A Googler vividly described the 'disastrous' leadership meeting that sparked a giant protest over sexual misconduct

Troy Wolverton/Business Insider20,000 Google employees walked out in protest.
  • The Google Walkout organisers told Recode’s Kara Swisher about the “disastrous” internal meeting which sparked the mass protest over sexual harassment.
  • The so-called TGIF meetings are hosted by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, where any employee can ask any question.
  • YouTube exec Claire Stapleton said management’s “dismissive” approach to questions about a New York Times exposé on sexual misconduct at Google was a turning point.
  • “It was a very awkward, hollow, somewhat disastrous TGIF,” she said.

An organiser behind the mass Google staff walkout over sexual misconduct has vividly described the disastrous all-hands meeting which prompted the protest.

Googlers Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker, Erica Anderson, Celie O’Neil-Hart, Stephanie Parker, and Amr Gaber told Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast about the events leading up to the Google Walkout, in which 20,000 employees left their desk in protest at sexual harassment.

The protest related to a New York Times exposé, which revealed that Android inventor Andy Rubin was among a number of senior executives to be accused of sexual misconduct. Rubin, who reportedly left Google with a $US90 million exit package, denies any wrongdoing.


Read more:
As employees walked out, Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologised again for how it handled sexual misconduct allegations: “We didn’t always get it right”

But according to the Google Walkout organiser Stapleton, it wasn’t necessarily the story itself that sparked the protest, so much as management’s response to it.

Google held its so-called TGIF meeting – in which founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin field questions from staff – the day after the New York Times report was published.

According to YouTube marketing executive Stapleton, the atmosphere at recent TGIF meetings had become increasingly tense, and the New York Times report was “a major reckoning moment for the culture building upon all this anxiety.”

Sergey Brin and Larry Page GoogleGetty/Michael Kovac/Kimberly WhiteGoogle founders Sergey Brin (left) and Larry Page.

“The real turning point for me was the way that the execs handled it that day at the TGIF that followed,” she said.

“Googlers, as always, showed up. I mean, they had really smart thoughts. They brought their outrage, but it was also constructive ideas and questions.

“I think that it was a very awkward, hollow, somewhat disastrous TGIF which, you know, has been much-reported, but we needed to see accountability and commitment, and neither happened.”

“There was a kind of dismissiveness to it”

Stapleton added that to begin with, the presentation didn’t even address the New York Times story, but rather carried on as previously planned by discussing Google Photos.

She said: “The optics were really tough because like I said, the community was gripped by this. And I think it was the sort of moment where we needed to hear that the system needs to change.

“We needed to see a genuine commitment to that, and I think it was … There was a kind of dismissiveness to it. There was a sort of, ‘we care. We’re going to follow up on this.’ It did not at all match the urgency and intensity of what happened.”

The next day, Stapleton set up a Google group for women at the company, which snowballed and by Monday it had 1,000 members, men and women. “We said, ‘F it. Let’s do it Thursday,'” she said.

In the end, 20,000 Googlers left their desks in protest, with five demands to change Google’s management of sexual misconduct and discrimination claims. While Google acquiesced to some of the demands, the organisers said they feel there is still work to do – and that senior management needs to re-engage.

When asked who she’d like to see take the reins, Stapleton said: “Larry and Sergey, where are they?”

Business Insider has contacted Google for comment.

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