Tag Archives: Explained
On Thursday, thousands of Google employees walked out on their jobs to protest how the tech giant handles sexual harassment complaints. The organizers, Claire Stapleton, Tanuja Gupta, Meredith Whittaker, Celie O’Neil-Hart, Stephanie Parker, Erica Anderson, and Amr Gaber, made their demands known at The Cut.
Unlike the coal miners in the 1800s, every Google employee could find a new job and walk away. And there are literally millions of people who apply to work there every year and would happily take these jobs without Google conceding a single point. This puts Google in a much stronger position than these employees think. But, let’s go through the demands and talk about what would really happen in this situation.
1. An end to Forced Arbitration.
Forced arbitration is unpopular–and for good reason. Arbitration is decidedly pro-employer. Employees who do recover in arbitration receive substantially less money than those who win in court, at least according to one study. However, going to court is risky and can be terribly expensive for both sides. While you might win the jackpot if you win a court case, you also may face a company who is far more willing to fight in order to prevent that jackpot and to prevent others from deciding to sue as well.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of forced arbitration in Epic Systems Corp. v Lewis, so abandoning forced arbitration is unlikely to happen any time soon. The company has too much to lose and little to gain.
The demands that people be allowed a witness is common in unionized organizations, where employees are allowed a union rep. This may be something the employees can win on. However, the chances of Google being able to swiftly deal with a sexual harassment case decreases if an employee is allowed to bring her attorney to any meetings. A co-worker or employee representative is much more likely to be allowed.
2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
Importantly, this is not about fairness in opportunity, even though they use the phrase “opportunity inequity” this is about fairness in the outcome. They want, specifically, “women of color at all levels of the organization.” Sounds lovely, but there simply aren’t as many women of color who want to do and are qualified for tech jobs as there are other people. When you demand women of color at every level, you’re seriously lowering the possibilities. This demand, if met, would require promotions and hiring based on skin color and gender rather than merit. Not something a smart company wants to do. It’s also illegal under federal law.
They also demand data on pay. As a supporter of transparency in pay, I can get behind this. But, I also give a caution–the employees may not like it when they see it. Once that data goes public within the company, it’s likely someone will leak it to the internet. Google employees will lose public support when it’s clear that the people whining about unfair pay are earning more than most people.
Internally, even with the data “masked” if you break it down far enough, employees will be able to figure out which line of data matches which co-worker. While I’m not opposed to that–it certainly keeps managers honest at raise time–Google employees should make sure that is what they want.
All the additional information, such as information on leaves of absences puts you into dicey privacy issues. While the organizers are probably thinking along the lines of seeing how having a baby impacts one’s career, people take leaves of absence for many other medical and personal reasons. Google would be wise to keep limits that could possibly expose confidential medical issues.
3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
This sounds great! After all, this walkout was prompted by the $ 90 million severance package paid out to Andy Rubin, after he was accused of sexual harassment. Google admitted Rubin wasn’t the only person to leave–48 other people have been fired for sexual misconduct over the past two years.
However, if you start to include names on this report, you’ll find people far less willing to simply take severance packages and walk away. Rubin claims he’s innocent. Naturally, given his status, his departure was never going to remain confidential. A junior-level person, though, may not be willing to walk away quietly without a fight. And that means accusers’ names will come out as well. They would be wise to think through unintended consequences.
If your goal is to punish and shame, transparent harassment reports are the way to go. If your goal is to get the harassers out of the company, confidentiality may be better.
4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct.
This demand is something every company, big or small, should implement. It should be simple for any employee, intern, or contractor, to file a complaint. There’s no reason a technologically advanced company like Google shouldn’t have this up and running.
That said, a reporting tool is only as good as the people using it. And it’s critical that all reports are thoroughly investigated.
5. Promote the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and appoint an Employee Representative to the Board.
These are demands that sound good on paper, but aren’t really something that plays out. A Chief Diversity Officer doesn’t have an equivalent role to the Chief Marketing Officer or the Chief Financial Officer. Elevating the position doesn’t change that. It’s important to remember the goal of the business is to be profitable–not to be diverse. And, for what it’s worth, universities have found that pouring money into diversity officers don’t actually increase faculty diversity. What does work is encouraging minorities to enroll in Ph.D. programs.
Likewise, Google doesn’t create the tech ready workforce. The universities do. And the universities don’t create students ready to learn, the public schools do. If Google were interested in increasing minority representation they would put money into public schools.
In a company the size of Google, an employee representative won’t be the solution that they expect. A single person to represent the employees is something that signals virtue but doesn’t likely help anything.
Even if Google concedes to all these demands (which they won’t) the changes will be superficial.
Major Spoilers Ahead For Solo: A Star Wars Story
The Star Wars prequel trilogy famously introduced a visually striking villain that was could’ve been just as memorable as Darth Vader, if he hadn’t met an untimely end at the hand of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Rather than yet another sickly-pale man in black robes, the satanic Darth Maul oozed style and personality; killing him so quickly felt like a waste of good character design.
Thus, his appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story was a most welcome surprise, and undoubtedly the best bit of fan service the film gave us, and they gave us rather a lot.
But if the last time you saw the guy was in The Phantom Menace, then you might be wondering how the heck he got there, considering that Solo is set long after the prequel trilogy.
Why is he still alive?
Darth Maul had a deceptively small part to play in The Phantom Menace, killing Obi-Wan’s mentor before Obi sliced him in two and tossed him down a gaping reactor shaft. But this is sci-fi, and if you don’t see a dead character’s body being obliterated into atom-dust, chances are, they’re still alive.
Thus, the canonical (and surprisingly decent) series The Clone Wars (set between Episodes II and III) plucked the wasted character out of the ether and breathed new life into him. Darth Maul did indeed fall down that reactor shaft in two pieces, but he utilized the power of the Force to guide his top half into a trash container, and ended up dumped on the hellish wasteland of Lotho Minor.
There, Maul managed to acquire creepy, spiderish robotic legs, and lived a Gollum-esque existence, muttering to himself and crawling around the dark tunnels of garbage. He was stranded on that garbage-dump planet for years, and, understandably, fell into insanity.
Eventually, he was rescued by his yellow-tinted brother, the subtly-named “Savage Opress,” who brought Maul to their mother, who happened to be a shaman. A few seconds of magic cured Maul’s insanity, and she even gave her son a new, socially acceptable pair of robotic legs.
After his rebirth, Maul and his brother went on a series of adventures, primarily fueled by the desire for revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The most powerful threat to greatness isn’t evil. It’s mediocrity.
Of all the colorful ways to articulate that truth, one of the best is what Elon Musk told Chris Anderson of Wired magazine, back in 2012.
They were talking about Musk’s space exploration company, SpaceX, which grew out of Musk’s “crazy idea to spur the national will” to travel to Mars–by first sending a private rocket to the red planet.
He tried to to slash the cost of his quixotic dream by buying Cold War Russian missiles to turn into interplanetary rockets. While negotiating that deal, he realized that it wasn’t lack of “national will” that held the U.S. back from exploring space.
Instead, it was a lack of affordable technology–and the high cost, he told Anderson, was the result of some “pretty silly things” in the aerospace industry, like using legacy rocket technology from the 1960s.
Anderson: I’ve heard that the attitude is essentially that you can’t fly a component that hasn’t already flown.
Musk: Right, which is obviously a catch-22, right? There should be a Groucho Marx joke about that. So, yeah, there’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering.
That’s the quote that I liked so much, especially those last six words: a “bias against risk,” because everyone is “trying to optimize their ass-covering.”
It’s funny–but also poignant. And, of course, it applies to a lot more than space exploration.
It applies to the vast majority of successful companies that get stuck producing legacy products–because they can’t risk that innovation might upset their own profit models.
It applies to the service providers that make a mockery of the word “service” (say for example, big airlines and utility companies)–because cost-cutting with crappy service maximizes shareholder value.
It applies also to temptations in our personal lives, and in the lives of those around us.
Think of the colleagues you know who hold onto uninspiring jobs for fear of going after the careers or entrepreneurial dreams they really want.
Or think of the friend you might have (I think most of us do), who stays in a lousy relationship because he or she is more afraid of being alone than of living with less than they deserve.
We’re all a little bit afraid of risk. Yet, each day represents a new chance and a new beginning. At the start of the year, that sense is especially acute.
And sometimes we need a little inspiration to take the leap.
Whatever is the thing you’re afraid of trying–a new business, a new adventure, a new relationship–maybe now is the time to give it a try.
Cast aside your risk aversion. Be uncomfortable for a while as you try something new. Accept the chance that you’ll fail.
Don’t optimize your ass-covering. Instead, optimize your opportunities. And find your own mission to Mars.