Google has a brand problem. It just might not yet realize that yet.
It’s not only facing external pressures, but more importantly pressures coming from its own employees. The company’s dirty laundry has been aired over its widely reported mismanagement regarding rampant sexual misconduct towards women and Google’s approach to dismiss, silence and harm those who file claims.
CEOs can learn from Google’s negligence and missteps. Those who pay close attention to such widely-reported incidents will realize that their organizations are not immune to similar breakdowns in leadership, breaches of employee boundaries and limits, weak oversight and damage within the ranks, the media, in public relations, legally, in brand stability, financially and with investors.
What kinds of breakdowns? Well, Android leader Andy Rubin received a $90 million out-the-door going away present despite reported “credible” and startling allegations of behavioral impropriety against women. That gets the media’s attention, it gets a workforce’s attention and inspires employees in other organizations to re-experience their own trauma and speak out.
Another recent story reports that as many as four dozen other Google employees, including 13 senior managers, have been terminated over the last two years for a lack of self-control towards women.
What do these reports infer about the offending males’ belief systems, the workplace culture, management oversight, views of women teammates and leadership competence? The issue goes much deeper than just the topic of the dispute and the severity of the behavior. In a macro sense, it is a public relations challenge and there could potentially be a larger legal mountain climb to come.
It is additionally a negative for recruiting and talent acquisition, as people see stories of Google’s administration turning a blind eye to the offensive behavior towards women, and the perception of tolerance and acceptance for the illegal, unprofessional, immoral actions of a percentage of the male workforce within the company.
As significant as that is, the bigger crisis is Google’s deteriorating relationship with a presumed large segment of women employees. Repairing that should be priority number one. How can your female workforce feel safe, respected, valued and trust leadership and the Google brand if the company does not recognize the ongoing issue and respond with the strongest caliber of intelligent, ethical urgency?
Google could choose to ask itself what message does it think it has been sending employees, especially women? Is that perception accurate? Has it done wide-spread, deep, consistent, anonymous research to learn if its perception is congruent with what is factual? What message would Google to send? Would it like for employees—especially women—to feel the message is aligned with reality?
Google’s response to its problems will clearly reveal, through its sustained actions, its business philosophy, how it values women and the type of relationship health with its people (partners) it desires. Will it drive out predatory or exploitative behavior and set up safeguards prevent it in the first place? Will it give its people, women and men both, a stronger voice for protection against behavioral dysfunction and abuse?
CEOs who have been paying attention to this disaster of a situation should:
• Increase awareness of the potential risk of sexual harassment at their organization, ensure ongoing coaching of employees with videos or role playing.
• Commit to highest-level successful oversight, and encourage employees to step forward immediately.
• Be sincerely empathetic of the pain people feel, detailing the steps that will next be taken next in response, keeping them apprised of progress and showing, with action, that you are an advocate for civility, respect and mutual gender appreciation and protection for all.
• Immediately coach transgressors or terminate them for egregious or repeated violations.
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