An investigative report from Quartz recently uncovered a prevailing environment of sexual harassment that had, until this point, gone unchecked by Microsoft’s HR departments.
There was a peek behind into the company’s troublesome work environment a year ago when a class action lawsuit made its way to the public consciousness with 238 alleged cases of discrimination and sexual harassment over a six-year span first recorded in 2010.
However, Quartz’s report puts the spotlight on just how palpable and contentious some acts employees were made to endure, with an email chain shared amongst the sexually harassed describing cases ranging from derogatory name-calling to death threats.
One female Microsoft employee alleged that during a work trip an employee of a partner company threatened to kill her if she did not perform implied sexual acts.
“I raised immediate attention to HR and management,” she wrote. “My male manager told me that ‘it sounded like he was just flirting’ and I should ‘get over it’. HR basically said that since there was no evidence, and this man worked for a partner company and not Microsoft, there was nothing they could do.”
Another said that she had been called a “bitch” at work more than once, and found it was pervasive in the company. “We did a roundtable with the women when I was in Xbox core [team] & every woman, except for 1, had been called a bitch at work,” the Microsoft employee wrote. “
Before people say this is just an Xbox thing (as I’ve heard that dismissiveness way too many times within Microsoft before) the other eng [engineering] orgs where my experiences happened were Windows & Azure. This is a Microsoft thing, a common one.”
Other shared stories include a woman asked to sit on someone’s lap, repeatedly, while also being in the presence of Microsoft executives and a representative of the company’s HR department.
Sadly, nothing was said at the time, and it doesn’t seem that anything was done afterwards either. If the class action lawsuit was not a strong enough catalyst for the company to address an underlying culture of harassment and discrimination, this new email chain may be just the boiling point to attract enough outside attention to provoke Microsoft.
Microsoft’s head of human resources Kathleen Hogan said she plans to personally review and investigate the claims that were initially passed over by HR while also alerting senior leadership, including the company’s very outspoken chief legal officer Brad Smith and CEO Satya Nadella.
“I would like to offer to anyone who has had such demeaning experiences including those who felt were dismissed by management or HR to email me directly. I will personally look into the situation with my team.”
Hogan’s statement has been independently verified and now places culpability at the company’s highest levels. “This thread has pulled the scab off a festering wound. The collective anger and frustration is palpable. A wide audience is now listening. And you know what? I’m good with that,” one Microsoft employee in the email chain wrote, according to Quartz.