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Google announces new sexual assault and harassment rules after mass protest

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Google is announcing new policies around sexual harassment and diversity, following a worldwide employee protest last week. The new policies reflect demands from the protestors, who met with Google leadership earlier this week. “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes,” wrote CEO Sundar Pichai in an email to employees, which he posted publicly today. The organizers of the walkout, however, say that Google “ignored several of the core demands” they’d put forward.

Pichai wrote that Google “will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.” He included a summary of the new policies; Google also released a file with more details about the policies, which meet some but not all of the original demands.

One of Google’s key changes is making arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, so employees could take misconduct claims to court instead of privately settling them. Pichai also promises to provide “more granularity” in internal reports about harassment at Google, offering details about how many cases have been substantiated, as well as “trends,” disciplinary actions taken, and specifics on what kind of behavior “we do and do not terminate employees for.” Google will update and expand its mandatory sexual harassment training, and it will start docking the performance review scores of employees who don’t complete the training.

Pichai also promises to improve the system for reporting sexual harassment and assault. It will create a dedicated reporting site with live support, offer counseling to people who report assault or harassment, and allow Google employees to bring another person to support them when they meet to discuss their complaints. These changes will be implemented between now and the first quarter of 2019.

Some of these changes, like optional arbitration and a support person at meetings, seem to be specific responses to organizers’ demands. Others don’t directly match the demands, but they’re attempts at reaching the same broad goals. The “granularity,” for instance, could potentially address requests for a publicly disclosed transparency report — although it seems like a much smaller commitment.

Google only alluded to some of the other demands. The organizers, for instance, asked Google to elevate the role of its chief diversity officer and release internal reports about payment or achievement gaps between races, ethnicities, and genders. Pichai offered a more general promise to “recommit” to diversity, equality, and inclusion practices that are “focused on improving representation — through hiring, progression and retention— and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone.” There’s no mention of some of the biggest asks, like putting an employee representative on the board of directors.

While this wasn’t one of the requests, Google says that “going forward, all leaders at the company … will be expected to create teams, events, offsites and environments in which excessive alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged,” since it says that in around 20 percent of sexual harassment complaints, the perpetrator had been drinking.

In a statement, the walkout organizers said Google had “made progress” in meeting their demands. However, they noted that Pichai hadn’t said anything about an employee representative, and that Google isn’t elevating the chief diversity officer’s rank. Moreover, it “troublingly erased” demands regarding racism, discrimination, and the “modern day Jim Crow class system” that separates full-fledged employees from the large pool of less privileged and protected contract workers.

“If we want to end sexual harassment in the workplace, we must fix these structural imbalances of power,” said the organizers in their statement. “While we’re thrilled to see progress on sexual harassment, we will not let up on the demands most urgent for women of color: an employee representative on the board, elevating the chief diversity officer, greater transparency on and an end to opportunity inequity at Google and beyond.”

The walkouts were prompted by an explosive New York Times report that alleged Google had turned a blind eye to sexual assault and harassment among executives and that it had offered a massive $90 million severance package to Android co-founder Andy Rubin after he resigned over credible sexual assault allegations.

Update 12:45PM ET: Added more detail from Google’s policy document.

Update 5:30PM ET: Added response from Google walkout organizers.

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