- Google’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat is one of the most senior women at the company.
- She told a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal that she joined employees walking out two weeks ago in protest at how the firm deals with sexual harassment.
- The protest ended in Google ditching its requirement for forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment.
- Porat claimed Google had created a culture that lets employees voice issues and effect change.
One of Google’s most senior female executives has revealed that she joined a mass protest at the firm’s handling of sexual harassment.
Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Tech D.Live conference on Monday, chief financial officer Ruth Porat said she walked out with her finance team from Google’s Mountain View headquarters in California.
Porat said: “Many of us were out with Googlers and speaking with Googlers… I was out with my finance team.”
Reflecting on management’s response, she added: “What we did was [take] in a lot of information, step back, and think about the breadth of policies we could put in place that would up our game on something we feel is really important, which is ensuring diversity and equity in the workplace.”
The global Google walkout protest involved employees around the world leaving their desks at 11.10 a.m. on 1 November in response to an explosive New York Times article revealing that senior male Google executives had been paid off after accusations of sexual misconduct. According to the same article, Alphabet CEO Larry Page named Ruth Porat as his female role model, while his cofounder Sergei Brin struggled to name a woman who had impressed him.
The demo involved around 20,000 employees, with protesters listing five demands. These included ending forced arbitration, where victims can’t take their cases to court but must resolve them privately, and commitments to pay equality.
Porat sought to portray a company that gave its employees “voice” and listened to their demands. Googlers, like most white-collar workers in Silicon Valley, do not have union representation thanks to their decent pay and conditions.
“You know the company from inception was built with the concept that we should give employees voice, and if you give employees voice and there’s transparency, things will percolate up and will make you stronger,” she said.
She suggested that the 2008 financial crash might have been prevented if Wall Street employees were empowered in a similar way. Porat has a Wall Street pedigree and was chief financial officer at Morgan Stanley before joining Google in 2015.
“[I] firmly believe that if employees in Wall Street back in 2006 felt they had voice and could percolate up issues they saw, it may have helped prevent some of the things that unfolded,” she said.
The employee walkout triggered not only changes at Google, which dropped its forced arbitration requirement, but also resulted in Facebook and Airbnb taking similar action.
Porat acknowledged that treating victims of sexual harassment better and tackling wider diversity problems should be simple for a company that has the collective brainpower of Google.
“One part of it is, if you can get cars to self-drive… why can’t we solve this? We should do better,” she said.