What can the Google walkout teach us?

Let’s talk about the Google walkout.

We know the details. On November 1, 2018, 20,000 workers in Google offices across 50 cities walked out. The move attracted tremendous attention – The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo called it “a watershed moment”. Kara Swisher hosted all six of the organizers, at once, on her podcast, Recode Decode.

The Google walkout

Before we go further, know this: Google has backed Go Moment (the official announcement), where I serve as CEO. Besides the investment, I’m fortunate to have a ringside view of the burgeoning voice assistant market, including Google Assistant. I’m not a Googler or a TVC (Google lingo for Temps, Vendors, Contractors) by any means, and I have no access to their messaging boards or discussion groups. I’m an interested, inspired bystander.  

I’m deeply inspired by the energy that defined the Google walkout. To me, the walkout signalled the Googlers admiration for the company they worked for and their determination to hold the company accountable.

What went right

That said, I’m curious about something: why did the walkout get all the media attention that it did?

  • Was it the number? Over 20,000 people is a significant number – considering that people have taken on companies alone.
  • Was it the number of people protesting at a tech company? Unions enable protests and there are no unions at tech companies (right?). Perhaps the collectivization was surprising.
  • Did the walkout get the timing right? A central issues of the walkout was the $90 million dollar payout to Rubin despite sexual misconduct allegations against him. In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, a walkout on the issue was bound to garner attention.
  • Or did the walkout hit headlines because it happened at Google?

Maybe all these reasons had a role to play. If you read an article that explained the contributing factors behind the popularity, link me please?

It matters

Why do I care about the attention that the walkout managed to garner?

There is a lesson to be learnt there – about attracting media attention.

Protests within the tech industry are spreading. Amazon has had a long history of workers protesting against the wages and working conditions (reports here and here. The Guardian has just announced a new column Amazon Diaries). They have happening over at Microsoft, Salesforce and elsewhere.  Even non-technology companies like Marriott recently experienced labor problems around in part due to their adoption of tech. And yet, more are likely on the way. Swisher, at the end of her podcast, calls on the walkout organizers to “get over to Facebook and help those people over there immediately”.

I agree completely with Kara – the walkout is an inspiration. Googlers are a role model for the rest of industry.

The exponential rate of change we’re all facing now necessitates some tough conversations. The response by Sundar Pichai (Google CEO) was along expected lines for the tech giant, and will no doubt serve as a precedent for other titans of industry. Empathy and great listening skills are both essential for leaders.

If we are going to see more and more protests – protests that are as inevitable as they are necessary – media attention can help underrepresented stakeholders have a voice. And that, in my book, is a very good thing.

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