Google has responded to a global walkout protest against its handling of sexual misconduct cases with a pledge to address concerns, including doing away with mandatory arbitration, but protesters claim its pledges don't go far enough.

A week ago Google staff staged a walkout protest following reports that Android Incorporated founder and former Google employee had been allowed to resign with a $90 million golden parachute despite allegations of sexual misconduct - reports Rubin has dismissed as 'part of a smear campaign by my ex-wife to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle.' Rubin's profitable departure proved the straw that broke the camel's back, with staff pointing to a number of other executives who had been allowed to resign rather than be fired following sexual misconduct allegations and company procedures which include mandatory arbitration - preventing those wronged from suing the company or its employee, or seeking any other form of external redress, in the case of valid complaints of sexual misconduct which they feel were not properly addressed by Google.

In response, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has published an open letter to all employees. 'We recognise that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It's clear we need to make some changes,' the letter reads. 'Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.'

Among the pledges made in Pichai's letter is a promise to make arbitration optional for complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault, better reportage of such complaints, overhauled reporting channels and processes including counselling and career support following a complaint, expanded mandatory sexual harassment training, and recommitments to the company's objectives and key results (OKR) around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Protesters, though, claim that the pledges don't go far enough. 'We commend this progress, and the rapid action which brought it about,' protest organisation group Google Walkout for Real Change claims in a press release issued via Medium. ' However, the response ignored several of the core demands - like elevating the diversity officer and employee representation on the board - and troublingly erased those focused on racism, discrimination, and the structural inequity built into the modern day Jim Crow class system that separates "full time" employees from contract workers. Contract workers make up more than half of Google's workforce, and perform essential roles across the company, but receive few of the benefits associated with tech company employment. They are also largely people of colour, immigrants, and people from working class backgrounds.'

Accordingly, the group has called upon Google to address 'issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone.' Thus far, though, it has stopped short of calling for further protests, instead stating that its representatives are looking forward 'to meeting with Google leadership in working to meet all of our demands.'

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October 14 2021 | 15:04