Google's #MeToo moment: HR impact will be felt far beyond Silicon Valley

Though it’s been a year since the #MeToo movement first began, companies are still experiencing the fallout. And not even tech giant Google is immune.

On the morning of November 1, employees left their desks and filed out of Google’s Singapore office. They were the first of thousands of “Googlers” and Google contract workers that walked off the job to protest a company culture that has allowed a “history of harassment, discrimination, and protecting abusers.”
The organizers of the coordinated action published demands for change at Google. Those demands include:

  • Changes to Google’s process for handling employee complaints, especially harassment and sexual misconduct complaints
  • publication of a comprehensive sexual harassment report
  • pay equity and visibility into pay and promotion, including “transparent data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap,” and
  • clear, uniform and globally inclusive processes for all employees and contract workers to report sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.

Harassment still a major issue

The protest was sparked by news reports that Google paid one of its top executives $90 million in exit payouts after an investigation found that he coerced a fellow Google employee into performing a sexual act. But the larger context is the widespread anger about recent revelations of ongoing sexual harassment and racial discrimination in the tech industry and about similarly lucrative deals for other men who have left companies amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
That anger stoked the #MeToo movement which continues to shine a spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace, as highlighted by EEOC statistics. Those stats show a large spike in harassment claims and lawsuits over the 12 months following the launch of the movement, as well as more harassment rulings and settlements that favor employees.
If the protesters achieve their goals at Google, their demands might well provide a blueprint for changes to harassment policies, reporting procedures, and transparency at companies of all sizes in every industry.
Because of Google’s size and the global ubiquity of its brand and products, the company’s response to the walkout protests are likely to create ripples that accelerate changes to EEOC guidance and force HR departments everywhere to update their policies and procedures immediately.

Tim McElgunn
Tim, a member of the HRMorning staff, is a veteran writer and editor. His background includes producing and managing publications for Bloomberg, Frost & Sullivan, Gartner Group and McGraw-Hill.