Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Claire Stapleton, one of the organizers of the watershed Google Walkout protest, has penned a first-person essay for Elle magazine detailing her time at the search giant and the series of events leading up to her resignation this past June after alleged retaliation from upper management.
The essay, appropriately titled “Google Loved Me, Until I Pointed Out Everything That Sucked About It,” is among the first public and detailed accounts from Google’s growing activist coalition about the way the company has been treating protest and labor organizers. It’s well worth a read for understanding the situation inside Google and how fraught its corporate culture has become in the last few years.
Stapleton, who says she became known as the “Bard of Google” for her deep and longstanding involvement in the company’s weekly all-hands gatherings, says she was a proud employee for more than 10 years. She details how for half a decade starting in 2007, she helped produce Google’s TGIF meetings, where Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin regularly spoke with employees about sensitive company matters and presided over debates about the company’s vision and values.
Stapleton says her role at YouTube drastically changed after the Walkout
Stapleton says she eventually shifted to the YouTube Marketing team, where she spent five years “promoting the narrative that YouTube is a net-positive for society, while every day witnessing how ill-equipped the company’s leadership was to govern a social media platform as it became a breeding ground for extremism, disinformation, harassment, and child abuse.” But it was the retaliation after the Walkout, which was organized primarily to protest a $90 million exit package for disgraced Android co-founder Andy Rubin, that Stapleton says “so shifted my perspective about Google, its power — and the way that manifests in the workplace.”
Stapleton recounts in detail how she was abruptly told by her YouTube manager in January of this year, just two months after the Walkout, that she would lose half of her direct reports as part of a vague restructuring that Stapleton could do nothing about. Something similar was happening simultaneously to fellow Google Walkout organizer Meredith Whittaker, who has also since left the company.
took a stab at figuring out what the hell is going on at google via my own journey from company cheerleader to organizer/apostate/oustered employee, today in @ELLEmagazine https://t.co/nj4PWciftW— claire stapleton (@clairewaves) December 19, 2019
After failing to get more information about her changing role, facing further retaliation in the form of reassigned work, and escalating her concerns to a senior human resources employee, Stapleton says she was advised to go on medical leave. Instead, she hired a lawyer and got the demotion reversed, but ultimately decided to quit due to how hostile her work environment had become. In one chilling anecdote, Stapleton recounts how her last day involved being physically escorted off the premises of Google’s New York office by a member of security who had collected her company devices, which Stapleton says was highly unusual for a departing employee.
Since Stapleton’s departure, Google’s attitude toward labor organizers has only grown more antagonistic. The company is now facing a lawsuit from four employees who say the company retaliated against them for organizing internal protests, while Google has been hit with repeated accusations of union busting for the way it has treated ongoing internal organizing. Google also hired an alleged anti-union consulting firm, IRS Consultants, to advise it on how to handle future organizing efforts. CEO Sundar Pichai has begun scaling back the TGIF all-hands meetings Stapleton used to help produce in part due to internal leaks. Earlier this week, another employee, Kathryn Spiers, says she was fired merely for using an internal pop-up tool to notify employees about their labor rights.
Again, here’s Stapleton’s Elle essay, which you should read for a rare inside look at the way Google management is treating activist employees fighting for better working conditions and for changes to how the company handles issues like sexual harassment.