Reporting workplace discrimination is a painful process. Here’s how a grassroots effort at Google is trying to change this.
Years ago, while I was working in a corporate job, I was at the receiving end of gender and racial discrimination.
When I reviewed my options of how to bring the incident to light, going to HR seemed like a huge undertaking. The issue would require me to confide in my boss, then go meet with my department’s team leader, then recount the story to several members of HR. There may or may not have been any action taken. I may or may not have been labeled a troublemaker.
The risk to my career advancement seemed too great to take. So I did nothing. My resentment simmered quietly and slowly tainted much of the positive experience I’d had in the job. I quit within a year of the incident.
I’m thrilled by the emerging prospect of less-risky options to air grievances, or at least warn others, about bias at companies. The one I like most, though I recognize how much the company’s size makes it possible, is a grassroots effort to expose biases at Google.
The message board, called “Yes, at Google,” allows employees to submit anonymous incidents of experiencing or witnessing “unwelcome behavior,” at Google and its parent company Alphabet, according to Bloomberg. The list has over 15,000 subscribers, or 20 percent of Google employees.
The opportunity to shine a spotlight on bad behavior without immediate career ramifications is likely to be encouraging for anyone who may have experienced bias at the workplace. The best part is it doesn’t appear to be a secret effort to malign the company, but rather to help it become more inclusive.
The company is aware of the list and some good has come of it, including the company’s investigation into and action on certain offenses. One such example was the firing of a male employee who drank excessively at a company off-site and then sexually harassed several female employees, according to Bloomberg. This could be truly promising in addressing major issues, as I’ve been privy to incidents where women and people of color have been fearful of reporting verbal or physical abuse, worried that their complaints wouldn’t be taken seriously by the company.
But discrimination in the workplace shows up in various forms and not all are blatant. The Google list also appears to highlight incidences of microaggressions — subtle or indirect forms of bias that can impact an employee’s morale and feelings of belonging.
I often get asked to share advice on how to best address microaggressions. I’m usually at a loss to offer advice to the employee experiencing them; you don’t want to be perceived as too uptight or sensitive. At the same time, even some of the positive microaggressions can perpetuate stereotypes that directly impact your experience at work — for example, stereotypes about Asians working harder than others may result in Asian employees being responsible for an unfairly large proportion of a team assignment.
An anonymous list like this one could highlight seemingly innocuous comments and may prove insightful for those who may not realize they’re making their peers uncomfortable. It’s an issue I’ve heard crop up far too many times at offices across the country. Google doesn’t seem to be immune from it either.
“One submission calls out a comment someone wrote in an internal referral that a job candidate “is definite [sic] one of the smartest girls I’ve met.” Another: “Co-worker to me: ‘You know why the schools in Pleasanton are so good, right? Because of all the Chinese people,'” the same Bloomberg article states.
Again, I recognize that a similar message board would be most effective in large companies, where employees can truly remain anonymous when reporting incidents. However, the old way of reporting discrimination in person to HR seems outdated today when there are a plethora of digital tools at our fingertips. I’d encourage even employees and managers at smaller companies to think of better ways to spotlight these issues to make it easier to remediate.