Google’s historic 20,000-strong walkout against sexual harassment kicked off at Singapore headquarters

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Photo: Twitter screengrab @DaveLeeBBC

In a protest against Google’s treatment of sexual harassment, at least 20,000 employees of the tech giant walked out on November 1 all over the globe—starting with Google’s Singapore office.

Google staff from Berlin, New York, Tokyo, Zurich and London, and other cities participated in the demonstration, entitled “Walkout for Real Change, November 1, 11:10 am.” The official Twitter page for the event reads that the walkout was held “to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace that doesn’t work for everyone.

Because Singapore is ahead by several hours, it was still October 31 in other parts of the globe when BBC’s Dave Lee tweeted a photo from Google’s local headquarters for Asia-Pacific at Pasir Panjang’s Mapletree Business City, that read, “The first of many coordinated #GoogleWalkout protests has begun – this is at the firm’s office in Singapore.”

The idea behind the “Walkout for Real Change” began after The New York Times ran a story on October 25 about how Google covered up allegations of sexual misconduct against Andy Rubin, who created Android’s operating systems. When an investigation in 2014 proved the victim’s story to be credible, Google asked for Rubin’s resignation. He was publicly praised by the company, as well as given a resignation package worth $90 million.

The same article showed that Google behaved similarly toward two other executives, and did not bring to light any accusations of sexual misconduct.

Rubin has denied the allegations, claiming them to be part of a “smear campaign” that his former wife waged against him after the marriage fell apart.

Some of Google’s staff organized the protest after the story came out, and in a few days, the number of employees unhappy with Google’s handling of the cases grew to 1,500, mostly women. One of the organizers, Claire Stapleton, a product marketing manager at Google’s YouTube, said, “We don’t want to feel that we’re unequal or we’re not respected anymore. Google’s famous for its culture. But in reality we’re not even meeting the basics of respect, justice and fairness for every single person here.”

Organizers for the walkout said, “While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between.”

They also posted a letter showing their demands for change:

  1. An end to Forced Arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination (this would enable victims to file lawsuits against Google).
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity equity.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct policy safely and anonymously.
  5. Elevate the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Director. In addition, appoint an Employee Representative to the Board.

Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, has said in response that 48 people have been fired without payouts since 2016 due to sexual harassment. However, he has also voiced his support for the walkout and has pledged to change company policy concerning the matter.

Pichai said, “Moments like this show that we didn’t always get it right, and so we are committed to doing better. There’s anger and frustration within the company. We all feel it. I feel it too.”

Read related TIME’s Person of the Year features #MeToo victims of sexual assault