After the Google walkout, is #Me Too about to get more militant?


It started in Tokyo. On Thursday, Google employees around the world stopped work at 11am local time, as part of a planned protest against the tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.

The protests happened in waves, with workers walking out of their offices, carrying signs and chanting, as the clock struck 11 in Singapore, Hyderabad, Berlin, Dublin, and finally in New York and at Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California.

The walkouts were the culmination of months of employee discontent over immoral choices by Google leadership, including a project called Dragonfly, a prototype of a censored search engine that could be deployed in China, where the state restricts its people’s access to information, and Project Maven, an artificial intelligence service developed for the US Department of Defense.

But the walkouts themselves were spurred on by a recent New York Times report that found that the company had tolerated alleged sexual harassment among its executives.

Andy Rubin, one of the creators of Google’s Android mobile service, was given a $90m exit package and a fond farewell from Google leadership after an internal investigation found disturbing allegations of sexual harassment against him to be credible.

The company also gave a multimillion-dollar exit package to another executive, and retained a third after allegations against him came to light.

In all three cases, the company covered up the allegations, aided by the mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts that mandate that internal complaints against the company must be kept secret.

The revelation of the payouts to abusive executives is not the first time that Google has come under fire for its allegedly sexist internal culture.

In 2017, the Google engineer James Damore ignited controversy by publishing a manifesto in which he claimed that women are less intelligent than men.

Google has also faced lawsuits over its gender pay gap brought by former employees and the US Department of Labor. And in one embarrassing recent incident, Google founder Sergey Brin was asked at a staff meeting if he had any female role models.

Brin responded that he had recently met a woman at a Google event who impressed him, but could not remember her name.

The woman was Gloria Steinem.

There are dangers in overstating the significance of the Google walkout.

The employees, after all, are among the more comfortable and powerful voices of the #MeToo movement; they are white-collar workers in major cities protesting against the actions of a powerful company that is subject to media scrutiny and thus more likely than others to be shamed into doing the right thing.

In any social movement, there are pitfalls to overemphasising the voices of the powerful; it can begin to seem that theirs are the only voices there are.

But the Google walkout also demonstrates #MeToo’s versatility, and its potential to mobilise women around other, intersecting issues. Continue reading

Image: The Guardian

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