Google Agrees to Upgrade Sexual Harassment Policies

A week after Google employees staged a workplace walkout to protest inequality and sexual harassment, Google has formally announced a new set of rules designed to clean up its internal culture.

In an email to employees (subsequently released on its corporate blog), Google CEO Sundar Pichai vowed to make Google’s handling of sexual harassment complaints more transparent. The biggest changes include an end to forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment and assault; the company will also revamp its channels for reporting and handling employee concerns.

Employees will need to complete updated sexual harassment training, and Google has pledged to provide “more granularity around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes at the company as part of our Investigations Report,” according to the email.

“We will recommit to our company-wide OKR around diversity, equity and inclusion again in 2019, focused on improving representation—through hiring, progression and retention—and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone,” Pichai added. “Our Chief Diversity Officer will continue to provide monthly progress updates to me and my leadership team.” (‘OKR’ stands for ‘Objectives and Key Results,’ and it’s a system that Google uses to measure its progress.)

Google also published a PDF with a full list of the changes. Extra support for those reporting sexual harassment include extended counseling, the option to have a trusted companion accompany a Google employee during an HR investigation, and the ability to take leaves.

Of course, these kinds of changes won’t really take hold unless Google pushes penalties for noncompliance. Those employees who don’t complete the mandatory sexual harassment training will be docked one rating on their annual performance review, for instance. Google also wants its leaders to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed at corporate events, as it found a strong correlation between excessive drinking and sexual harassment complaints.

Google’s new rules align with many of the demands of the Google’s walkout’s organizers. However, it didn’t agree to all of them. For example, the Chief Diversity Officer still doesn’t report to Google’s CEO, which was a key ask; nor did Google explicitly agree to end pay and opportunity inequity.

Google employees’ walkout came in the wake of a recent article in the New York Times that named Andy Rubin, who ran Google’s Android division before leaving in 2014, and Google X head Richard DeVaul as executives who behaved inappropriately with employees and job candidates. (In a Tweet, Rubin denied the Times report, saying it was riddled with “numerous inaccuracies”; DeVaul resigned.)

“We’re acknowledging and understanding we clearly got some things wrong,” Pichai said in a New York Times interview timed to the release of the new rules. “And we have been running the company very differently for a while now. But going through a process like that, you learn a lot.”

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