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Google staff walk out in protest over treatment of women

A number of the tech giant's executives have been accused of sexual misconduct, with one receiving $90m upon resigning.

Google staff

Hundreds of Google employees around the world have walked off the job, in an unprecedented protest against the internet giant's lenient approach to executives accused of sexual misconduct.

Staff are demanding changes in how the company handles sexual misconduct allegations, including a call to end forced arbitration, which prevents accusers from suing. 

On Thursday, employees in offices from Tokyo and Singapore to London and Dublin walked out at in each location, leaving a note on their desks telling colleagues: "I'm not at my desk because I'm walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that's not working for everyone". 

In a statement on Thursday, Google Chier Executive Officer Sundhar Pichai said employees taking part in the walkouts would be "have the support they need" and that the company was "taking in all their feedback so we can turns these ideas into action".

Top execs accused of misconduct

The protest, billed the "Walkout For Real Change", comes comes a week after The New York Times revealed that Andy Rubin - creator of Google's Android software - received a $90m severance package despite being sacked over accusations of sexual misconduct.

Rubin said the Times' report was inaccurate in a pair of statements on Twitter and denied the allegations, which he called a "smear campaign".

Other executives were also named in the article, including Richard DeVaul, director of Google's X research lab. The report said DeVaul remained in his position after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced about him a few years ago. He resigned on Tuesday without severance, Google confirmed on Wednesday.

DeVaul has not commented since his resignation but has in the past called the incident - in which he allegedly made unwanted advances to a woman - an "error of judgement".

Industry-wide problem

Meanwhile, Pichai apologised for the company's "past actions", in an email sent to employees on Tuesday. 

"I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel," he wrote. "I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society and, yes, here at Google, too".

In a separate email sent late in October, Pichai and Eileen Naughten, the executive in charge of personnel issues, attempted to reassure staff that the company had improved its response to sexual misconduct in the four years since Rubin's departure.

They disclosed that 48 employees had been fired for "sexual harassment", including 13 senior managers. None had received severance packages. 

US tech giants, like the entertainment industry and several others, are facing a reckoning over relaxed attitudes to sexual misconduct.

The workplace culture in the male-dominated technology industry has been criticised as being akin to a university fraternity house.

READ MORE: Google staff condemn plan for censored Chinese search engine

Those protesting on Thursday demanded an end to forced arbitration, a common clause which states all that any disputes are dealt with internally and so deprived workers of the option to take legal action against the company or other employees.

They also called for Google to address the gender pay gap within the company and produce a sexual harassment transparency report, accessible to the public.

Other demands included a uniform process for reporting sexual misconduct anonymously across the company and increased powers for Google's chief diversity officer.  

About 30 percent of Google's 94,000 employees are women. They occupy slightly more than one quarter of leadership roles globally, according to Google data from 2017.

Just 22 percent of the company's highest paid employees are women, the same data show.

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