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Google parent Alphabet on Wednesday confirmed that an executive accused of sexual harassment left the company without an exit package as tension over its handling of such matters heightened.
Word that Rich DeVaul, a director at X lab devoted to “moonshots” such as internet service from balloons, was out came with reports that women employees were organising a walk-out on Thursday to protest lenient handling of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Alphabet declined to give details about DeVaul´s departure from the company on Tuesday.
A Google Walkout For Real Change account that sprang to life on Twitter late Wednesday said that employees and contractors would leave their workplaces late Thursday morning in respective time zones.
Demands posted in the tweet included improved processes for reporting sexual misconduct and resolving cases of harassment, as well as a commitment by Google to pay and opportunity equity.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai sent a message to employees late Tuesday, a copy of which was posted online by technology news website Ars Technica.
Pichai said he has heard from many employees on the subject of inappropriate behaviour at work and was “deeply sorry for the past actions and the pain they have caused employees.”
“As CEO, it´s been personally important to me that we take a much harder line on inappropriate behaviour,” Pichai said in the message.
He said again that Google had fired 48 employees in the past two years — including 13 senior executives — as a result of sexual harassment allegations.
Pichai has met with Google employees about the issue since The New York Times reported last week that a senior Google employee, Android creator Andy Rubin, received an exit package worth $90 million as he faced allegations of misconduct, and that Google had covered up other claims of sexual harassment.
Sam Singer, a spokesman for Rubin, rejected the allegations against him in a statement to AFP, saying Rubin left Google of his own accord to launch venture capital firm and technology incubator Playground.
Asked by AFP and other media for its reaction, Google released an email sent to employees from Pichai stating that none of the people who resigned or were terminated due to sexual harassment concerns in the past two years received “an exit package.”
“We are dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace,” Pichai said in the email shared last week. “We want to assure you that we review every single complaint about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, we investigate and we take action.”
Concerns being expressed by women at Alphabet have added to the growing chorus of voices denouncing the existence of a sexist culture in male-dominated Silicon Valley, which has knocked a number of internet industry executives at other tech giants from their perches.
Accusations concerning the lack of women in tech jobs and unfair or crude treatment endured by some in the industry have simmered for years, occasionally boiling over.
Staff at Google offices around the world are set to stage an unprecedented series of walkouts in protest at the company’s treatment of women.
The employees will demand several key changes in how sexual misconduct allegations are dealt with at the firm, including a call to end forced arbitration – a move which would make it possible for victims to sue.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has told staff he would support their right to take the action.
“I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel,” he said in an all-staff email.
“I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society… and, yes, here at Google, too.”
Staff involved in Thursday’s walkout will leave a note on their desks telling colleagues: “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone.”
They are also making formal demands to Google’s management. They are:
- An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees;
- A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality;
- A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report;
- A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously;
- The elevation of the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO, and make recommendations directly to the board of directors;
- The appointment of an employee representative to the board.
“Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward,” said Mr Pichai in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”