Claire Stapleton, a key organizer of the 2018 Google walkouts and Founder of Tech Support, an advice column and newsletter for tech workers, joins to discuss how writing played a critical role in her activism.
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Claire began her career at Google in an entry-level position on the internal communications team. “I was responsible for ghostwriting executive emails and working on this weekly Town Hall Meeting that Larry and Sergey, the founders of Google, hosted. I sent around reminder emails to the company, and in that weekly memo that I wrote to Googlers, I was riffing on a lot of the really positive aspects of culture at Google. I think I was sort of accused of pumping the Kool Aid through the system, but it was authentic to me. I was the ultimate company cheerleader.” Claire eventually transitioned to marketing functions within Google, but ironically, it was the company’s lack of effective executive communications, the department where she launched her career, that ultimately led to Claire’s decision to organize the 2018 Google walkouts.
Claire helped organize the 2018 Google walkouts after Google attempted to cover up sexual misconduct allegations against Andy Rubin, the father of the Android operating system, during his departure from the company. Rubin was paid $90 million in severance. “There is irony because Google could have completely nipped this whole thing in the bud if they'd had better internal communications on that day. They were incredibly defensive. It was mealy mouthed and so insufficient because you have all these people sharing their stories which are contemporaneous.” Google’s lack of transparency inspired Claire to leverage the writing skills she had developed internally to take a stand against the inequities she witnessed among her colleagues. “My having written these internal memos and emails before was relevant as I think that it gave the protests a stamp of legitimacy, because my name recognition was high. I was a true insider, which I think reassured people that it was going to be okay to protest the company in this way. It felt so foreign to so many of us, openly sharing these stories.”
“I feel like I'm a better listener than writer a lot of times,” Claire likes to point out in describing how she fell into her radicalization. “I was curious to collect people's stories. I was very interested in how deep the disillusionment was, and I think that a lot of it was very disappointing experiences with HR, which I had also had myself.” Claire understood that her own personal experiences, though substantial after a decade working at Google, wouldn’t be enough to transform her vision into actionable change at the company. “I had some thoughts that helped me characterize what I thought was going on culturally at Google based on years of observing the leadership, but there's so much more going on that I couldn't begin to wrap my arms around without actually talking to people.” Stepping outside of your own personal perspective is harder than just writing about your own thoughts and feelings, but it’s also incredibly powerful. “I think that's why people say that organizing is doing listening tours. You can't fake the truth. It was important to me that the work that we did represented a plurality as opposed to just my voice.”
Claire’s natural inclination to elevate the voices of her peers transformed her writing into a movement. “What I saw and understood from reading all these testimonials people sent around the walkout was that the system works really well by design to make people feel very small and powerless. I'm just trying to give voice to people going through it. The powerlessness these individuals felt communicated in aggregate on paper, created a lot of power.”
Claire is aware that the Google protests in 2018 were part of a larger cultural narrative that was holding powerful men and corporate entities accountable. “The macro economic forces are so huge here. I think big tech is out of favor in certain ways, so we're playing into narratives that we have nothing to do with and a lot of ways.”