Home / Tech / Two Google employees who spearheaded the walkout against sexual misconduct say the company has retaliated and demoted them (GOOG, GOOGL)

Two Google employees who spearheaded the walkout against sexual misconduct say the company has retaliated and demoted them (GOOG, GOOGL)

google walkout

  • Google employees walked out of their offices last year in a massive protest of their company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.
  • Two of the organizers say Google has retaliated against them by changing their roles and demoting them at the company, Wired reports.
  • In response, the two women say they’re hosting a “retaliation town hall” Friday for employees to attend and share their own stories of retaliation.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Two of the women who spearheaded last year’s walkout involving thousands of Google employees worldwide say the company has retaliated against them for organizing the protest.

In a message sent internally Monday to some Google employees, and obtained by Wired, Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton said the company had demoted them in their roles, and forced them to give up some of their duties at work.

“This harms people inside the company, and communities outside who bear the brunt of Google’s bad choices,” the women wrote in their email. “If we want to stop discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making, we need to end retaliation against the people who speak honestly about these problems.”

Read more: Google’s chief diversity officer is leaving the company following a string of controversies

Both Whittaker and Stapleton were named in a New York Magazine story as two of the women who helped organize the walkout in 2018 of 20,000 Google employees, who protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases and past misconduct allegations against senior executives.

Whittaker is the head of Google’s Open Research group, and the cofounder of research lab AI Now Institute. Whittaker said in the internal email she was recently told her role would be “changed dramatically,” and that she would have to give up her AI ethics research with AI Now Institute in order to keep her job.

Stapleton has been employed a marketing manager at Google-owned YouTube. She wrote in the email that Google demoted her from her position, and her work was given out to others. Her demotion was only reversed after she hired a lawyer and Google conducted an investigation into the matter, Stapleton said. 

My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton said in the email. “While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.”

The two women said in the email that a culture of retaliation exists at Google, and their stories of retaliation “aren’t the only ones.”

In response, Google said in a statement that retaliation is prohibited at the company, and that the situations with Whittaker and Stapleton were not examples of retaliation.

We prohibit retaliation in the workplace, and investigate all allegations,” a Google spokesperson told Business Insider. “Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganized, to keep pace with evolving business needs.  There has been no retaliation here.”

Stapleton and Whittaker also wrote in their email they’ll be hosting a “retaliation town hall” on Friday to “share our stories, and strategize.”

Here’s the text of the internal email from Whittaker and Stapleton, obtained by Wired:

Hi all, This was a hard email to write.

Google is retaliating against several organizers.

We are among them and here is what’s happening to us:

Meredith

Just after Google announced that it would disband its AI ethics council, I was informed my role would be changed dramatically. I’m told that to remain at the company I will have to abandon my work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute, which I co-founded, and which has been doing rigorous and recognized work on these topics. I have worked on issues of AI ethics and bias for years, and am one of the people who helped shape the field looking at these problems. I have also taken risks to push for a more ethical Google, even when this is less profitable or convenient.

Claire

After five years as a high performer in YouTube Marketing (and almost twelve at Google), two months after the Walkout, I was told that I would be demoted, that I’d lose half my reports, and that a project that was approved was no longer on the table. I escalated to HR and to my VP, which made things significantly worse. My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick. Only after I hired a lawyer and had her contact Google did management conduct an investigation and walked back my demotion, at least on paper. While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.

Our stories aren’t the only ones. Google has a culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities. Retaliation isn’t always obvious. It’s often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions. Behavior that tells someone the problem isn’t that they stood up to the company, it’s that they’re not good enough and don’t belong.

During the Walkout, we collected 350 stories. Reading them, a sad pattern emerges: people who stand up and report discrimination, abuse, and unethical conduct are punished, sidelined, and pushed out. Perpetrators often go unimpeded, or are even rewarded (Andy, Amit, “I reported, he got promoted”).

By punishing those who resist discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making Google permits these behaviors. This harms people inside the company, and communities outside who bear the brunt of Google’s bad choices. If we want to stop discrimination, harassment, and unethical decision making, we need to end retaliation against the people who speak honestly about these problems.

We need to push back. Here are some next steps:

1. We will be hosting a Retaliation Town Hall to share our stories, and strategize. When: Friday, April 26, 11am PT/2pm ET. Add the event to your calendar here. [The message included an internal link to a livestream of the meeting.]

2. If you’ve been retaliated against, please share your story. (If you shared your story with the Walkout form, feel free to re-share and help keep everything in one place.) The more we share with each other, the easier it will be to push back. Add yours.

Sincerely,

Meredith, Claire

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