Connect with us


Google was bold for coming clean about sexual misconduct



Larry Page
Larry Page, the CEO of
Google’s parent company Alphabet.


  • Google’s internal culture of sex and power has been
    compared to “Game of Thrones.”
  • But the company took a step towards putting that right
    last week, when it revealed that 48 employees have been sacked
    for sexual misconduct.
  • Workplace misconduct experts said the transparency was
    “bold and inspired,” but stressed that Google must do more to
    put right a culture that’s become “warped and
  • They said Google must improve reporting and end exit
    packages for those accused of wrongdoing.

Google is like “Game of Thrones.”

That is what a source told Business Insider’s
Editor-in-Chief Nich Carlson five years ago
, in a nod to
HBO’s heady cocktail of sex and power.

It was shorthand for a permissive culture that led to incestuous
employee liaisons, a pair of married Googlers parenting a secret
love child, and one senior manager scheduling trysts through his

Not much has changed since 2013, it would seem. An explosive New York Times
last week lifted the lid on the sexual misconduct of
Google executives, painting a picture of powerful men preying on

The protagonist in the Times’ investigation was Android creator
Andy Rubin, who was reportedly asked to resign by Google
cofounder Larry Page after being accused of coercing a female
employee into oral sex in 2013. Rubin strongly denied the

The report brutally exposed Google’s cultural failings and
prompted what employment experts called an “unprecedented”
disclosure from the tech company.

CEO Sundar Pichai announced in an
internal email
(which was willingly shared with the media)
that Google has fired 48 people for sexual harassment over the
past two years, including 13 senior managers. That means a Google
staffer was sacked for lewd behavior on average every two weeks.

Pichai added that Google has updated its policies to ensure all
vice president and senior vice president-level staff must
“disclose any relationship with a co-worker regardless of
reporting line or presence of conflict.” It suggests that such a
policy did not previously exist.

Google tackling a culture that’s become “warped and twisted”

Workplace misconduct experts were impressed by Google’s

“It’s a really bold and inspired move for Google to come out
about it,” said Karen Jackson, a lawyer who has worked on
countless sexual misconduct cases on the claimant side, having
previously been head of legal at French cosmetics giant L’Oréal.

“They’re making a statement about the fact that they are
seriously addressing a culture that has become warped and twisted
somewhere along the way.”

Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar


Dr Julia Shaw, a psychological scientist who has created an AI
chatbot for reporting inappropriate workplace conduct, added:
“The approach to take a clear stance is a good one.”

The only other Silicon Valley firm that comes close to this level
of transparency is Uber. The ride-hailing company received 47
complaints of sexual harassment as part of its investigation into
inappropriate workplace incidents last year. Twenty people were
fired, but it’s not clear how many for sexual harassment

Jackson, the managing director of law firm Didlaw, said the
number of cases at Google was unusually high. But Shaw said
Google’s workforce of 80,000 means that if only 1% of cases get
reported, the number could still dwarf other companies.

Both agreed, however, that it points to cultural issues that
Google needs to fix.

“When you work somewhere, you have a sense of what is and isn’t
the right way to behave. It’s usually pretty clear from the
beginning what kinds of things are tolerated,” said Jackson. “If
you get a poor culture where sexual harassment is tolerated and
laughed about, it snowballs and it gives permission to people to
behave badly.”

Shaw added: “Sometimes it can be seen as a band-aid solution to
fire a bad egg. It starts with the culture [when putting things
right]. A culture of discussion, a culture of being able to share
when you see something inappropriate, or when you experience
something inappropriate.”

Andy Rubin at wired business conference

Getty Images for

Jackson said stamping out rewards for staff accused of wrongdoing
would be a good start. Pichai did say that none of the 48 people
fired for sexual harassment over the past two years received an
exit package, but this did not quell anger around Rubin’s
reported $90 million golden goodbye in 2014.

“When Google covers up harassment and passes the trash, it
contributes to an environment where people don’t feel safe
reporting misconduct,” Google engineer Liz Fong-Jones told the
Times. “They suspect that nothing will happen or, worse, that the
men will be paid and the women will be pushed aside.”

Jackson agreed: “These are people they should be disciplining and
kicking out on the rocks.”

Shaw said she believes that everything comes back to improving
reporting. Her chatbot Spot, which is backed by Evernote
cofounder Phil Libin’s incubator All Turtles, allows employees to
have totally confidential conversations with artificial
intelligence about their experience of sexual misconduct. Spot is
free to use for employees, but a subscription-based enterprise
version is now being rolled out to companies to improve their

Julia Shaw


“We’re hoping people start the discussion about inappropriate
behavior sooner, so that they can tackle situations before they
get out of control,” Shaw said.

“Most employees don’t want to lose their jobs, don’t want others
to be fired, and do want to work in a place that values and
respects them. If you can rectify a situation with discussion,
training, and education, then that is always going to be the
better response, barring particularly severe incidents.”

Google, for its part, says confidential reporting systems are
already in place. “We provide confidential channels to share any
inappropriate behavior you experience or see,” Pichai said last
week. Inspiring confidence in these internal mechanisms will go
some way to slaying its “Game of Thrones” reputation.

Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job