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Google workers walk out in global protest over harassment

New York, United States | AFP | Thousands of Google employees joined a coordinated worldwide walkout Thursday to protest the US tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment, staging protests from Singapore to London to New York to the company’s California campus.

The “Google Walkout For Real Change” account that sprang up on Twitter on Wednesday called for employees and contractors to leave their workplaces at 11:10 am local time around the world on Thursday.

“All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority,” said a statement published by organizers on the website TheCut.

“We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us. So we are here, standing together, protecting and supporting each other.”

In New York, where Google has a large office in the Chelsea neighborhood, hundreds of employees took to the streets, some carrying signs saying “Time’s Up Tech” — taking a cue from the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against sexual harassment.

“I think we are a really powerful collective and we all want to see change,” said Claire Stapleton, one of the New York organizers. “I think leadership is listening.”

The protest took shape after Google said last week that it had fired 48 employees in the past two years — including 13 senior executives — as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct, citing “an increasingly hard line” on inappropriate conduct.

That statement came after The New York Times reported that a senior Google employee, Android creator Andy Rubin, received an exit package worth $90 million as he faced allegations of misconduct, and that Google had covered up other sexual harassment claims.

Rubin has denied the allegations and said he was the victim of a “smear campaign.”

The concerns at Google have added to the growing chorus of voices denouncing the existence of a sexist culture in male-dominated Silicon Valley, which has knocked a number of internet industry executives at other tech giants from their perches.

The protesters pointed out that women make up only about 31 percent of the workforce and 25 percent of executives at Google.

Demma Rodriguez, head of equity engineering and a seven-year Google employee, said the protest was an important part of bringing fairness to the technology colossus.

“We have an aspiration to be the best company in the world,” Rodriguez said.

“But we also have goals as a company and we can’t decide we are going to miss those.”

– ‘Solidarity‘ –
At Google’s Dublin campus, the company’s European headquarters, around 500 people walked out in chilly conditions but were reticent about speaking to the media.

Organizer Kate, who did not want to give her surname, told the crowd that she coordinated the event “in solidarity with anybody who has experienced any form of sexual harassment or misconduct in our workplace.”

She told reporters afterwards: “If even one person has experienced it, it’s important for us — for me — to show our solidarity and say that we don’t agree with that, and that it shouldn’t happen.”

In London, hundreds of workers packed into the biggest room at their main office in protest and later headed outside.

“We’re walking out to support colleagues in any workplace that have suffered harassment and to ensure that perpetrators aren’t protected or rewarded,” Sam Dutton, a developer advocate, told AFP.

Google’s management had been “very supportive” of the walkout, he added.

Another Google worker, Anna, who did not want to give her full name, told AFP they were making a point about “power structures” and telling their leaders that “things are changing and it’s time to revise what used to be considered as normal.”

In Singapore, dozens of employees gathered in an indoor space at Google’s offices, with a picture of the gathering posted on the “Google Walkout for Real Change” Twitter feed.

The “demands” posted by organizers included an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees, along with a right for every Google worker to bring a co-worker, representative, or supporter when filing a harassment claim.

The Google Walkout account said there were also walkouts in Tokyo, Zurich, Berlin and Haifa, Israel.

– CEO ‘deeply sorry’
The walkout call came as Google’s parent company Alphabet confirmed Wednesday that Richard DeVaul, an executive reportedly accused of sexual harassment, left the company without an exit package.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai sent a message to employees late Tuesday, a copy of which was posted online by technology news website Ars Technica.

Pichai said he has heard from many employees on the subject of inappropriate behavior at work and was “deeply sorry for the past actions and the pain they have caused employees.”

Last week, Google released an email from Pichai to employees stating that none of the people who resigned or were fired due to sexual harassment concerns in the past two years received an exit package.

“We are dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace,” Pichai said in the email.

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