Kate Weckerly, Crisis Communication Specialist, SSPR
Ok, Google. It’s clear that “time’s up” and the cat’s out of the bag. The culture of inequity the company has clearly embodied has been exposed. And the 20,000 participants in the #GoogleWalkout are gaining media traction and support for their mission to create a better working environment. So, how can Google overcome this negative publicity and move forward?
1. Meet the protestors where they are. The #GoogleWalkout hashtag is trending all over Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But, Google has stayed silent on those platforms. There’s not even a pinned tweet of apology. If the company wants to overcome this hurdle, it needs to meet the protestors where they are and communicate with them. And right now,they’re on Twitter.
2. Do the right thing. It sounds cheesy and overly simplistic, but that’s really all there is to it. Google payed $90 million to an executive found guilty of sexual misconduct. It has terminated 48 employees over the last two years for similar reasons. Google has also systematically paid women less than men and created an environment of male superiority.
The solution to this is simple—stop it. Create a system that evaluates job roles and ensures fair pay, regardless of gender or race. Protestors are demanding a “clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct.” There is no good reason to deny them this request, and it’s a policy that will help Google eliminate these transgressions within the organization moving forward.
3. Communicate and negotiate. The list of protestor demands is lofty, and they aren’t all going to be achievable. One of the demands is to “end pay and opportunity inequity,” with the goal of placing more minority women in all positions throughout the company. The intentions behind this are noble, but to actually execute on this, Google would have to hire based on race and gender, not merit for a position, which is illegal.
However, Google can use this as an opportunity to communicate and negotiate with its employees. Because it can’t meet this demand, company leaders need to explain exactly why and outline what can be done instead. For example, the company can implement the “Rooney Rule” in hiring executives to ensure a minority is interviewed for every leadership role. And that’s just one of many possible solutions for overcoming the diversity barrier Google is facing.
4. Apologize. An apology can go a long way, if it’s done well. This can’t be an insincere “sorry your feelings were hurt” type of statement, either. This should be an apology you would give to your mom. Google must admit wrongdoing, demonstrate it understands why what was done is wrong, and outline steps for how it will correct the problem. The only way to move past the hurt caused by the transgressions is to apologize for them.
5. Implement real, lasting change. Apologizing only goes so far—actions speak louder than words. So, once Google has negotiated with the protestors, reached a compromise and said sorry, its leaders need to get to work on ensuring the issues that caused this protest in the first place don’t occur again.
Frequent updates to stakeholders and employees on what’s being done to drive a culture of equality and fairness is a must. It’s understood that these changes won’t take place overnight, but Google needs to be setting realistic goals and timelines for achieving them. Then, it needs to clearly and frequently communicate the progress it’s making toward these goals.
If Google can follow these tips and overcome this negative publicity, it can set an example for other tech companies. In an industry plagued by sexism, Google has the opportunity to redefine what it means to be a tech giant, leading not only in innovation, but also in workplace equality. Hopefully, other companies can learn from this, implement effective policies to prohibit sexual misconduct and prevent their own employees from being mistreated.
About the Author: Kate is an integrated media and public relations professional with an expertise in crisis communication. She loves connecting PR successes to business objectives and finding creative ways to tell a company’s story. She is passionate about using communication strategies to create innovative business solutions and drive brand awareness. She spends her free time trying new hobbies, playing with her ferrets and exploring the Rocky Mountains.