Why a #GoogleWalkout Organizer Left Google

In April, two of the organizers of the Google Walkout, Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, came forward with the stories of the retaliation they’ve faced as a result of speaking out at the company. Claire left Google this week. Here’s the note she shared internally to mark her last day:

I have such a simple, pure nostalgia around the years I spent at Google in Mountain View, 2007–2012, that it almost figures in my mind like a childhood — a blur of grass and sun. I used to go out of my way to check out a weekly dodgeball game (that was a thing then). I whizzed around campus on those primary-colored bikes. I dabbled in veganism. But the most potent sense-memory I have comes from five years’ worth of Fridays standing at the side of the stage in Charlie’s, half a beer deep, watching Larry and Sergey and TGIF in a kind of (half-a-beer-buzzed) state of rapture. Google’s lore, its leadership, its promise — the whole thing lit me up, filled me with a sense of purpose, of inspiration, of privilege to be here.

Fast forward a few years and I’d moved to New York, cycled through Creative Lab and landed at YouTube. As I neared the ten-year mark, my first boss, Sally Cole, who’d left Google many years before, joked that I was surely due for an existential crisis. But when I got back to work after having my son Malcolm in 2017, it wasn’t me who was having an existential crisis. It was Google itself. The world had changed, dramatically altering the context of our work and the magnitude of our decisions, especially at YouTube. Google’s always had controversies and internal debates, but the “hard things” had intensified, and the way leadership was addressing them suddenly felt different, cagier, less satisfying. It was the way that management answered the TGIF questions about the Andy Rubin payout–the sidestepping, the jokes, the total lack of accountability–that inspired me to call for the Walkout.

These past few months have been unbearably stressful and confusing. But they’ve been eye-opening, too: the more I spoke up about what I was experiencing, the more I heard, and the more I understood how universal these issues are. That’s why I find it so depressing that leadership has chosen to just bluntly refute my story. They have a different version of what happened; that’s how this works. But putting the huge looming questions aside (if it wasn’t retaliation, then what was it?), when they say “Claire’s experience didn’t happen,” they’re talking to everyone who thought my story sounded familiar, anyone who’s been Through It in some form: pushed out or punished for speaking up, gaslit, discriminated against, isolated, harassed. People are telling each other their stories. Refusing to acknowledge our humanity and engage with the deeper issues being raised — well, that’s not very Googley.

It pains me greatly to leave because I care so much about this company, its people, and the power it wields in the world (“here lies Claire: she cared,” my epitaph, probably). The short explanation for my decision is my health: I’m having another baby in the fall (I acknowledge that there’s incredible privilege in being able to walk away from a job like this). I made the choice after the heads of my department branded me with a kind of scarlet letter that makes it difficult to do my job or find another one. If I stayed, I didn’t just worry that there’d be more public flogging, shunning, and stress, I expected it. Life is extremely short and realistically we only have a couple of years left until the world hurtles into climate apocalypse or some other paroxysm of our own doing.

I still think this place is magic, but now I locate much of its brilliance and goodness in the people, not in some amorphous idea of the “culture” or what happens at TGIF every week. It is my greatest hope in leaving that people continue to speak up and talk to each other, stand up for one another and for what’s right, and keep building the collective voice. I hope that leadership listens. Because if they won’t lead, we will.