After more than 20,000 Google employees worldwide staged a walkout to protest how the company handles sexual misconduct, the search giant’s response left several demands unanswered.
The Nov. 1 protest followed a New York Times story that revealed Google had paid senior executive Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package — even after finding out that he had been credibly accused of sexual harassment.
In response to the walkout and media coverage, Google said it would cease requiring private arbitration — instead, making it optional — for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. That’s important because arbitration usually requires that the aggrieved employee sign a confidentiality clause and stay silent about the incident. Google CEO Sundar Pichai also sent an email to employees saying the company would change its reporting process for assault and harassment, provide greater candor about employee-reported incidents, and penalize employees on their performance reviews if they failed to complete sexual harassment training, according to the New York Times story.
Google, however, declined to respond to other employee demands for greater transparency. For example, Google did not address the protesters’ demands to make public the company’s internal harassment report, and to put an employee on the board of directors.
The protesters also objected to the policy whereby contractors don’t receive the same protection from sexual harassment as do full-time Google employees. Additionally, they called for internal complaints to be handled in a more transparent manner, because employees are often kept in the dark about misconduct investigations. The investigations go through an employee relations department that’s heavily staffed with employment lawyers, media reports say. Google media representatives didn’t respond to inquiries seeking more details.
Toward systemic change
Despite the mixed outcomes from the Google walkout, leading women in STEM fields say now’s the time to bore in on making systemic changes. Theresa Payton, co-founder and CEO of cybercrime-fighting firm Fortalice Solutions and the first woman to serve as a White House chief information officer, says the Google walkout is a “step in the right direction” both for women working in tech and for Google’s corporate culture.
“Silicon Valley has not always had the best reputation when it comes to the treatment of women. It’s time for us to turn that around, and that starts at the individual level,” said Payton, who served as President George W. Bush’s CIO while she commuted part time to her home in North Carolina, where her husband, three children, and two Great Pyrenees rescue dogs live.
“Whether it’s the boardroom, the mailroom, or the server room, we have to come together to end discrimination in the workplace,” said Payton, who leveraged her cyber-sleuth skills on the CBS-TV reality show “Hunted.”
But how is that possible, given that a “Women in the Workplace 2018” study showed only about half of 64,000 employees surveyed said they think their organizations see gender diversity as a priority and are doing what it takes to make progress? About 20 percent said their company’s commitment to gender diversity feels like lip service, according to the yearly study published by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company management consultancy. LeanIn.org is a nonprofit organization founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in 2013, dedicated to “offering women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals.” (https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/women-in-the-workplace-2018)
The study found the employees’ opinions and perceptions differed dramatically from those of the management at the 279 companies surveyed, which collectively employ more than 13 million people. The companies, surveyed on their human-resources practices, said they’re highly committed to gender and racial diversity. Yet, while 76 percent of companies have articulated a business case for gender diversity, only 13 percent have taken the next step of calculating the actual impact of greater diversity, the study revealed.
The study, based on four years of data and insights, recommends companies take six actions:
- Get the basics right — targets, reporting, and accounting.
- Ensure that hiring and promotions are fair.
- Make senior leaders and managers champions of diversity.
- Foster an inclusive and respectful culture.
- Make the “only” experience rare.
- Offer employees the flexibility to fit work into their lives.
Fortalice Solutions’ Payton has her own recommendations for companies aiming to make their HR practices consistent with stated policies:
- Hire a diversity expert from outside the company and ask the consultant to set up focus groups.
- Allow employees a safe place to identify issues with the impartial, neutral consultant — someone who has a vested interest in resolving the issues.
- Let employees report harassment in an atmosphere where they will not be victim shamed.
- Set up a hotline so employees can call in complaints of discrimination and harassment.
- Conduct surveys that allow employees to remain anonymous, and hire an outside third party to review them and make recommendations.
“Silicon Valley has not always had the best reputation when it comes to the treatment of women. It’s time for us to turn that around, and that starts at the individual level.”
– Theresa Payton, co-founder and CEO, Fortalice Solutions, and first woman to serve as a White House chief information officer
Bring your voice to the table
Lorraine M. Martin, former executive vice president at Lockheed Martin who ran one of the biggest fighter aircraft organizations in history, says now is the time for women to seize these opportunities. A first step may be to enlist an ally and/or mentor to help navigate the male-dominated workplace environment.
“I had the opportunity to be an LGBTQ ally in a large organization,” Martin said. “I was able to see firsthand the power of enabling each person to bring his or her full self to work. The joy and empowerment are palpable.”
She suggested these other approaches, especially in a job interview:
- Ask about employee affinity groups and how senior leaders are involved in them. Assessing the inclusiveness of a company’s culture is critical, Martin said.
- Ask what support structure is in place to help women fulfill their potential.
- Is the representation of women leaders similar to the representation of women in the workforce? In other words, are women succeeding in the organization?
Martin also advises women to make sure they have a voice in the problems — both business and technical — the company is focused on solving.
“Of course, you have to have the goods and know your craft,” she said. “You are the only one who can choose to bring your voice to the table.”
At the same time, if you see others having a tough time, encourage them to have a voice. If you’re in an organization with strong affinity groups, join one for which you have a passion.
“You can be a catalyst for change,” Martin said. “Be in the game. It’s worth at least living up to your own expectations. What am I doing to create the environment I want it to be? If you’re still feeling you’re not going to fit or advance, consider making a change. Your gut will tell you,” she said.
The critical role of policy
Besides individual efforts, other initiatives will require vigilance to ensure institutions live up to their responsibilities. One is Congress’ recent efforts to pass a new law governing sexual harassment, which saw different bills from the Senate and House seeking to update the Congressional Accountability Act in the wake of the #MeToo movement and multiple congressional sexual harassment scandals.
On Dec. 13, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives reached a compromise and voted to approve a bill that would make lawmakers financially liable for sexual harassment settlements and remove barriers to reporting workplace misconduct on Capitol Hill, according to The Washington Post. The legislation would require a yearly report of harassment-related settlements and eliminate requiring accusers to sign confidentiality agreements.
At this writing, the bill now goes to President Trump’s desk. Trump is expected to sign the legislation, Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., the outgoing chairman of the House Administration Committee, said at a press conference after the House vote.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives intend to do more. “When House Democrats take the gavel in January, we will move to build on the progress made by this legislation,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Prior to this development, laws enacted in 1995 required congressional employees to go through months of mediation and counseling before they could file lawsuits. During the process, harassment claimants had no protections against retaliation or for alternate work, according to news reports. Congressional staffers also have historically received no counsel from the taxpayer-funded Office of Employment Counsel, while lawmakers do enjoy that privilege. And, under this process, disputes become public only if the investigation goes to court and if the court rules in the complainer’s favor.
Separately, the United Nations’ Women HeForShe initiative is trying a new tack: recruiting men to join in the fight for gender equality, and with it, the right to be free from harassment. Actress Emma Watson, the U.N. Women goodwill ambassador, kicked off the campaign nearly three years ago — on Sept. 20, 2014 — along with U.N. Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Ph.D., the executive director at U.N. Women.
“It’s not to say women need men. Women need male engagement,” said Elizabeth Nyamayaro, global head of HeForShe, who took time out for a phone interview about the project. “It’s about fixing the structures — not fixing women,” said Nyamayaro, who has a heart-rending story all her own about nearly dying from malnutrition while growing up in Zimbabwe and being saved with the United Nations’ help.
Besides asking men to commit to the idea of gender equality, HeForShe aims to recruit 30 male leaders — CEOs, university presidents, and heads of state — to work to create fairer conditions and more opportunities for all genders — and as soon as possible. It’s called the IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative. Think 10 university presidents, 10 CEOs, and 10 heads of state. Each has committed to a set of goals aimed at improving gender equity within their organizations or governments.
The initiative has eight corporate members, called “corporate champions.” They are Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of AccorHotels; Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays; Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts; Ömer M. Koç, chairman of Koç Holding; Kevin Sneader, global managing partner of McKinsey & Company; Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO of Schneider Electric; Paul Polman, recently-retired former CEO of Unilever; and Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone.
The HeForShe Emerging Solutions for Gender Equality Report 2018 cites each company’s progress and intentions for progress to the year 2020. See the report.
A Major Shift
The University of Waterloo in the province of Ontario is one of 30 institutions worldwide, and the only one from Canada, the United Nations chose to join HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10. The university has exceeded its STEM outreach commitment for girls — aimed at increasing girls’ and women’s participation to 33 percent by 2020 — by reaching 35 percent participation in 2017.
“You can be a catalyst for change. Be in the game. It’s worth at least living up to your own expectations. What am I doing to create the environment I want it to be? If you’re still feeling you’re not going to fit or advance, consider making a change. Your gut will tell you.”
– Lorraine M. Martin, former executive vice president, Lockheed Martin
The university is close to reaching two other university-wide goals for women in leadership and on faculty: Female faculty representation now stands at 30.1 percent, already reaching the 30 percent goal set for 2020; and 27.5 percent of leaders in senior academic and administrative university positions are now women, compared with the goal of 29 percent in 2020. “We’re seeing men actively identify as feminists and get involved in creating solutions to the problems,” said Diana Parry, Ph.D., the University of Waterloo’s associate vice president for human rights, equity, and inclusion.
“The key to Waterloo’s approach is long-term, comprehensive, sustainable gender equity, which will enable us to identify issues that create systematic gender inequities and work to address those issues so that our commitment to gender equity continues to advance even after the IMPACT campaign has finished,” she said.
“It just makes sense, when solving equity issues, that we would want diversity around the table,” Dr. Parry said. The university’s success at reaching its equity goals resulted from systemic changes in the way hiring committees reviewed job candidates, Dr. Parry said. For example, hiring committee members, newly schooled in unconscious bias, would agree on a standard set of criteria, such as how often the job candidate had had research published, rather than evaluating him or her by “gut reaction” or by idiosyncratic reactions.
“It’s about being sensitive to the way we were recruiting and selecting people as part of our interviewing process,” Dr. Parry said.
The university also is improving gender equity one event, one goal, and one initiative at a time. One of the events is a “masculinity workshop,” which Dr. Parry sees as “cutting edge in terms of gender equity problems. And I love it because it approaches men as allies as opposed to perpetrators,” she said. “It’s an important shift.”
The workshops, known as “the Men’s Circle,” are aimed at reviewing the social constructs of masculinity and raising awareness of how one’s behavior affects others. The workshops also explore the nature of sexual violence and men’s roles in perpetuating a culture in which sexual violence exists. And men are asked how they can help make the University of Waterloo campus safe for everyone.
Dr. Parry started the workshops in partnership with Stephen Soucie, formerly a coordinator with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of the Waterloo Region, and now a university Ph.D. student majoring in applied health sciences. “Stephen was brilliant in his approach,” Dr. Parry said. “He doesn’t blame and shame. The workshops focus on helping men understand, ‘What is masculinity?’ ‘In what way does it serve to benefit men, and harm them?’
“He facilitates a powerful conversation,” Dr. Parry said of Soucie.
The university now offers seven Men’s Circle workshops each school year, and participation has nearly quadrupled, to the 25-student capacity of each workshop, from when the program started three to four years ago, Dr. Parry said. The workshops ask men, who range from their late teens to their early 20s, to reflect upon and discuss how they learned about masculinity; how they saw it represented in their families, schools, and culture; how they fit into those conceptualizations; how and whether sports played a role; and what they felt they needed to do to live up to the ideals of masculinity.
Such honesty and probing are aimed at helping people be their authentic selves. “When you’re authentically yourself and others are free to be themselves, too, the result is diversity of thought, experience, and communication styles around the table — all of which bring richer results,” said former Lockheed executive Lorraine M. Martin. “When people are their full selves, they are fully in the room, fully in the fight, and fully part of the team,” Martin said. “With this comes greater fulfillment and success for everyone involved.”