In New York City, hundreds of workers gathered in a park near Google HQ, holding signs like “Women’s rights are human rights” and chanting “time is up.” Organizers took turns using a megaphone to address the crowd, reading anonymous stories from colleagues who said they’d been treated unfairly by the company.
It was certainly not the first worker uprising at a tech company — nor was it the last, but the sheer numbers of Googlers who participated that day were staggering, galvanizing a broader movement of worker activism.
But orchestrating the act of resistance was not without personal risk.
In the year since then, at least four of the core group of walkout organizers have left Google, including Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker. Both have been very public about what speaking out has cost them and the alleged retaliation they experienced. As a result, they’ve been thrust into the spotlight as faces of the movement.
Stapleton and Whittaker said they didn’t calculate the risk versus reward or think much about how the effort might impact their jobs. The two women talked about what inspired them to advocate for change and why they ultimately had no choice but to walk away after working at the company for more than a decade each. Stapleton said she accepted severance when she left earlier this year, although she declined to provide details. Whittaker declined to comment, as did Google on the matter.
Whittaker, an artificial intelligence researcher, called speaking out “an ethical imperative,” while acknowledging that “when you do labor organizing, you are in an adversarial relationship with the people who control your livelihood.”