Google CEO Sundar Pichai has now publicly released a letter recently emailed to employees outlining steps the company is taking in its struggle to combat sexual harassment in its offices and at its events. Specifically, the described action plan covers policies and changes being made from top to bottom at the company to improve transparency around accusations and to improve how those are handled. The biggest changes appear to center around the reporting process itself and on-topic training for Google employees. To begin with, Google is bringing its reporting channels for sexual harassment and other similar claims together on a single site that includes live support and will be launched in the First Quarter of 2019. Alongside that change, arbitration throughout the process will be optional on an individual basis and, on the HR side of matters, employees will be able to choose to be accompanied by a support person rather than having to face the process alone.
Atop those changes, the search giant is introducing a new section to its Investigations Report and refocusing the practices associated with its investigations. To begin with, its policies and processes will now be publicly shared as they relate to harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and standards of conduct and workplace concerns. Internally, an Investigations Practice Guide will be published, indicating company expectations with regard to the investigation process and handling of concerns. Googlers who have previously been involved in the process will be able to provide feedback on that guide in the leadup to its finalization and the guide will be reviewed yearly – with updates applied as needed. The new section in its Investigations Report will show the number of sexual harassment claims that have been either substantiated or partially substantiated as well as outlining trends in those and what types of actions were taken in response to allegations.
Finally, the company is making annual training on related topics and policy mandatory with points removed from an employee's overall review rating when training is missed and is also seeking to improve the work environment, to begin with, both on-site and off. The former of those changes will apply to every employee, including senior executives and others in high-level positions as well. Meanwhile, although Pichai strongly indicates that alcohol consumption is not an excuse for the behavior, new policies will be put in place to limit consumption at any Google related activity or event. Namely, all company employees in leadership roles will now be directly responsible for restrictions on alcohol consumption at all google business functions, workplaces, or Google-related events regardless of whether those are on Google property or otherwise. Directors, VPs, and SVPs will be required to reinforce the company's policies on excessive alcohol consumption among their teams and Google will be imposing "onerous actions" for persistent problems.
Background: Prior to the executive's letter, Google has been under increasing scrutiny for its apparent mishandling of claims of systemic sexual harassment. Although the search giant later came forward to assert that it had fired more than 48 employees over the course of two years, including no fewer than 13 high-ranking executives, the atmosphere around the company has remained tense. Summarily, various instances of mishandled investigations and reports of employees being released with high-paying exit packages in spite of legitimate claims of harassment against themselves have only served to further fuel concerns that the upper leadership is simply ignoring the problem. That's led to a series of widely-reported high profile employee uprisings within Google, culminating in a global employee walkout conducted in solidarity with women at the company who have suffered the abuse.
Impact: Google often takes a more subdued approach to internal problems, ordinarily seeking to downplay the severity of a given issue or simply brush perceived problems aside. It's response to the allegations of sexual harassment, on the other hand, seem to have quickly evolved well beyond that point under the leadership of Sundar Pichai. That's not necessarily surprising, given the gravity of the situation and the likely ramifications, if it does not appear to be handling the problem. However, it also seems to stem from the more direct management style Mr. Pichai has taken. With that said, these types of changes have been needed for quite some time at Google and it remains to be seen how effective the new policies are or if those satisfy both employees and the public.