My Time at Google and After

Jennifer Blakely

The #MeToo Movement has been the beginning of a sea change for women, exposing the double standard between women and men in the workplace oftentimes resulting in abuse toward women. I was moved to tears by the walkout of 20,000 Google employees after the New York Times published an article detailing how the company protects its “elite men.” I lived through it first hand and I believe a company’s culture, its behavioral patterns, start at the top. Rarely do we hear about what happens to women after they are forced out of their jobs but I can tell you what happened to me.

I was hired to work in Google’s legal department as a Senior Contracts Manager before the company went public in 2001 and worked for David Drummond who was Google’s general counsel at the time. David was married and had a son but almost none of us had met his wife. The people in Google’s legal department were very close and in 2004, at my birthday party at the W in San Francisco, David reserved a suite to host an “after party.” It was there, that night he told me how he wanted more children. I urged to him to have one with his wife but he demurred and said that would never happen because he was estranged from her, which admittedly I already knew — he was the only married one in attendance without his spouse.

David and I began an affair shortly after that night and we were together for years. The first time we got pregnant was in 2005. I was travelling in Europe when I miscarried, about 3 months into my pregnancy. I phoned David who was in Hawaii closing on a house we’d found together to give him the sad news. We were pregnant again a year later. David assured me of his imminent divorce and our son was born in May 2007.

David was well aware that our relationship was in violation of Google’s new policy which went from “discouraging” direct-reporting-line relationships to outright banning them. Still, he never told anyone he worked for that we were pregnant. After our son was born, I received a call from HR notifying me that one of us would have to leave the legal department where David was now Chief Legal Officer, so I transferred to the sales department despite having zero experience in sales. I did my best to keep up but I was floundering and became depressed at work. David was aware of my struggles and unhappiness in sales. But he had moved in with us by now and since I couldn’t return to the legal department where only one of us was allowed to work, David offered to help us out financially on a monthly basis so I could leave my job in sales. Since he was living with our son and me, I took this as a further sign of commitment. I felt confident that he loved us and would protect us and so I quit Google, signing whatever documents they required because likewise, I wanted to protect him.

In October of 2008, still living together, David and I attended a dinner in Palo Alto with other Google employees, many from the legal department. During dinner, our babysitter called to say our son was sick so I went home and David said he would be right behind me. Several hours later that same evening, I received a call from Chris Chin, the Associate General Counsel and a friend, who told me that David had taken two other women who worked for him in the legal department to San Francisco. I didn’t understand. Our son was very sick and I panicked so I called him several times but he didn’t answer his phone. Finally, I sent him a text message asking him when we could expect him home. He responded, “Don’t expect me back. I’m never coming back.” And he didn’t.

“Hell” does not begin to capture my life since that day. I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms. Having no job, no recourse, I didn’t have a leg to stand on. David would go for months or even years at a time completely ignoring my pleas to see his son — not even so much as a text to us, despite living about a mile away. He wouldn’t mention or discuss any form of formal child support and when I finally filed a custody suit, he fought back by trying to take our son to be raised by his wife and him despite his pending divorce from her, his separate residence and his own warnings of the conflict and danger such a situation would pose. When our son was 4 ½, our custody arrangement was settled and David began providing ample child support. Yet years later, when I reminded him of the terrifying threats I’d endured from him, he admitted to me he’d never had any intention of such an arrangement. The excruciating battle my son and I endured was simply the price I had to pay for standing up to him.

David stayed married, and began an affair with his “personal assistant” who he moved into one of his new homes. He had another affair with my former colleague at Google, the woman he left us for on that night in October 2008. If I objected to his terms, if I didn’t “play ball,” he would punish me by punishing our son. Months or years would go by where he wouldn’t see him or respond to my calls or texts with updates and pictures of him or even ask how he was doing, let alone how he might help out, knowing full well I was alone and in desperate need.

Once in the summer of 2014, David came over to visit our son and we got into an argument about his one-way terms for seeing him at my house at his convenience, especially when he had his own house(s) blocks away. He sat down at our kitchen table and, using my laptop, he pulled up a year-old article from the Daily Mail about Eric Schmidt’s philandering lifestyle. He then passed the computer over to me to read. I was so perplexed! I was well aware of Eric’s lifestyle, David was even more aware, but none of it was news, we’d talked about it for years. David explained to me how Eric’s “personal life” was, in essence, his privilege. The article was apparently a reminder to me of how things worked: David was (and is) a powerful executive. His “personal life” (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his “personal life” it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child.

Many years later, when the #MeToo Movement began, I was contacted by several reporters. I’d always felt like my situation was my fault, that I deserved it because David was married. I am regretful on many levels, but I’m also thankful for the growth in character I’ve had since then — and for my son! What I never understood is why I was the only one bearing the consequences, especially when I knew David’s treatment of our son and me was nothing short of abuse.

Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful. Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top. For me, the abuse of power didn’t stop with being pushed out. Afterwards I was pushed down, lest I got in the way of the behavior that had become even more oppressive and entitled. Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace.

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