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Across the globe, Google employees walk out to protest sexual misconduct, inequity

Thousands of Google employees across the globe walked out of work Thursday to protest the way the company handled sexual misconduct claims against high-level executives. Katie Benner, from the New York Times, co-wrote a recent story disclosing how Google paid millions of dollars to departing executives accused of misconduct. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the motivation behind the walkout.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thousands of employees walked out of Google offices in more than 40 locations around the world today, protesting the company's handling of sexual misconduct claims.

    The New York Times reported last week that Google had paid millions of dollars to departing executives accused of sexual harassment, and never made the allegations public.

    Among them, Android creator Andy Rubin, who received $90 million on his way out the door. Rubin denies forcing a female Google employee into a sexual act, despite the fact that an internal investigation found the claim credible.

    Employees in New York City held a rally after leaving their office, and called for a broader cultural shift at the company.

  • Google Employee:

    We demand structural change in the name of transparency, accountability, and equity.

  • Tanuja Gupta:

    This is not really just for myself. It's for everyone here. We also know that we have the eyes of many companies looking at us. And we have always been a vanguard company, so if we don't lead the way, nobody else will.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Katie Benner co-wrote that original New York Times story that disclosed how Google has handled sexual misconduct claims. She's been following the walkouts today, and she joins me now.

    Katie Benner, thank you for joining us once again.

    Was this the turnout that had been expected today?

  • Katie Benner:

    This turnout exceed expectations by far.

    We had reported that we expected about 1,500 people. Other people thought it would be a few thousand. At this point, we have, you know, unverified accounts, but clearly a lot of head count going on, of up to more than 10 percent of the company's overall 94,000 employees has walked out today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of the people you have talked to, what's motivating them?

  • Katie Benner:

    Sure.

    I think they feel motivated by a few things. There's been a long-simmering tension within Google about the way that women are treated. It's not just the idea that sexual harassment has gone unaddressed. Its also the fact that Google has refused to be transparent about whether or not men and women are paid equally.

    It's the idea that top leaders of the company, by having high-profile affairs that were very obvious, they were known secrets, that they treated the women at the company like their personal dating pool. And what kind of message does that send?

    And then, of course, the straw that probably broke the camel's back was the report that Andy Rubin received $90 million, which is an extraordinary sum, after a credible claim of sexual assault. These things altogether send a clear message, which is that men are more valued than women.

    And for a company as important as Google, as high-profile, where the employees are as highly paid, they said that the time — it's now the time to stop.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Treating women as their own personal dating pool, that stood out to me as something you just said.

    I mean, describe what was going — the culture there.

  • Katie Benner:

    Well, interestingly, the woman who accused Andy Rubin of assaulting her, she was an employee.

    There were other employees who he dated at the company. David Drummond, the chief legal officer, he dated a woman at the company. In that case, she ended up leaving. And you can see that their career trajectories were very different. He has become extraordinarily wealthy and is one of the most important men in Silicon Valley, if not the United States.

    And then, of course, Sergey Brin, one of the founders, he also had a high-profile affair. That woman is also no longer at the company, losing out on the extraordinary compensation packages that Google pays its employees, while he remains one of the largest shareholders with a controlling vote in the company, and, of course, no consequences for him either.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what are — the women who walked out today, what do they want, women and men employees at the company?

  • Katie Benner:

    Yes, I think it's important to emphasize that it wasn't just women walking out. It was people of all gender identities, of all ages, of all races and ethnicities walking out in support of a broader movement for more equity at Google.

    They wanted very specific things. They demanded greater accountability, a transparency report around sexual harassment, sexual misconduct at the company. They wanted a representative on the board of the company, an employee representative to — who could speak to the board and say, this is what the employees want and what we're concerned about.

    They also wanted a pay equity report. They wanted transparency around whether women are truly being paid less than men. And they also wanted a global, unified way to report sexual misconduct that would be safe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what is the company saying about this? I saw the company said to employees, in terms of this walkout, go ahead, you're welcome to do it.

    But what are they saying about these other points that they're being asked to change?

  • Katie Benner:

    I think the company's been very quiet.

    Sundar Pichai, the leader of the company, has been very, very smart about how he's handled this. He's been supportive of the rallies. He says he's been supportive of the employees.

    But we won't really understand exactly where he stands until we see whether or not he takes seriously the demands made by the employees. These are not extraordinarily off-the-wall, crazy, extreme demands. In many ways, they are quite reasonable, especially for a company in which, again, Sergey Brin and Larry Page control all the voting shares, and they do make all the final decisions.

    So, these are just questions, queries and demands, saying, we would like a little bit more accountability in this situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How does Google, Katie Benner, compare to other Silicon Valley's — Silicon Valley companies in terms of transparency, treating — giving women opportunity to rise up through the ranks?

  • Katie Benner:

    So, that's one of the debates that has been around Google and a lot of Silicon Valley companies forever.

    I think that the culture of technology is that, merit always wins out. If you work really hard, and you're the smartest, you will rise. I have never seen an industry or reported on an industry that believes that more than the technology industry. Google is the leader of the industry, and they probably have spoken about that more than any other company.

    At the end of the day, though, if you look at the number of women who work at the company, and if you look at the lack of transparency around pay data, if you look at incidents like Andy Rubin, I think there's a strong case to be made that that's not the case.

    And so the employees now, very data-driven, they want to know what the facts are, they want to know the numbers, and they feel they can use that to help create a solution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Katie Benner, reporting on all this for The New York Times, thank you.

  • Katie Benner:

    Thank you.

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