Professionalism/Andy Rubin, Google, and Sexual Harassment in Tech

Andy Rubin's Professional CareerEdit

Andy Rubin (middle)

Andy Rubin earned a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science from Utica College in 1986. He then worked for Carl Zeiss AG, a manufacturing company, and later Apple as a software engineer.[1] Following a series of startups, Rubin founded Android in 2003. Android is an operating system for touchscreen and mobile devices. Today, it powers roughly eighty-seven percent of the world's smartphone and over 2.5 billion active devices.[2] In 2005, Google purchased Android for fifty million dollars. Prior to the purchase, Google had little mobile experience and primarily focused on its search engine capabilities and developing apps for other phones. With an operating system, however, it would be able to control the distribution of its applications and offer a more perfected service. Additionally, the experience and talent that Rubin and his team had played a large role in Google's decision, since it bolstered the company's image as technology focused.[3] Initially, Android was resistant to fully integrating with Google and remained largely run as a separate entity.[1] The iPhone's initial success increased the demand for Android as phone providers scrambled to offer a competing product. In 2009, Motorola developed the first Android-based phone, which brought Android its first successful product and global attention. By 2011 Android had become key to Google's business and Rubin had been promoted to senior vice president while he continued to run Android.[4]

Andy Rubin's Sexual Misconduct and Google's ResponseEdit

Google logo 2015

Early in 2012, Rubin began dating an employee from Android. The relationship was consensual and both were married. By 2013, she wished to end it and met with Rubin in a hotel. After Rubin forced her to have oral sex, the relationship ended. She waited until 2014 to inform Google's human resources department and officials of the assault, which led Google to open an investigation. On September 2014, weeks into the investigation, Rubin was awarded a stock grant of $150 million for his contributions to Google.[5] While stock grants are not unusual for high-ranking employees, the amount was extremely high. The grant was approved by Google's leadership development and compensation committee but it is unknown if they had any awareness of the investigation. Following the investigation, even though Rubin maintained he was innocent, Google's co-founder and CEO Larry Page decided he should leave. However, they parted ways amicably and Rubin received an unusually large exit package of $90 million.[5] The deal prevented Rubin from working with any of Google's rivals or publicly disparaging the company. Rubin cited a desire to work for a startup venture as his reason for leaving and Google did not inform anyone of the investigation.[6] In a public statement, Page said, "I want to wish Andy all the best with what's next. With Android he created something truly remarkable - with a billion-plus happy users." [7] Following his departure from Google, Rubin went on to work on multiple startups through his newly founded venture capital Playground Global. Today, Playground Global's portfolio includes companies that have been bought by Intel and Amazon and has raised over $800 million. Google was one of the initial investors of Playground Global. Rubin also founded Essential, a maker of Android phones.[8]

Prior Cases of Sexual Misconduct at GoogleEdit

David Drummond and Jennifer BlakelyEdit

Rubin's sexual misconduct was not the first in Google and others were also silenced. Throughout its history, Google has fostered an abusive culture in regards to sexual harassment. Co-founder Sergey Brin had a consensual extramarital affair in 2014, while Page dated one of the company's first engineers.[9] In 2004, Google’s Chief Counsel David Drummond and Jennifer Blakely, a senior contract manager in the legal department, began an extramarital affair. In 2007 they had a child, after which Google told them managers were discouraged of having relationships with subordinates. Blakely was transferred to sales and eventually left Google. Drummond is now Alphabet's chief legal counsel and chairman of Google's venture capital fund, CapitalG, and has gained roughly $190 million in stock options. In a blog post Blakely wrote, "Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top." [10]

Richard DeVaul and Star SimpsonEdit

Richard DeVaul was a manager at GoogleX, Google's research and development arm, in 2013, when he interviewed 24-year-old Star Simpson for a job. During the interview DeVaul hinted at being in an open relationship with his wife and invited Simpson to a music festival in Nevada. Simpson assumed it to be an opportunity to further her probability of getting the job and met DeVaul there. There, DeVaul asked her to remove her shirt and offered her a back rub. After refusing, DeVaul eventually gave her a neck rub. She heard back weeks later that she had not gotten the job without any further explanation. Google's HR claims to have taken appropriate corrective action but does not explain further what that was.[11]

Amit SinghalEdit

In 2015 a Google employee claimed Amit Singhal had groped her at a work happy hour function. At the time, Singhal was a senior vice president. Following an investigation, Google found the claim credible. While they did not fire him, they accepted his resignation and signed an unusually large exit package that did not allow him to work for any competitors. Singhal stated he was taking time off to be with family and went on to become head of engineering at Uber.[12]

Google WalkoutsEdit

After the 2018 Time article ,[5] Google employees around the world staged walkouts on November 1, 2018 to protest what they claimed was a workplace culture that was turning a blind eye to sexual harassment and discrimination. Walking out of their offices at 11:10am, 20,000 people worldwide - including more than 1,000 people from Google’s headquarters in California - participated in the protests.[13] Employees feared being fired for participating in the walkouts but joined the protest anyway to demonstrate its importance. The participants agreed that the Times Investigation was definitely the catalyst for the walkouts but still emphasized that the protests had been a long time coming. One of the main topics they were protesting was how unfair it was for women who have been attacked to have to speak to the people above them in order to make a change happen, who were often their abusers. The organizers demanded google leadership to take concrete steps to fix the company’s internal corruption, including an end to forced arbitration, which prohibits workers from suing an employer in cases such as sexual harassment.[13]

Google employees at the company's Sunnyvale campus walk out on November 1, 2018 to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations

Google's Response to the WalkoutsEdit

The day before the walkouts, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai actually voiced his support for the protests, saying that “employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate”.[13] Nonetheless, Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland were fired shortly after participating in the walkouts. The two women were terminated for allegedly accessing internal information they shouldn’t have had in the course of their worker activism. Rivers and Berland objected to those claims, saying the documents in question were not sensitive and that monitoring public calendar events does not break any corporate rules. Following their firing, around 200 Google employees and protestors rallied outside Google’s San Francisco office demanding the company reinstate Rivers and Berland.[14] Google was accused of pushing other employees out of the company who helped organize the walkouts as well.

One week after the protests, Google announced new policies around sexual harassment and diversity that reflected the demands from the protestors who had met with Google's leadership. Among many changes, one of Google’s key alterations involved making arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.[14] This change gave employees the ability to take misconduct claims to court rather than privately settling them. The organizers of the walkout, however, stated that Google still ignored several of the core demands they put forward. As Google did not specifically address a number of other issues being protested, protestors remained displeased with the company’s actions.

Sexual Harassment in Tech and Tech-Bro CultureEdit

According to a 2018 survey by FTI Consulting and Mine the Gap, nearly half of women in tech had experienced or witnessed harassment in the last five years and a third had experienced or witnessed unwanted physical contact in the last year.[15] The numbers show a common theme of tolerance in the industry as companies and executives often overlook these intolerable acts. Specifically, two cases at Uber show how firms have failed to take appropriate corrective action in the event of sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment at UberEdit

Uber logo

Uber recently agreed to establish a $4.4 million fund to settle charges of sexual harassment and retaliation brought by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).[16] The charges come from an investigation that began in 2017 when Uber was involved in several major scandals, including Susan Fowler's experience with the firm.[16][17] Although Uber has been in the spotlight recently, cases of sexual harassment have occured at the firm for years, including the 2015 case of Eyal Gutentag.[18] In both Fowler's and Gutentag's cases, Uber grossly mishandled the situation for both the victim and the perpetrator. These two cases are summarized below.

Summaries of Two Cases of Sexual Harassment at Uber
1. Susan Fowler [17] 2. Eyal Gutentag [18]
Victim of sexual harassment Perpetrator of sexual harassment
Event reported to & acknowledged by HR Event reported to & acknowledged by HR
No corrective action taken by Uber Gutentag put on leave and terminated
Threatened by superiors for speaking up Reason for termination undisclosed by Uber
Superiors tank performance reviews Hired as COO of HopSkipDrive
Fowler fired Hired as CMO of ZipRecruiter

These cases highlight different ways Uber has perpetuated a culture of tolerance towards sexual harassment. In Fowler's case, Uber demonstrated a total lack of support for the victim and complete neglect of the perpetrator's behavior. In Gutentag's case, although Uber showed support of the victim by terminating Gutentag for his actions, their non-disclosure of his actions displays a tolerant attitude towards perpetrators of sexual harassment. Gutentag was able to find a new job within months of his termination and was able to further his career with few consequences for his actions.

Tech-Bro CultureEdit

The previous examples showcase how a company can mishandle sexual misconduct after it occurs, however, it is important to understand why sexual harassment occurs so frequently in tech. One driving factor is the existence of "tech-bro culture," which has been cited at Google to have "allowed the daily sexual harassment of a female software engineer." [19] In Silicon Valley, the lines between personal life and professional life are blurred. Investors meet entrepreneurs in informal locations such as bars & restaurants, bosses attend parties & music festivals with their inferiors, and employers allow drinking of alcohol in the workplace.[20] This "tech-bro culture" not only creates opportunities for sexual harassment to take place, it also permeates into office social dynamics. One former Facebook employee spoke that "if you party with the right people... you’re going to be part of this boys’ club." [21] She goes on to describe how this "boys' club" mindset strips away accountability in the workplace as people are too worried about their social standing in the company to speak out against a colleague.[21]

The Effects of an Enabling CultureEdit

Sexism and a history of tolerance of sexual harassment have made the tech industry a less attractive place for women to pursue their careers. Bethanye Blount, a veteran software engineer, cites tech conferences as "breeding grounds for unwanted sexual advances and assaults." [21] When one considers the physical and emotional dangers that this type of environment engenders, combined with the fact that "the prevailing advice is to stay silent and avoid repercussions," it is not difficult to understand why "women leave tech at more than twice the rate men do." [20][21]

Comments on ProfessionalismEdit

It goes without saying that Andy Rubin and other perpetrators of sexual harassment do not act as professionals as they put their selfish desires above all morals or ethics, breaching the trust one expects in a professional relationship. Google and Uber both have an ethical responsibility to act in the best interests of all of their employees and their mishandling of sexual harassment cases has shown that they have not been acting as professionals and only exacerbated the issue in the tech industry. Lastly, the Google walkout organizers and participants are true examples of what it means to be professionals. They put their profession before their careers and risked their jobs to fight for something noble.


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