Will an Employee Walkout Lead to Changes at Google?
Podcast is brought to you by knowledge award. Google is changing sexual harassment policies a week after some twenty thousand employees worldwide staged a walkout, the mass protests, followed a New York Times story, saying former senior executive Andy Rubin left the company, but did so with a ninety million dollar exit package after harassment claims against him. We're found to be credible. Among the changes, Google, CEO Sundar Pichai Senate a letter out saying that arbitration in these instances would no longer be mandatory. There would be more transparency in how these complaints are being handled and those who report these issues would receive more support. But does this go far enough to address the concerns of employees with more on the impact of this decision? We are joined in studio by Stephanie query, who's an assistant professor in the management department here at the school and on the phone a Harley shaken who is a labor expert and professor in the graduate school of education at the university of California, Berkeley stuff. Integrate senior again, thanks for having me. Thank you Harley. Great to have you on the phone today, sir. Good to be here. Thank you. So I'll start with that the big question really dig Google go far enough in your mind, I'll probably not a Google handled. This very well. But the reality is twenty thousand workers walked off the job gold -ly. We haven't seen something on this scale and tech or really in very many places in a long time. A what sparked it as you pointed out was the sexual harassment case with the ninety million dollar payout. But really that appears to have sparked it not being the only concern that the workers had nine of the leaders of posted a blog post, and in it, they say these employees were asking for equity dignity and respect Google recognized. They had an issue. They apologize. The addressed a piece of the issue. But I think this could well be the beginning of more that takes place, more employees involvement and further demands. I completely agree. I think it's certainly a step in the right direction. And it is an attempt to address what seemed to be one of the most alarming concerns at a face value. Which was the large substantial payout for somebody who had been found to commit an agreed act and the conflict in values that that ten conflicting values messages that that tends to send. But certainly when you look at the wide range of things at the employees were asking to address it wasn't about larger issues around discrimination employment policies and practices in the company. And so they still have a lot to do to begin to address those issues as well. I guess from from a lay person standpoint where I am having arbitray Shen as a means to settle potential. Actual Aspen that that seems to me a bit off. Am I am I close to to be right on that? I hear spot on. And this is one of the things that really provoked a lot of the anger arbitration works overwhelmingly in the favor of firm, but it also lays out the ability to to not publicize something. Meaning that workers don't have an idea of scale of what's going on. You're going before company appointed arbitrator, and it really limits your rights for going to court to address these grievances. So that was certainly part of the problem, and it has been addressed in terms of sexual harassment. But compulsory arbitration, something that many employees, and Hugh there's been a huge increase in firms that use it applies to a whole range of things. So one of the things that will be fascinating to watch. Is whether the Google employees going forward demand complete elimination of compulsory arbitration as a further demand. They also asked for greater representation, they want to elect someone on the board of directors. They want their voice heard Google. This is a step in that direction. But I think we could see much more. I don't know if Google Stephanie is willing to give that spot to an employee to kind of be that voice of the company, but it probably would be a good thing. When you talk about some of these instances that obviously have come up and the concerns and developing a better relationship between the C suite and the employee's. Yeah. It certainly is unprecedented for many companies to think about putting an employee or Representative employee's on the board. But there's certainly ways to go about doing this one of the things that they had asked for with actually have a chief diversity off. Officer in place reporting to the CEO, and when you have someone of that calibre who does who's largely concerned with the firm's issues as well. As the concerns that employees might have it begins to trickle that up to the board in ways that make more sense. Currently what's happening there chief diversity officer role is lower down in. So it seems even much less direct relationship to what the board might hear about its policies and practices with respect to diversity. And I think the other thing that I want to add is in the background here. Google is a company that has spent a lot of resources and time in energy talking about diversity in the worker saw this as an example of a slight against the work that had made their spec to diversity. And so what they're doing is. They're taking the company to task on. If you're gonna say, we value diversity than we need to begin looking at this from equity appointment perspective as well. Hardly. That's basically like saying one thing and doing another, absolutely. And that really rankles these workers one of the things I've been. Struck with with a lot of the interviews and comments Google workers have made these are very bright, very energetic group of people many of them were tracked it to come to Google to change the world in a positive way. So they have a lot of idealism they believe in what the company could do, and they feel I think offended that the company is not doing this in a number of critical areas. I'm struck by the title of the blog post. I referenced a moment ago collective action works, and we need to keep working what twenty thousand people in the streets indicated for a moment is their voice is far more powerful if they work together than they simply stand alone. So it's not an open door. They're asking for. It's the ability to have their voice really as part of what Google goes going forward that raises another issue might. This be step on a road to a union in a way, this was reinventing what a union does spontaneously. It's a long way from an organizing campaign. But it raises some issues that go beyond the immediate demand. Because when you talk about arbitration, it's usually because there's a discrepancy between the company and the union involve if this is this is unique kind of set of circumstances here. Stephanie. Yeah, it's a fascinating issue. I think certainly the larger takeaway is that the employee's feel that they should have a voice in what happens to them. And certainly there are a lot of ways in which Google established policies and practices with respect to diversity where it has given employees a voice, and again, if the employees see this issue of how sexual harassment is managed in the company as an a larger example of how people are treated how we deal with issues of discrimination, fairness, and we can. Talk about those other things, and we can be transparent about whether or not we believe that the strategy that we have is fair to women than why aren't we talking about sexual harassment wise at the one thing that's part of our diversity initiative that we can't talk about. So I think the larger issue here is making sure that we're not creating different in that Google's not creating different value sets around. What is improperly it to be conveyed to workers? And what's not? And you also need to have. I would think different set of standards now within companies in terms of whether it is somebody that's on the cease, we'd or at somebody in the mailroom of what that exit is going to be for that employees. Certainly the fact that I think a lot of people are just taken aback by the fact that this executive got ninety million dollars when he was walking out the door when he did something that called him into question significantly and realistically, there could be I would think charges against him. It's kind of stunning. Yeah. It's really stunning especially since the next line of all the articles say that. There are lots of people have been fired recently for similar acts without getting a similar compensation and that's alarming. I think too many of us into people who work there. It's you know, it's the idea of the rich get richer or there's no penalty when you're in a high status position like an executive, and that we only hold certain people, particularly those at lower level of the organization to similar standards. So. Why we warding bad behavior when it comes with more power and money Carly. I think Stephanie's racing. An excellent point. Here was really striking the ninety million catches your eye and for someone who is exiting the company. It was stunning. But it highlights an even broader issue. Google employs a lot of temporary and contract workers as many as half of their ninety thousand plus workforce are in this area. They are clearly a second class group of citizens that Google with very limited rights and with the ability to be dismissed tomorrow. That's what suits Google. There are some of written that what this reflects is Google spending a lot of money in a market that requires that for high level engineers, and developers and impart they pay for this by lower level, employees. Earning. Significantly less and having a less benefits, but that rankles against the spirit of Google for many of the workers who walked out they claim their demands alternately are issues of equity, dignity and respect. And they've you the two tiered system as something that challenges that is this also to you Harley say about the leadership of Sundar Pichai. I think he handled some of this well in that he responded immediately by embracing the walkout versus challenging get. But it really raises some more fundamental issues that he has not addressed. What fascinating is there evidently were as many as a thousand Google workers globally communicating with each other using Google tools to organize this walkout with that kind of energy. And with this immediate victory. I think we could see more and his leadership will be tested in the context of how we respond to what comes next Harley point. I think that he raised around this notion of how fully employed workers are treated relative to contract workers. I think is very important one. Because again that is another signal that some people can have certain rights and privileges in organization and be considered with respect and others. Cannot. Be. So this is an issue to be a testament to the CEO's leadership that he needs to sort of begin to move forward on is if we're continued to creating policies that are only held whether their policies that privilege or policies at punish to certain class of workers, relative to others were continuing to create contradictory messages about what we've Allieu as an organization them. Where do you start the change in that to to have that mindset, and I know from employees to employees that mindset may be tough to break through, but from a policy perspective, I would think HR's gotta start it a, you know, from from one end of it, the sweet does as well that part time employees, full time employees. They're all employees of the company. Yeah. But I think the reality is is a contract worker is still a person who deserves to be treated with dignity respect. Even if we don't give them benefits right other benefits, like retirement benefits, and so on and so forth. But if we're talking about being inclusive in being fair and being equitable than. That's something that people as a right as a human who works for an organization who is in an organization deserves it shouldn't be based on whether or not I'm fully salaried or fully benefited by an organization. Absolutely. And what's fascinating here. Google has inspired workers at the very good thing. But the flip side of Indies they got live up to the promise and hear what the temporary workers. They are overwhelmingly women. They are many people of color are among the temporary workers. So when several of the Google leaders did a blog post, they referred to the temporary workers as a Jim crow system. That's strong language and completely untypical to the image and the values that Google puts out. So that's why it becomes urgent to address this as well as addressing the ninety million payout for the one could the one top level executives that sparked the walkouts in the first place. No, I'm not exactly sure of what the makeup of the board of directors is at Google male to female, but. Being in California. We mentioned this earlier is the fact that California just enacted that law to be able to have more female representation on boards. That's probably another thing that that probably should be looked at with Google where all of these issues are concerned stuff. Yeah. I think certainly representation is usually I think the first line of defense that many companies go to when they're trying to figure out how to create an organization where we begin to voice the values that we have. But we also know that putting more women on boards doesn't solve the issue. If the board culture isn't one that invites people to voice, really what the concerns are. So I would invite Google in any other company that's interested in that. Now has to by law. Follow the practice of putting more women on their boards is that the culture of the board needs to be one in which you can raise descent or you can raise additional perspectives. And that's oftentimes with the issue is and why we don't always see significant effects between the presence of women on boards and outcomes is because just putting somebody on a board doesn't mean that there can they can bring up and be heard. Parley? You're there in California much of an impact you think that this this type of move in the state will have in the years to come. Oh, I think it will have a very great impact. And I think we will see that in a way that improves companies a lot of these demands are not going to hobble a company like Google, it could actually make them more innovative and more competitive y workers one of voice in what's taking place and to give them that voice brings their ingenuity their commitment their ideals and their skills to play in what Google trying to do. So the notion of representation both on the board for women, but also for workers themselves, the the fact of worker representatives as a union is not something that will hobble Google, but could very well improve the company so all this has been put on the table. And it follows the face of previous protests that Google that the company is responded to when Google pulled out of a multibillion dollar contract with the department of defense because employees protested that and then there were other recent examples of Google pulling back from projects where many employees felt it was opposite to the ideals of the company. So harnessing this in a more formal way could be something with which Google leads not something that's going to diminish. What do you think Harley is the impact on Silicon Valley? And obviously we've talked about on this show stories where the hiring levels of women compared to men are are significantly different. And obviously this issue that we talk about now or surrounding sexual harassment. Is again, another issue Silicon Valley brings us a lot of great technology. But they obviously have a lot to continue to work on where social issues are concerned. I I would fully agree with that. And with Google right now with its enormous visibility and the role that plays. There's a lot of attention on this below the surface. We've had amazing twenty-first-century information technologies and nineteenth century practices when it comes to issues of gender inclusion and and other things that are coming out like now here in terms, for example of Latinos at Google, the percentage in leadership is very very small in a state where forty percent of the population is Latino you've got something like two percent of the leadership coming from from that group. So you've got these issues which really are calling for for resolution all the attention to date has been on the wonders that. Come out of Silicon Valley. They're critical, and they truly are wonders, but that doesn't mean that these other issues can just be left to dress the way that I see it Google has to next steps. And the first is to begin to think more broadly about issues of equity discrimination and fairness, which is what the workers were suggesting Welby on sexual harassment, which is just a symptom of a larger set of issues related to inequity. The second is to begin to tackle this issue of applying policies and practices regularly across different employee groups executives apply similarly to if your frontline worker, and then we have the issue around fully employed versus contract workers. Because then again, we're arbitrarily setting up a system of inequity, if we're creating different policies and holding different people to different standards. So I think that's where they need to go forward. Don't run away from the issue of lack of equity indiscriminate in promotion. Discrimination fairness run towards it because they can be a better. Symbol? I think for others who are struggling with the same issues as well. But the the difference in terms of policy as you as you mention is probably driven because of the suite the C suite will probably wants to have different rules than the majority of of the employees in the company. Right. Well, I can't say with their motives, but I can say that people who make the policies and practices are in the sweet, right and oftentimes policies and practices are made by the people who believe what they should be based on their own set of circumstances. So we do see bias existing in many company policies and practices. So that's why other people need to be looking at the policies and the practices at different levels of the organization, and the board to begin to understand who are these policies and practices designed to benefit and who were they decide to exclude. And that's I think their next step is understanding that because in this case with this particular sexual harassment case, it was a policy that benefited a C suite Representative and did not equally benefit somebody who had committed the same at eight four four. Nine four to seventy six is the number. If you would like to join in with your comments or questions joined in studio by Stephanie Kerry from here at the school and joined on the phone by Harley shaken who is at the university of California at Berkeley, eight four four nine four two seven eight six six or for like Senator comment on Twitter at biz radio one thirty two or my Twitter account, which is at Dan Loney? Twenty-one going back to what we're saying. At the beginning here seventy is. It is surprising that a company in this day and age there process to dealing with the claim of sexual harassment was arbitration. It just it kind of boggles the mind a little bit that was the process that they had in place. Yeah. I definitely was really concerned. When I read about that only because I know Google, many other companies are taking a lot of steps to be very transparent. Google has a diversity report. They disclose what the representation is in their organization. They have mandatory unconscious bias training. They've been talking a lot about this. And they've been highlighted a lot in the past for the work that they were doing why this was one of the one issues where it felt I think to those of us on the outside. But certainly to people on the inside that they were trying to hide something that should be much more transparent. That said a decisions, I think is one that will be unclear to all of us. Really? I think I would agree with that very much. But I think this is just highlighting a larger problem. What happens in the cease? We'd is obviously critical for the direction of Google. But you've got a new factor. You've got two thousand glue Google employees globally who organized something. They're not gonna go away. They're thinking about what will make this a better company, and what role do we have in shaping that? And here we're looking at something that's much broader. This is an age where we know unions have declined in many areas precipitously, but in a way what we're seeing of late is workers reinventing the underlying concept of collective action and solidarity. It's odd to think that teachers in West Virginia and Google workers together both share this. They went to the streets to. Really articulate and to demand action on their demands. We're that goes remains an open question. Do you think that that? This is a watershed moment for for so valley, not not only for Google. But the other companies there that that we will see significant change in terms of of the understanding of employees and the treatment of those employees when we have situations like this, or is this still a process that's developing Harley, and and still need some time to really work itself out. No, I think it is a watershed moment twenty thousand people in the streets globally and actually the New York Times yesterday in front page article on their business section used watershed moment in tack to describe what happened at Google that Inouye say's says where this goes, meaning there are no guarantees, but it is intriguing and is. A watershed moment because so many employees from so many different cultures. So many ring a range of countries and perspectives got together and made a statement by walking out for several hours. We just haven't seen that. And I suspect the issues they put on the table, we will return to in new and innovative ways, I wouldn't actually raise a very interesting point that I thought was a really important moment of all of this. And that was the sheer number of male employees that walked out as well. Oftentimes when we start talking about sexual harassment, the conversation lends itself to gender, and it usually is a lot of female employees or workers or academics. Experts talking about the issue Google is a largely male workforce. And it was if you look at all the pictures look at all the coverage. It was a lot of male workers also saying that they won't stand up for this as well. And certainly sexual harassment isn't a male to woman issue, but we largely highlight the cases in which the man is the perpetrator and the woman is not in this case. So I thought that that was remarkable. I think we need more of that. It's not just about worker standing up. It's about more workers dominant groups who might not feel as closely affected standing up and saying what's right versus what's wrong. Thank you. Appreciate your time Harley. Thank you. Well, thank you. Great to have you at a seventy Craig from here at the school Harley. Shaken from the university of California Berkeley for more insight from knowledge, please. Visit knowledge dot Morton dot U, Penn dot EDU.