Google wants to clear the air about its culture of harassment—but that means letting specifics emerge.
The company is facing renewed scrutiny over how it addresses claims of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, an issue that led to a walkout in November. The company has promised reform and more transparency.
Pichai tried to position Google’s history as part of a national reckoning—and to deflect blame for the company’s actions before he became CEO.
“We are grappling with it, as are many places,” he said of the #metoo era and more and more women from all walks of life and industry coming forward with claims of sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and sexual assault.
Perhaps, but the digital kingpin offered scant specifics beyond promises of more transparency and change as he tried to assure critics that “the past couple of years shows” – AKA since he took over in 2015.
However, his tone was somewhat defiant.
In a press conference after the #GoogleWalkout, CEO Sundar Pichai reasserted his authority.
“We don’t run the company by referendum,” Pichai said at a conference in New York on Thursday. “There are many good things about giving employees a lot of voice, out of that we have done well.”
The internal dynamics may appear chaotic to outsiders, but they’re not as intense as some have characterized them to be, he added.
Now, new details are emerging about payouts to Google executives accused of misconduct. Does Google’s first response still get a passing grade?
Google’s handling of sexual misconduct by executives is coming under more scrutiny thanks to new details emerging from a shareholder lawsuit. Investors have claimed Google chief Larry Page granted Android creator Andy Rubin a $150 million stock grant without seeking approval of the board first, even though Rubin was under an investigation at the time. Page instead got “rubber stamp” approval eight days after the fact, according to the suit. It’s not certain if he was aware of the investigation.
The same suit also revealed that Google paid $45 million to Amit Singhal when he resigned from the tech giant after he was accused of groping a worker.
The plaintiff’s lead attorney, Louise Renne, saw the lawsuit as “confirmation” that Google was not only aware of apparent sexual misconduct, but gave departing executives “heavy reimbursement and gifts” instead of simply showing them the door. The lawsuit contends that Google’s board failed its responsibilities by allowing misconduct, greenlighting the large payouts and keeping those details a secret.
A statement from Google tried to paint a picture of a company learning and adapting.
“There are serious consequences for anyone who behaves inappropriately at Google,” a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement, “In recent years, we’ve made many changes to our workplace and taken an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority.”
Some see the new details as proof that Google is working to improve and allowing more transparency.
Alphabet initially required shareholders’ lawyers to conceal information in the complaint about the $150 million stock award to Rubin, on grounds it was confidential, according to [Louise Renne, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs]. Alphabet then rescinded its demand. Google declined to comment on that decision.
“My hope is this is a step toward transparency,” Renne said, referring to Alphabet’s decision to not fight the information being unsealed. “The reason we brought this shareholder lawsuit was to have some transparency governing corporate affairs, as well as the behavior being completely inappropriate conduct toward women,” she said.
One allegation unsealed Monday is that Amit Singhal, a top Google executive who left the company in 2016, was allowed to resign after accusations that he sexually harassed a female employee were found credible and he was given an exit package worth between $35 million and $45 million. Singhal would go on to work for Uber Technologies Inc., but resigned from the ride-hailing company after Recode reported that he hadn’t told Uber about the reasons he left Google. Singhal, who has denied the harassment claims, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter users expressed shock and cynicism:
Committing sexual harassment while working at a tech giant: Beats working for a living, amiritehttps://t.co/nuaGhX74fP
— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) March 12, 2019
Holy shit https://t.co/32pFYlb7Mg
— Richard Garcia (@richddr) March 12, 2019
So far there are only the claims from one side in this litigation, but this is a terrible look for both Larry Page and the company's board. https://t.co/YBcqkVilmP
— Shira Ovide (@ShiraOvide) March 11, 2019
To say this isn't a good look is to put it very mildly. Maybe, just maybe, big international tech giants feel as though they're above public scrutiny.https://t.co/hlzIjIRyEy
— Ashley Walsh (@Ashley_Walsh) March 12, 2019
A $45 million payout is NOT a "hard line". Google sends the message that sexual harassment pays. https://t.co/QQEGDF9YoF
— Pat Gardner (@originalissue) March 11, 2019
How would you advise Google to respond, PR Daily readers?