Activision, Facing Internal Turmoil, Grapples With #MeToo Reckoning
More than 1,500 employees of video game maker Activision Blizzard left their jobs this week. Thousands of people have signed a letter berating their employer. And even when the CEO apologized, current and former employees said they wouldn’t stop heckling.
Shay Stein, who previously worked at Activision, said it was “heartbreaking.” Lisa Welch, former vice president, said she felt “deep disappointment”. Others took to Twitter or held up signs outside one of the company’s offices on Wednesday to share their anger.
Activision, known for its hugely popular Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and StarCraft game franchises, has been engulfed in an uproar over behavioral issues at work. The upheaval stems from an explosive lawsuit the California Department of Employment and Fair Housing filed last Tuesday, accusing the $ 65 billion company of fostering a “work culture of fellowship boys” in which men joked about rape and women were regularly harassed and paid less than their male colleagues.
Activision publicly criticized the investigation and the agency’s two-year allegations as “irresponsible behavior by irresponsible state bureaucrats.” But his dismissive tone angered employees, who called the company for trying to brush off what they said were heinous issues that had been ignored for too long.
The intense reaction was unusual. Of all the industries that have faced accusations of sexism in recent years – including Hollywood, restaurants, and the media – the male-dominated video game industry has long been distinguished by its overtly toxic behavior and lack of change. In 2014, feminist critics in the industry were threatened with death in what became known as Gamergate. Executives of game companies Riot Games and Ubisoft have also been charged with misconduct.
Now Activision’s actions may signal a new phase, where a critical mass of the industry’s own workers indicate they will no longer tolerate such behavior.
“This could mean real responsibility for companies that fail to take care of their workers and create inequitable working environments where women and gender minorities are marginalized and abused,” said Carly Kocurek, associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology which studies the genre in games.
She said the California lawsuit and Activision fallout were a “big deal” for an industry that has traditionally ignored allegations of sexism and harassment. Other game companies were probably monitoring the situation, she added, and wondering if they should address their own cultures.
Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision, apologized to employees on Tuesday, saying the responses to the lawsuit were “deaf” and that a law firm would investigate the company’s policies.
Activision, based in Santa Monica, Calif., Said in a statement for this article that it is committed “to lasting change, to listening and to continuing the important work of creating a safe and inclusive workplace that we can all be proud “.
In interviews, seven current and former Activision employees said blatant behavior had taken place in the company, both above and below the hierarchy, for years. Three current employees declined to be appointed for fear of reprisal. Their accounts of what happened at work largely match what is on display in the state lawsuit.
Ms Stein, 28, who worked at Activision from 2014 to 2017 in a customer service role, helping gamers with issues and issues, said she was always paid less than her ex-boyfriend, who joined the company at the same time as her. and does the same job.
Ms Stein said she had previously refused medication her manager gave her at a Christmas party in 2014 or 2015, which soured their relationship and hampered her career. In 2016, a manager messaged her on Facebook, suggesting she must be into “weird stuff” and asking her what kind of porn she was watching. She said she also stood above her male colleagues by joking that some women only got their jobs because they were rendering sexual favors to male superiors.
“It was really hurtful,” said Ms Stein, adding that she felt like she had to “endure” it.
Ms Welch, who joined Activision in 2011 as vice president of strategy and consumer insight, said she knew the company was known to have a combative culture, but was intrigued by the leading role.
Then, at a hotel on a work trip that year, Ms Welch said, an executive urged her to have sex with him because she “deserved to have fun” after death. from her boyfriend weeks earlier. She said she turned it down.
Other colleagues have suggested she “hook up” with them, she said, and have commented on her appearance regularly over the years. Ms Welch, 52, said she had also been repeatedly ignored for promotions to less qualified men.
She said she didn’t report the incidents, in part because she didn’t want to admit that her sex was a “professional responsibility” and that she enjoyed her job. But in 2016, she said, her doctor convinced her to leave because the stress was affecting her health.
Until the trial is delivered, Welch said she believed her experience was unique at the company. “To hear it’s on this scale is just deeply disappointing,” she said.
Responding to accusations from former employees, Activision said “such conduct is heinous” and would investigate the allegations. The company said it has distanced itself from its past and improved its culture in recent years.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which protects people from unlawful discrimination, said it had not commented on investigations initiated. But his lawsuit against Activision, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also spared few details. Most of the misconduct accusations have focused on a division called Blizzard, with which the company merged under a deal with Vivendi Games in 2008.
The lawsuit accused Activision of being “fertile ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” The employees engaged in “cube crawls” in which they got drunk and acted inappropriately towards women in work booths, according to the lawsuit.
In one case, an employee committed suicide while on a business trip because of the sexual relationship she had with her male supervisor, according to the lawsuit. Before her death, male colleagues had shared an explicit photo of the woman, according to the lawsuit.
When the lawsuit went public last week, Activision said he worked to improve his culture, but also decided to stand up for himself. He said publicly that the state agency had “rushed to file an inaccurate complaint” and was “sickened by the reprehensible conduct” to talk about suicide.
In an internal memo last week, Frances Townsend, Activision’s chief compliance officer, also called the lawsuit “truly baseless and irresponsible.” Ms Townsend’s memo has been released on Twitter.
The employees reacted with fury. An open letter to Activision executives calling on them to take the accusations more seriously and “show compassion” for the victims drew more than 3,000 signatures from current and former employees on Wednesday. The company has nearly 10,000 employees.
“We no longer believe that our leaders will place the safety of employees above their own interests,” the letter said, calling Ms. Townsend’s remarks “unacceptable.”
Organizers of the walkout, which was announced on Tuesday, also submitted a list of demands to leaders. These included the end of mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts, more hiring and promotion of diverse candidates, the publication of salary data and the authorization of a third party to audit the reporting procedures and of Activision’s human resources.
The company’s shares plunged on Tuesday. That same day, Activision told employees they would be paid while they witness the walkout. Mr. Kotick then apologized.
“I’m sorry we didn’t provide the right empathy and understanding,” he said in a note to employees. “There is nowhere in our business for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind.”
Mr Kotick, who has been criticized for a $ 155 million salary that makes him one of the highest paid executives in the country, added that the company would strengthen the team tasked with investigating the reported misconduct, responsible for the fires that would have hampered investigations. and remove content from the game that has been flagged as inappropriate.
The employees said that was not enough.
“We will not go back to silence; we will not be appeased by the same processes that got us to this point, ”the organizers of the walkout said in a public statement. They refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.
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