Google employees around the world staged walkouts on Thursday to protest what they say is a workplace culture that has turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and discrimination.
The demonstrations, dubbed “Google Walkout,” follow an outcry over a New York Times investigation that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations, multimillion-dollar severance packages for accused executives, and a lack of transparency over the cases.
More than 1,000 people streamed out of Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California. The group of men and women cheered as the protest started in a courtyard on the company’s massive complex.
“It’s just unfair that the women who are being attacked have to speak to the people above them in order to get change to happen,” said Taylor Reifurth, a freelance editor at Google. “Because sometimes their abusers are the ones above them and in charge of promoting them or in charge of their jobs. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
In downtown San Francisco, where Google has five offices, more than 1,000 male and female employees assembled, chanting “women’s rights are worker’s rights.” Some held signs that mocked the payouts given to accused executives. “Happy to quit for $90 million. No sexual harassment required,” one read.
Organizers read a handful of anonymous stories about harassment from Google employees and listed the group’s demands into a microphone. When asked how many people had their own stories of harassment that hadn’t been told, a number of attendees raised their hands.
“I said to myself last night, ‘I hope that I still have a career in Silicon Valley after this and I hope that whoever I work with won’t take it out against me,’” said Google employee Cathay Bi, who acted as spokesperson for the group.
In New York City, workers spilled out of the company’s Chelsea headquarters, filling a nearby park to capacity and chanting in unison “Time is up.” Some held signs reading “Women’s rights are human rights” and “C++ Style, No exceptions. Code of conduct, No exceptions!”
Diana Scholl, who is on the social marketing team at Google’s YouTube, was among the protestors. She’s been at the company for about six months – her first five months she was a temporary employee.
“I think the NYT story was the catalyst but it’s been a long time coming,” she said of the protest.
The protests started in Asia and continued west through Europe to the United States. About 150 Google employees in India participated in the walkouts, a company spokesman in the country told CNN. Google has about 2,000 staff members across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Protests were also reported at the company’s Singapore and Tokyo offices. It was unclear how many people participated but each office has more than 1,000 employees, a spokesman said.
In Europe, CNN witnessed a small group of Google employees walk out at the company’s London headquarters. “We’re walking out in support of those who’ve been harassed anywhere in the workplace, and to ensure that perpetrators are not rewarded and are not protected,” said Sam Dutton, a developer advocate at Google.
A larger protest was reported in Zurich, Switzerland. A Twitter account named @googlewalkout posted photos of people at what it said were protests at Google’s Singapore, Tokyo, Berlin and Zurich offices.
Google, along with other Silicon Valley companies and tech startups, has been rocked in recent years by allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace and accusations that the corporate culture has allowed for racial and gender discrimination in hiring, pay and promotions.
The organizers of the Google protest wrote in an op-ed in New York Magazine they are demanding company leadership take concrete steps, including an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and “transparent data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has voiced his support for the walkouts.
“We let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for Thursday and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate,” Pichai said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward,” he said. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”
Marc Benioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce, told CNN Business in an interview he supported women employees at Google who are calling for a sea change at the company. “I’m with you,” he said. “I’m with women who feel that they needed a voice or an advocate for equality.”
In an email sent shortly after the Times investigation was published last week, Google’s management stressed to employees that the company is “dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace.”
According to the report, the company stayed silent about sexual misconduct allegations against three executives over the past decade, including Android creator Andy Rubin, who left the company in 2014. Tech news site The Information previously reported that Google had investigated Rubin for an inappropriate relationship while at the company.
But the Times uncovered new details, including a reported $90 million exit package that Rubin is said to have been granted when he departed the company. The Times reported that Rubin was accused of coercing a female employee, with whom he’d been having affair, into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013. A Google investigation found her claim to be credible and then-CEO Larry Page asked Rubin to resign, according to the Times.
Sam Singer, a lawyer for Rubin, disputed the allegations in the Times report.
“None of the allegations made about Mr. Rubin are true,” he told CNN Business in a statement, calling them “demonstrably false.”
Earlier this week, Richard DeVaul, a director of Google X, resigned from his position. The Times report claimed he had sexually harassed a job applicant. DeVaul is leaving without any exit package, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In a statement to the Times, DeVaul said he was sorry for the “error of judgement.” CNN wasn’t able to reach him for comment.
Heather Kelly, Rishi Iyengar, Winston Lo, Rachel Metz and Hadas Gold contributed to this report.