Though it’s hardly breaking news these days, yet another prominent man has been pushed out of his high-level position amid allegations of sexual harassment, abuse of power, and exploiting women reports.
While it does seem like the same old story we’ve been hearing since #MeToo began galvanizing a movement early last year, this one, uncovered by the New York Times, is different. Because this one involves Andy Rubin, the “Father of Android,” and Google, a company that touches almost every man, woman, and child on earth, and where “don’t be evil” is the ingrained credo.
In spite of the accusations, Google feted Rubin’s departure, with Larry Page himself publicly wishing him “all the best with what’s next” and, according to the Time’s stellar reporting, backed that good will up with $2.5 million cash in Rubin’s bank account every month for years.
Why didn’t they just fire him without severance, you ask? It’s a reasonable question, and Google has at least three tried-and-true reasons to believe it’s more important to pay nearly a hundred million dollars to the alleged abuser rather than, say, publicly disavow his behavior, press charges, or equally compensate the women Google believes have credible accounts.
Reason #1: He’s a genius.
Google is known for hiring the most skilled, mostly male, technology talent in the world. Andy Rubin is both. He’s the guy who developed Android—a platform that made it easier to put Google in the hands of the masses. Page called Rubin’s creation of Android “truly remarkable,” and he’s been hailed as a genius in Silicon Valley. As Hannah Gatsby famously asserts, once it’s decided a guy is a genius, his reputation is more important than his actions—even if some of those alleged actions include storing bondage porn on his work computer and forcing a woman who worked with him to perform oral sex. Rubin’s no Picasso, but still, Google found it easy enough to separate the man from the art. After all, says Gatsby, in our culture, geniuses must be protected and revered.
So why doesn’t Google hire some equally genius women software developers to bring balance to power? As most big tech companies like to espouse, there just aren’t enough qualified women in the pipeline. Girls outperform boys in school, and more women graduate college now than men, but female genius seems to vanish when women join the workforce. According to a Google search, only about 30% of Google employees are women—a stat that hasn’t changed in many years.
Reason #2: He’s worth it.
Rubin made his first $50 million when Google acquired his software company. Once he joined Google, they gave him a $40 million bonus plus $72 million in stock, plus a reported $20 million in annual compensation. Even in the midst of the harassment investigation, the Google board continued to demonstrate his extreme value to the company when it awarded him another $150 million in stock grants. And to sweeten his departure, on top of his incredibly generous exit package, Google kicked in even more millions to fund his startup. Rubin was so valuable to Google, they were willing to look the other way when accounts of his alleged bad behavior became even worse. Meanwhile, as Rubin was collecting his hundreds of millions, the women he’s accused of abusing weren’t earning anything close to equal what Rubin was, which indicates their relative worth to Google.
Though he wasn’t known for valuing the feelings or morale of his team, Rubin appears to know the value of women— and according to his wife, owned a few. In her divorce suit, Rubin’s ex-wife supported her case with a screenshot of an email to a woman, “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.” One has to wonder if that’s the general attitude of other men leading Google, who seem to look at the women there as most romantic interests.
Reason #3: Google leads by example.
Google is the third most valued company in the world, employs more than 80,000 people and interacts with several billion users every day. Like most tech companies, its leadership makeup reflects its employees, not its customers, which, like the general population, is half women. The company is 70% male. The board and top executives are overwhelmingly male, many of whom have been accused of questionable behavior with women—reportedly, extramarital affairs with underlings are common. There have been countless reports that the two founders, the former CEO, various directors, and even the chief counsel have been romantically involved with women employees—many while married. How can any of these men in leadership condemn one of their own with a straight face? It’s understandable why Google would keep silent about the accusations. Women are liabilities in these cases and have been treated that way.
The weak apology.
After the rationalizations, next up in the patriarchal playbook is the pseudo-apology. When Larry Page finally acknowledged the corporate cover-up to employees, his non-apology exacerbated the outrage and disgust. “I know this is really an exceptionally painful story for some of you, and I’m really sorry for that,” he said in a meeting, failing to indicate that either he or the board felt exceptional pain for their complicity in the situation. He did not mention any regret, remorse, or embarrassment for the millions of dollars the company has given the accused to leave.
Google: The world’s most innovative company?
The fact is, until women are hired, groomed, and promoted at Google in parity to men, given fair representation on the board, similar job titles and duties, and rewarded with equal pay for equal work, Google is not fulfilling its promise to be the most innovative company in the world. When leadership obfuscates facts, Google is not fulfilling its mission to democratize information. When leadership seems to condone alleged harassment, assault and exploitation of women, Google undermines its commitment to do no evil.
A note to the men leading Google: the same old patriarchal ideas and behaviors will not change the world. Don’t keep paying stupid amounts of money to accused harassers. Put the smart money on women instead. That will definitely change the world—and isn’t that what you first set out to do?