that inherently diminishes” temps, vendors or contractors was “rooted in the same foundation of inequality.”
On Wednesday, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said that the company’s management was aware of the coming walkouts and that employees would “have the support they need if they wish to participate.”
“Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes,” he added. “We are taking in all their feedback, so we can turn these ideas into action.”
The employees who organized the walkout have called on Google to end its use of private arbitration in cases of alleged sexual assault and harassment. They have also demanded the publication of a transparency report on instances of sexual harassment, further disclosures of salaries and compensation, an employee representative on the company board and a chief diversity officer who could speak directly to the board.
Google’s management team has taken steps to calm the concerns in the last week. Pichai and Larry Page, a co-founder of Google and the chief executive of its parent company, Alphabet, have both apologized, with Pichai later saying his initial statement “wasn’t enough” and apologizing again.
Google said that it had fired 48 people over sexual harassment accusations over the past two years and that none had received an exit package. One of the executives whom Alphabet continued employing after he was accused of harassment resigned on Tuesday and did not obtain an exit package, but this has done little to quell the unrest.
Tensions have been simmering as Silicon Valley workers increasingly push back against decisions by their leaders that they feel do more harm than good. Pichai has faced rebuke for developing a search engine for China that would censor results. Google employees have also pushed back against the company’s artificial intelligence work with the Pentagon.