Sundar Pichai’s ‘We Don’t Run Google By Referendum’ Statement Stirs Disappointment Amidst #MeToo Walkouts

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Things are looking scarily weird at Google right now. Amidst reports of massive data leaks, accusations of selling out user data, speculations about a secret plan to get back in China and more, the company has recently been troubled with allegations of sexual harassment, thanks to the public dialogue that the ongoing #MeToo movement has opened up.

More specifically, thousands of Google employees planned and staged a walkout in protest of a huge severance paycheck that has been shelled out to a senior outgoing executive, who was asked to resign after charges of sexual assault were levied against him. In past statements, representatives of the walkout had clearly expressed their anger at how the tech giant was seemingly trying to appease someone who had clearly violated the company’s general code of conduct. And so far, Sundar Pichai (CEO, Google) had been silent on the subject of the walkouts. A recent disclosure, however, seems to have worsened the situation.

Sundar attended a conference in New York on Thursday, where he was presumably trying to indicate that he was still ‘in-charge’ of Google’s ongoing administrative decisions. This comes in the wake of allegations that employees are becoming increasingly more active in calling the shots at the tech giant. Recently, a successful protest over privacy concerns led to the withdrawal of AI development for the US Pentagon, by Google. And while Pichai was understandably trying to pacify these sentiments, his statement can only be perceived as condescending at the very best.

“We don’t run the company by referendum. There are many good things about giving employees a lot of voice, out of that we have done well.” – Sundar Pichai (At a New York conference on Thursday)

The young CEO went on to clarify that while Google’s internal dynamics may appear chaotic to outsiders, they are still not “as intense as some have characterized them to be”.

With more than 50,000 employees as its full-time staff, Google has so far maintained a somewhat transparent and credible work culture when compared to other MNCs. Employees are routinely encouraged to participate in weekly all-hands meetings, where senior executives are at the receiving end of an open debate.

The Andy Rubin Debacle

Andy Rubin is widely recognized as the creator of Android, Google’s flagship operating system for its range of smartphone devices. Android also powers a sharp majority of smartphones that are manufactured by companies other than Google, and Andy is consequently a powerful voice within the tech community. That being said, he was asked to leave Google after being accused of sexual harassment by a female employee at Google. He was subsequently paid a severance of $90 million (reported). This led to massive outburst among Google employees, and thousands of them walked out of their offices on Thursday as a symbol of solidarity and protest.

It remains to be seen whether Sundar Pichai can mend fences amidst what seems to be a downhill struggle in maintaining employee confidence.

Note: In its official charter, Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc states that it does not offer payouts to employees who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

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