Some companies use NDAs to keep former employees from going public with their negative experiences.
Google’s top executives say that they don’t want employees, particularly women, to be forcibly silenced when it comes to speaking out about workplace issues like sexual harassment.
In a conversation with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Ari Melber today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that he would have “no issues” with releasing women from contracts known as nondisclosure agreements, which some companies use to keep women from talking publicly about workplace issues once they’ve reached a settlement with a company.
The exchange took place during the taping of a new Recode TV show coming to MSNBC, called “Revolution.” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who was also part of the discussions, agreed.
Here’s the exchange:
Kara Swisher: “Will you release the women at Google from their nondisclosures that you may or may not have signed so they can tell their stories?”
Sundar Pichai: “I have no issues with that. I don’t think we typically do nondisclosure agreements around these types of issues.”
Susan Wojcicki: “I mean, I think we’re open to it. We haven’t discussed this, but I think it can make sense. We want to provide a more open environment and if there are issues and stories, we want to hear about them and talk about them. And I think at the end of the day it comes from the CEO, it comes from the very top. And we need the leadership to be able to say, ‘This is the right thing to do, this is how you run a tech company.’ And we need the CEOs of Silicon Valley to take a strong stance that they want an open and diverse environment.”
It’s not known if there are any former Google employees currently under such NDA agreements.
Update: A Google spokesperson reached out to confirm that the company does not have any agreements — employment, NDA or settlement agreements — that would prevent a Google employee from publicly discussing a harassment issue.
When BuzzFeed wrote a story about these kind of NDAs last November, a Google spokesperson told the publication: “We encourage our employees to report concerns about harassment … Our employment agreements don’t prohibit anyone from talking publicly about instances of harassment.”
(Employment agreements are not the same as nondisclosure agreements, though.)
Today’s discussion came on the heels of what was a significant year of self-reflection in Silicon Valley with regard to issues of workplace culture.
At Uber, for instance, numerous top executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick, stepped down or were fired as stories of the company’s bro culture leaked out. Others, including some well-known Silicon Valley investors, have been exposed for similar issues related to sexual harassment.
At Google, the company dealt with its own discrimination issue, though it may not be what you would have expected. A former engineer, James Damore, was fired after he sent an internal memo suggesting that women were underemployed in the tech industry because of biological reasons. He’s now suing the company for discriminating against white men.
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