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The brilliance of the Google walkout

Companies are not democracies. But companies born in democracies sometimes display their values, as w
November 1 · Issue #239 · View online
The Interface
Companies are not democracies. But companies born in democracies sometimes display their values, as when social networks give their users cite the First Amendment in drafting their policies around content moderation.
The act of protest is not not limited to democracies, of course. And yet there was something wonderfully democratic about today’s Google walkout, in which thousands of Googlers left their desks to demonstrate against their leadership’s problems with swiftly separating sexual harassers from the company. A large group of loosely connected people, moved to common action, came together to seek redress for their grievances.
And I suspect, in the long run, that they will be successful.
The proximate cause for today’s events was last week’s blockbuster story in the New York Times, which reported that Android co-founder Andy Rubin had been granted a $90 million exit package despite the company finding a sexual assault allegation about him to be credible. It was one of several incidents of sexual impropriety found by the Times among top executives at the company.
In the immediate aftermath, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that it had fired 48 people for sexual harassment in the past two years. But what made today’s protests so powerful was the way they showcased to the world how widespread sexual harassment and the unequal treatment of women had been at the company.
“For every story in the NYT there’s thousands of other stories that aren’t told,” an anonymous Googler told BuzzFeed’s Caroline O'Donovan. “That’s why so many people are getting involved.”
O'Donovan went to one of the walkouts today — they took place in and around Google offices around the world — and captured a heartbreaking story about an employee who said a coworker attempted to “drag her away from the crowd” during a company event.
Nancy said she reported the incident to HR, which made it clear “that I was the problem.”
She cried in her car every day before work for an hour.
“They told me I’m no longer allowed to talk to anybody about this issue at all. They recommended therapy,” said Nancy, in tears. “They said, ‘Don’t worry, keep working with this person’.” Despite an investigation, nothing happened, and Nancy said she continued to work with the person for three months. During that time, she said she cried in her car every day before work for an hour.
These incidents surely are not unique to Google. But the company holds itself to a high standard, and its workers, by virtue of their high level of skill and extreme optionality when it comes to finding other jobs, hold unusual leverage over their employers. Googlers, being very smart, knew this, and staged their walkout partly in hopes that it would inspire other workers to hold their employers similarly accountable.
As one employee told the Times today:
Claire Stapleton, a product marketing manager for YouTube, which is owned by Google, who helped call for the walkout, said the number of employees who had turned out at protests exceeded her expectations.
“We’re optimistic that we’ve opened a conversation about structural change here and elsewhere,” she said.
One reason that’s the case is that the conversation overflowed across both mainstream and social media. There was no precedent for thousands of Googlers taking to the streets to complain about their employer — many of them on the record — and news outlets seized on the opportunity. Photos of the cleverer protests signs ricocheted around Twitter, as did videos of marching and chanting. The Cut published a list of demands from the walkout’s organizers. which featured in every story written about the event.
The Google brass, backed into a corner, offered an official (if muted) endorsement of the event. CEO Sundar Pichai, who had inauspiciously agreed to appear onstage today at a Dealbook conference, told his interviewer: “Moments like this show that we didn’t always get it right, and so we are committed to doing better.”
I felt a rare surge of optimism today. The Google walkout felt like an event out of another time — one when the power of social media seemed to be use primarily to speak truth to power, rather than dissolve the nature of our reality. The protesters played their parts masterfully, offering a useful playbook for many others follow. If we can’t get a functioning democracy from our democracy, at least for now, we may still able to get a taste of it from our employers.

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And finally ...
Very few things are more enjoyable to me than social network algorithms helping people purely by accident. Brian Krebs had a winner today from LinkedIn.
Sometimes Linkedin can be creepily helpful. I was researching this money mule recruitment gang that's been hiring via Linkedin and a day later Linkedin sends me an email suggesting other companies similar to the one I looked up. Looks like I may have found more mule groups.
8:08 AM - 1 Nov 2018
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