Reaching dozens of Activision Blizzard employeesit was the latest update in a troubling week for the company behind Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Activision Blizzard has been shaken off when the state of California accused it of discriminating in the workplace by its female workforce.
The suit, filed by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, claims that the company has a “frat boy” culture in the workplace and claims several alarming incidents of discrimination and harassment.
The suit did not take long to affect. Many employees have spoken out in support of the allegations, over 2,000 have signed an open letter calling for action from the company, and a. After initially dismissing many of DFEH’s allegations, Activision Blizzard has said it will launch a full probe – and its gameplay will be changed to reflect values of diversity and inclusion.
Activision Blizzard is one of the largest gaming companies in the world. It owns Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Diablo, Crash Bandicoot and many more hugely popular franchises and last year recorded $ 2.2 billion in profits. Here’s all you need to know about this colossal lawsuit.
What is Activision Blizzard accused of?
DFEH’s case accuses Activision Blizzard of discrimination in the workplace. It is claimed that women are compensated unfairly – paid less for the same job, examined more heavily than their male peers – and subjected to significant harassment. The agency called Activision Blizzard a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination” in which women are subject to regular sexual advances by (often senior) men who are largely unpunished.
Illustrative of the allegations made by DFEH against Activision is an office ritual referred to as “dice crawling” in which men allegedly drink “copious” amounts of alcohol, crawl through office booths and perform “inappropriate behavior” including groping. The trial describes incidents, including allegations that a female employee died of suicide during a business trip as a result of a toxic relationship with a supervisor.
“Women and girls now make up nearly half of gamers in America, but the gaming industry continues to cater to men,” the suit reads. “Unfortunately, Activision-Blizzard’s double-digit percentage growth, 10-digit annual revenue and recent diversity marketing campaigns have changed a lot.”
And then the employees responded?
After DFEH filed its case, Activision responded to Blizzard with a lengthy statement saying the department had filed a hasty, inaccurate report with “distorted and in many cases false descriptions of [Activision Blizzard’s] ahead of time. “In an email sent to staff, published by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Frances Townsend, said the site presented “a distorted and untrue picture of our business, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories – some from more than a month ago.”
These statements apparently did not satisfy employees, neither current nor past. Over 2,000 of them signed an open letter to the Activision Blizzard management, criticizing the company’s response. (Activision Blizzard currently has about 10,000 employees.)
“To put it bluntly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our manager,” the open letter reads. according to Bloomberg. “Claiming this is a ‘really unprofitable and irresponsible lawsuit’, while seeing so many current and former employees talk about their own experiences of harassment and abuse is simply unacceptable.”
The letter signed by the employees made three demands. First, that the company issues statements acknowledging the severity of the allegations. Second, that Townsend resigns his role as executive sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network. Third, Activision Blizzard’s management works with employees to ensure a safe work area to “speak out and come forward.”
How did Activision Blizzard react?
After Activision Blizzard’s first statement, along with the one made by Townsend, was so thoroughly rejected by employees, the company appears to be taking suit more seriously. On Tuesday, the company’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, issued a letter addressing the matter and employees’ concerns.
“Our first response to the problems we face together, and to your concerns, was frankly tone-deaf,” it sounds. “We are taking quick steps to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place in our company for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind.”
Kotick announced that a law firm, WilmerHale, will be hired to evaluate the company’s “policies and procedures.”
In addition to the probe, Kotick outlined several changes that would be made effective immediately. The company would investigate “every single allegation” of discrimination and harassment made and will host listening sessions to work with employees on how to improve workplace culture. Activision Blizzard will also “evaluate managers and executives” across the company and make staff changes as needed. Finally, changes are made to the content of the game.
“We have heard input from staff and player communities that some of our content in the game is inappropriate. We are removing this content,” Kotick wrote.
What about walkout?
Next to the open letter signed by over 2,000 employees, workers at the company planned a strike Wednesday morning. Activision Blizzard is now trying to be more cooperative with offended employees and sent an email to staff on Tuesday stating that they would be paid time off to participate in the protest.
Hundreds of employees took up the offer as they set up a stacked line outside Activision Blizzard’s headquarters in Irvine, California. The staff had signs that read “every voice matters”, “fight villains in the game, fight the villains IRL” and “nerf male privilege.” (When developers weaken characters in games like Overwatch, it’s known as “nerfing” them.)
Over 350 employees took up the offer, reports The Washington Post. The walkout participants acknowledged Kotick’s letter, but had four additional demands, as the tweet above shows. These include greater pay transparency and employee participation in recruitment and promotion policies.
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