The tech industry has long had a difficult relationship with sexual conduct within the context of work. HP lost a CEO over sexual misconduct. Uber fired an exec over it last month. One company at CES is known for "hookers and blow" at their events. Even Microsoft hosted a party at the Game Developers Conference which featured scantily clad women on tables.
Unfortunately, not all companies are called on the carpet for their handling of these issues, especially in the way that Google was addressed this week. After a report published by The New York Times showed that Google had quietly ignored credible accusations of sexual misconduct by their executives, Google employees and contractors responded publicly.
20,000 of the company's employees and contractors walked out from 50 offices across the globe. They met in courtyards and common areas, where employees who have experienced inappropriate behavior shared their experiences with one another and the world. These employees thought the problem within the culture were so problematic that it needed to be addressed immediately. They got their wish.
Rich DeVaul, who had headed up the Google X research division, resigned over accusations involving an applicant in 2013. He apologized for his "error of judgement." CEO Sundar Pichai responded directly to employees over the issues, saying,
So first, let me say that I am deeply sorry for the past actions and the pain they have caused employees. Larry mentioned this on stage last week, but it bears repeating: if even one person experiences Google the way the New York Times article described, we are not the company we aspire to be.
I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel. I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on and (sic) issue that has persisted for far too long in our society… and yes, here at Google, too.
Will this change anything within the organization itself? Only time will tell. What this will do, however, is give employees at other Silicon Valley companies, and tech companies in other parts of the country, the confidence to address issues they see, as well. A comfortable employee, especially in a creative industry like software, is going to be more creative and more productive. Plus, it's just the right thing to do, to treat people with respect.