November 13, 2018

Google CFO: We can make a car drive itself. Why can't we sort out sexual harassment?

If the tech industry can make cars that drive themselves, why can't it do better when it comes to sexual harassment?

That's the question Google's chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, was asking at a tech conference on Monday.

"Why can't we solve this? We should do better. And, if we're holding ourselves to a view that if you can change one thing, then you should be able to change more than that," said Porat, who is also the CFO of Google's parent company, Alphabet (GOOGL).

Speaking on stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference in Laguna Beach, California, Porat said sexual harassment is "sadly a too pervasive issue --- and that doesn't in any way excuse it."

Just last week, Google announced a number of changes to its internal policies after employees protested the company's handling of sexual harassment by walking out of offices around the world. The walkouts followed a New York Times investigation into Google that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations, multimillion-dollar severance packages for accused executives, and a lack of transparency over the cases.

Porat said she walked out alongside members of her team.

"We had Googlers do what Googlers do well," she said. "The company, from inception, was built with the concept that we should give employees voice and that if we give employees voice and there's transparency, it will make things stronger. There's a lot of respect for that at Google."

The changes Google announced last week included no longer forcing employees with sexual assault or harassment claims into arbitration. That partly addressed one of the changes of the Google protesters called for, but it didn't meet their demand of dropping forced arbitration for all discrimination claims.

Other US tech companies have since announced similar alterations to their policies.

A day after Google's change, Facebook (FB) said it will no longer require employees to resolve sexual harassment claims in arbitration.

On Monday, Airbnb and eBay (EBAY) followed suit.

Airbnb said in a statement to CNN that the move was "the right thing to do" for its employees. EBay announced its change of policy in a statement to Buzzfeed News.

Porat said the string of announcements was "gratifying."

"It's only been a couple of days," she said. "We've already seen a number of companies follow on certain elements."

Uber and Lyft announced earlier this year that they would eliminate forced arbitration for sexual harassment and abuse claims after a CNN investigation into sexual assault and abuse by drivers. Microsoft (MSFT) announced a similar change in December 2017.

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