Thousands of Google employees around the world walked off the job briefly on Thursday to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment in recent years.
Employees everywhere from New York and California to Singapore and London took to the streets with signs and chants around 11 a.m. (in local time zones) demanding change following a New York Times report last week, which revealed that Google paid million dollar exit packages to male executives accused of misconduct.
“Time is up on sexual harassment!” organizer Vicki Tardif Holland shouted at a protest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, surrounded by about 300 people, according to the Associated Press. “Time is up on systemic racism. Time is up on abuses of power. Enough is enough!”
Hundreds gathered around the world with signs boasting poignant messages, including: “What do I do at Google? I work hard every day so the company can afford $90,000,000 payouts to execs who sexually harass my co-workers.”
Google employees everywhere were outraged after the Times revealed Andy Rubin, creator of the Android mobile software, left Google with a $90 million payout from the company after Google determined that a sexual misconduct claim against him was credible.
“The New York Times story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation,” Rubin said in a statement in response to the Times article. “Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign by my ex-wife to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, Google officials expressed their support for the employees, noting that Google has “evolved as a company.”
“Obviously it’s been a difficult time. This anger and frustration within the company, we all feel it. I feel it too. At Google we set a very, very high bar and we clearly didn’t live up to our expectations,” officials said in the statement. “And which is why we felt it was important to express our support for the employees today. And the first step you take in these things is to acknowledge and apologize for past actions, for the pain they caused. We sincerely did that to the company.“
But, for the employees, the protest is a long time coming.
“It’s just unfair that the women who are being attacked have to speak to the people above them in order to get change to happen,” Taylor Reifurth, a freelance editor at Google, told CNN. “Because sometimes their abusers are the ones above them and in charge of promoting them or in charge of their jobs. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
Photos supposedly of the protest showed large groups of people at Google’s Zurich, Tokyo, Berlin and Singapore offices, CNN reported. Meanwhile, a group of Google employees was seen walking out of the company’s headquarters in London.
“We’re walking out in support of those who’ve been harassed anywhere in the workplace, and to ensure that perpetrators are not rewarded and are not protected,” Sam Dutton, a Google developer advocate, told CNN.
In the wake of the initial report, Google revealed that it had fired 48 people for sexual harassment in the past two years — and none of them received an exit package, according to the Times.
The protest comes just weeks after McDonald’s employees in 10 cities organized a strike to highlight the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims. And the walkout follows the headline-making #MeToo movement.