Google scraps AI ethics board

For years now, Google has topped lists of the best companies in America to work for. The tech giant has long received praise for its quality pay, benefits, and perks like free gourmet cuisine and haircuts. However, since late last year, the company’s reputation has taken a hit as disturbing revelations about its internal culture have emerged. Now, the organizers of the Google global walkout are demanding the firm launch a transparent investigation into its human resources department.

New Demands from Google Walkout Organizers

Google Walkout for Real Change made a Medium post alleging the company has retaliated against employees who’ve spoken out. The piece argues the corporation has failed to address its dysfunctional culture since the November 2018 mass Googler walkout. It also claims the company’s management has failed and its human resources department has lost the trust of its workforce.

The organizers also made new demands of Google’s leaders. The group wants the firm to meet the original walkout demands via an official commitment from Alphabet CEO Larry Page. The workers are also asking for a third-party investigation of its human resources department. The document also calls on the firm to transfer two Googlers who claim the company retaliated against them for helping organize the protest.

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Google has declined to release an official statement in regards to the new set of demands. However, the firm reiterated workplace retaliation is against company policy.

How the Walkouts Movement Began

In October 2018, the New York Times published a bombshell story revealing the details of Android co-founder Andy Rubin’s departure from Google in 2014. Initially, the company framed Rubin’s exit as being the result of his wanting to start a tech incubator. In reality, Larry Page asked for Rubin’s resignation because a Google employee made a credible sexual misconduct allegation against him.

After the Times piece went live, workers organized a massive global protest involving 20,000 employees and contractors. The walkout’s organizers demanded a sexual harassment report; an anonymous misconduct reporting procedure; an end to pay and opportunity inequity and forced arbitration; and the elevation of the company’s Chief Diversity Officer (CDO).

A week after the walkout, Google CEO Sundar Pichai agreed to meet some of the organizer’s demands. The company ended its forced arbitration policy; created a new action plan to make its culture more inclusive, and improved its sexual harassment reporting process. The firm did not elevate its lead diversity position and CDO Danielle Brown left the company in April.

Despite those public concessions, Google employees have claimed the company’s internal reaction to the protest was hostile.

Walkout organizers Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton alleged the company punished them for their employee advocacy. Whittaker, a Google artificial intelligence researcher, was told her job would be “changing dramatically” and was forced to leave the AI research institute she co-founded. Stapleton, a YouTube marketer, was told she was to be demoted after the protest. The company later reversed the decision but Stapleton’s responsibilities were reduced and her managers became unresponsive.

Rising Tensions

Once Whittaker and Stapleton’s allegations were made public, another Google protest was organized. Googlers across the world participated in a sit-in event on May 1. Organizers noted workers shared stories of management bias and retaliation and spoke of forming a union.

In late April, Google CDO Melonie Parker posted a blog entry noting the company’s renewed commitment to fostering a positive work environment. However, the piece did note the firm is unwilling to meet every demand its workforce makes.

With the threat of another round of protests looming, Google has a choice to make. It can acknowledge its worker’s complaints and affect meaningful positive change. Conversely, the company can do nothing or make token concessions that fail to reform its dysfunctional culture. As the tech sector is currently facing unprecedented scrutiny, the path of least resistance seems preferable.

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