After Google’s senior executives were accused of sexual harassment, it’s obvious that employees need more safety from company heads. We ask some experts for what you can do to avoid this situation in your business
What can entrepreneurs do to prevent sexism and inequality from running rampant in their companies? That’s a question many Silicon Valley tech companies have increasingly had to ask themselves as they’ve been forced their massive problem with these issues.
For instance, Google has become the latest giant company to publicly deal with the matter after thousands of employees from all over the world walked out from their job on Thursday November 1. It was a protest against the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims. This demonstration immediately got support from campaigners and the movement spread like wildfire, thanks to social media.
The protestors walked out from the Google offices in places like Singapore, London, New York, San Francisco and even the tech titan’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. Many employees even left a flyer at their desks that read: “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out in solidarity with other Googlers and contractors to protest [against] sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone.”
Speaking through the Twitter account @GoogleWalkout, campaigners posted a list of five demands including an end to pay gaps and opportunity inequality as well as greater transparency about sexual harassment.
This revolt was sparked by a New York Times exposè about the tech giant awarding millions of dollars as exit packages to Andy Rubin, a top executive often referred to as the father of the Android, despite him allegedly being accused of sexual misconduct. Rubin was paid $90m even though he’d reportedly coerced a female employee into performing oral sex. He denies the accusations.
The anger targeting Google grew after another executive faced credible claims of sexual harassment.Google X director Richard DeVaul resigned following the accusations. According to the BBC, he hasn’t responded to the claim but has in the past referred to it as an "error of judgement".
Hours after the aforementioned story was published, CEO Sundar Pichai sent a memo saying 48 employees had been fired for sexual harassment over the past two years without exit packages. However, the question is if this will be enough to end the misogynistic culture end and what can entrepreneurs do so the problem is nipped in the bud.
So what can entrepreneurs do to ensure these things don’t happen in their companies? To begin with, they have to acknowledge that these issues aren’t isolated to Silicon Valley companies. “The protests that Google are facing have highlighted that equality is a right and all businesses need to seriously consider if their diversity policies are effective,” saysHephzi Pemberton, founder of Equality Group, the diversity-focused business consultancy. “It’s deeply upsetting that women still have to make formal demands for equal pay and opportunity, female representatives on the board and an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.”
Indeed, the problem is probably related to the lack of diversity seen in tech companies. Google’s own report showed that it's barely moved the needle to improve the gender ratio. In its overall representation, only 30% were women and unsurprisingly 25% were in senior positions. For many, this is testament that the time is ripe to make changes in your startup before a problem as seen in the Google offices even manifests. “It seems that with many of these situations, such as Google firing senior execs, action is taking place after the damage is done,” says Julie Chakraverty, founder and CEO of Rungway, the employee welfare platform, talking exclusively with Elite Business. “When you’re rectifying a wrong, it’s so much harder to build the trust back with your workforce and your wider stakeholders. It’s better to put measures in place to catch an issue before it becomes a real problem.”
When it comes to taking measures, just telling employees to talk about any such unpleasant event might not be the best way to tackle it as it can be difficult for them to do so. Companies must ensure there are regulations in place for its workers’ safety. “Every employer should have a disciplinary policy setting out the expected standards of conduct and the consequences for anyone failing to meet those standards,” says Kerren Daly, employment law expert at Browne Jacobson, the law firm. According to her, no matter what position, every employee must be questioned. “It’s important to remember that senior people are also employees and should, given their seniority, be positive role models,” she continues. “If they fall short of this, then the same standards of conduct and the disciplinary policy should apply to them. Any misconduct by a senior figure fundamentally damages the relationship of trust and confidence their employer has with them.”
Indeed it’s no secret that the lack of role models and the archaic attitude around male supremacy especially from those at the helm trickles down to the staff’s mindset. And Google is an example of the same. In 2017 an internal memo authored by former Google employee James Damore argued women were less biologically suited for technical roles. He was however made redundant after the company received backlash from other employees. “Employers should ensure that, when they see or hear of conduct that falls below the expected standards, they deal with it promptly, taking appropriate actions,” adds Daly.
Indeed it’s now of critical importance to assess how all companies around the world deal with these issues. Google’s fiasco is indeed proof that the male-dominated tech industry is rife with stereotypes and definitely screams for change. “There is so much discussion around equality for women within the world of work but we are yet to see notable changes,” concludes Pemberton. Hence more millennial magnates must make it a priority to ensure their staff is taken care of and they don’t need to deal with such a situation.