Sundar Pichai’s Sexual Misconduct Minefield: Why the Google CEO Is Supporting a Walkout As Another Exec Exits
Alphabet’s “moonshot” unit, X, has lost one of its hotshots. Per Axios and CNBC, director Rich DeVaul left the company yesterday without any exit package, following claims detailed in an extensive New York Times piece last week about rampant sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior at the company.
According to that report, DeVaul told a female engineer who was applying for a position at X that he and his wife were polyamorous. Then he invited her to the Burning Man festival, where he asked her to remove her shirt for a back rub. She agreed only to a neck rub, then discovered later that she didn’t get the job. DeVaul claims X had already decided not to hire her, and he didn’t know she was unaware of this when she came to the festival.
The star of that Times piece was Andy Rubin, Android’s creator, who left Google four years ago with a $90 million exit package after allegedly—he denies it—coercing an employee into performing oral sex on him. The company’s protection of Rubin went unreported until last week. There’s also a reference to Alphabet’s now-chief legal officer, David Drummond, who had a child with an employee working in the legal department; when he admitted to the relationship, which was discouraged under company rules, she was the one who got transferred out of the division.
To protest the events that have been revealed, more than 200 Google engineers are planning a “women’s walk” walkout tomorrow. “I feel like there’s a pattern of powerful men getting away with awful behavior towards women at Google‚ or if they don’t get away with it, they get a slap on the wrist, or they get sent away with a golden parachute, like Andy Rubin,” one employee told Buzzfeed.
Sensibly, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is not pushing back against the walkout, telling employees in an email that human resources would “make sure managers are aware of the activities planned for Thursday and that you have the support you need.”
“I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel,” Pichai wrote. “I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society…and, yes, here at Google, too.”
As Pichai noted, Google needs to do more to ensure it takes “a much harder line on inappropriate behavior.” To be meaningful, this will surely have to be a cultural change that involves re-evaluating the consequences for executives who abuse their positions of power, no matter how valuable those individuals are to the company. And whatever the future brings, it’s unfortunate that it took press exposure to bring the company to this point.
A version of this story originally appeared in Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter. Subscribe here.