Opinion: Why does Google keep digging a bigger hole?

Julie Chakraverty, founder of Rungway, argues Google should do more to make workers feel they can address concerns

Opinion: Why does Google keep digging a bigger hole?

Google’s brand as an employer has taken several major hits in the past few years. Cast your mind back to 2017 when Google engineer James Damore wrote a memo arguing that the company had gone overboard in its efforts to promote diversity. He was then fired. Soon after, it was reported that Google agreed a multi-million payout to two executives to cover up the reasons for departure, when in fact they were being accused of sexual assault. The hush money prompted a high-profile global walkout in November. And now? The latest reports show that Google allegedly retaliated against two of the female employees who organised the walkout. One organiser alleges her role was “ changed dramatically” and the other is claiming she’s facing demotion following their activism.

Meanwhile, Google maintains its stance that retaliation is prohibited and all allegations are investigated.

I was interested in their Glassdoor reviews and checked their rating as an employer. It’s actually very good and the firm is praised for its work environment, great colleagues and general happiness. That said, you catch snippets that indicate that there may be some unresolved culture issues. Google’s Comparably review starts strong but scroll to Office Culture and Happiness, and you spot that 17% describe the office vibe as toxic and 46% feel burnt out at Google as of Thursday May 30.

What these sites, social media channels and the demand for transparency do is stop organisations from hiding behind closed doors. Hush money and retaliation techniques won’t go unexposed because today’s workers won’t allow it – and incidents like these will hugely damage a brand’s reputation. 

What Google should do, if they’re not already, is give their employees a platform from which to speak up anonymously. Especially in a large organisation like Google, there may be global initiatives with the aim of driving an inclusive culture but there will always exist pockets of ‘old thinking’ where toxic behaviour is damaging the good momentum. Leaders may think that they already provide their employees with a way to speak up – they may have a satisfaction survey or believe all managers are approachable. But do these channels offer a way for employees to voice their views whilst feeling psychologically safe?

Our research at Rungway found that 49% of us have something to tell our manager but don’t feel we can. We may not want to be judged and some topics are incredibly hard to raise face-to-face. Recently, Baroness McDonagh, the former general secretary of the Labour Party, said that leaders shouldn’t fear those speaking up. The best leaders in the world are the ones who are curious. And to be curious you have to allow people to speak.

We need absolute change in the way we approach these issues. This doesn’t start with trying to sweep matters under the rug. It starts with knowledge, understanding and the ability to talk about anything freely. 

Julie Chakraverty
Julie Chakraverty

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