With sexual harassment scandals having erupted at the likes of Disney and Uber in a public way, you'd think that companies would learn to quickly, openly, and honestly address the issue. Google hasn't yet, and now it's paying the price with a global walkout today by thousands of employees.

It's happening everywhere. In London.

In Zurich.

In Singapore.

In New York.

Expect more photos and posts on social media as the day progresses.

The Guardian reports that those joining the walkout leave on their desk a note that reads: "I'm not at my desk because I'm walking out in solidarity with other Googlers and contractors to protest [against] sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that's not working for everyone."

The spark for the protest was last week's news that when Andy Rubin, who created Android, left Google in 2014, it was because of a sexual harassment charge from another employee. The company swept the problem under the rug and gave Rubin a $90 million exit package: $2 million a month for four years.

Maybe Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page wanted to avoid the negative publicity. It didn't end up working that way.

But that was only a match to the kindling. The real reason is clear in the list of demands as circulated on social media:

  1. An end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees.
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
  5. The elevation of the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO, and make recommendations directly to the board of directors.
  6. The appointment of an employee representative to the board.

The company that used to say "Don't be evil" closed its eyes. Google changed its motto to "Do the right thing." Whether that is truly apropos will depend heavily on its response to the walkout.

You can't ignore this issue. Trying to hush it up and make sexual harassment and inequality conveniently disappear from sight. That's good news. Such attitudes and practices are wrong. They also undercut the effectiveness of companies because they damage relationships with a major portion of workforces.

Increasingly, employees won't put up with it. Nor should they.

For too long there's been a bad attitude toward employees among too many executives. Many years ago, I sat at a dinner prior to a board meeting of a company where I was did product marketing. The chairman quoted someone -- Earl Nightingale, I think -- to the effect that employees should be grateful an employer gives them a job.

How condescendingly paternalistic. What about employer gratitude for anyone would want to work for them? Apparently, that wasn't on the schedule. It should have been.

And now, whether executives like it or not, it is now.

Pay attention, react like a decent human being, and your company will be better off. You'll have terrific employees who appreciate being treated as they should. Ignore it, and expect your talent at all levels to go elsewhere. They don't need you; you need them. And to treat people as though they are disposable, as if they didn't matter, like the dirt under your shoes is contemptible. It's also incredibly stupid.

Published on: Nov 1, 2018