Google human resources chief Eileen Naughton is stepping down later this year, the company confirms to The Verge (via Fortune). Her title was VP of People Operations; according to Google, the team’s goal is to be “the champions of Google’s culture.”
Perhaps needless to say, Google’s culture hasn’t been in the best shape for a while. The company is still reeling from the revelations that multiple high-level Google and Alphabet executives were reportedly involved in sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual relationships, some of whom received multimillion-dollar severance packages after the fact, which angered Google employees to the point 20,000 of them staged a walkout.
Since the walkout, dozens of Google employees have said the company has retaliated against them for reporting workplace issues including sexual harassment, claiming that Google opted to protect itself rather than employees. Two of the walkout organizers also quit Google after the company allegedly retaliated against them, and Google controversially fired five more employees who were involved in internal activism. Four of them raised concerns with the National Labor Relations Board, which is now conducting an investigation.
Google also allegedly pushed out its own human rights chief after he raised concerns about the company’s plans to build a censored Chinese search engine, codename Project Dragonfly, and scaled back its weekly “TGIF” town hall meetings to once a month, focused only “on product and business strategy,” after disgruntled employees repeatedly leaked info to the media. Workers also fought with the company to end forced arbitration and over the members of the company’s AI ethics board, which later got dissolved.
It’s not clear if Naughton herself was personally responsible for any of these decisions, and some of the uglier allegations happened before her four years leading Google’s People Operations team — for instance, the allegation that Google’s HR department punished former Google lawyer Jennifer Blakeley, but not Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond, when the two had an affair.
Google’s HR department also wasn’t necessarily behind the big payouts to execs accused of sexual misconduct — those were approved by Google’s Leadership Development and Compensation Committee, a committee run by the company’s management, according to a lawsuit. (Drummond left the company last month with no exit package.) Naughton also pointed out in 2018 that 48 employees had been fired for sexual harassment, with no exit packages, since 2016.
Today, Google says Naughton is planning to stick with the company in a new role that hasn’t yet been decided, and Naughton says she’s simply giving up the HR chief role to be closer to her family in New York City. That makes some sense — Google’s main offices are in Mountain View, California, and it’s possible that People Operations wouldn’t be as effective run remotely.
But regardless of the reason, it’s not terribly surprising that the person in charge of Google’s culture for the past four years might not be sticking around to fix it. After all, even company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin recently stepped down, leaving Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in charge of the companies they built.
“We’re grateful to Eileen for all she’s done and look forward to her next chapter at Google,” reads part of a statement from Pichai. Google says Naughton is leading the recruitment process for her successor, and credits her with improvements to Google’s misconduct reporting processes, as well as a $15 minimum wage, comprehensive healthcare and parental leave for Google’s temp and outsourced workers.
In December, we wrote about outsourced Google moderators who make $18.50 an hour for the unenviable, potentially PTSD-inducing job of moderating disturbing content on YouTube, with almost no paid medical leave. In response, it appears that Google contractor Accenture began forcing its moderators to sign a document acknowledging the risk to their mental health.