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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is pledging to take action as women at the company share a growing number of allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

RELATED: In leaked emails, women at Microsoft share stories of alleged sexual harassment

GeekWire obtained a memo Nadella sent to Microsoft employees Monday morning that aims to address these complaints and overhaul how HR pursues investigations of employee misconduct. Though Nadella did not acknowledge the specific complaints of sexual harassment in the memo, he thanked the people who started the conversations and shared their stories.

“I’m disappointed to hear about any behavior in our workplace that falls short of the diverse and inclusive culture we are striving to create,” Nadella wrote. “But I’m encouraged that people feel empowered to speak up and demand change. I want all of us to learn and act on this feedback.”

Quartz first reported on the memo Monday morning.

The email chain that set the situation in motion began March 20 when an employee who had been in the same position for six years asked other women at Microsoft for advice on how to move up in the organization. That turned into a thread where other women shared their own frustrations about discrimination and sexual harassment at the company.

Quartz first reported on the thread and reviewed more than 90 pages of emails detailing instances of women being called derogatory names, forced to perform administrative tasks even though they worked in technical roles and put in comprising situations such as being asked to sit on someone’s lap in front of HR and other executives.

The memo includes a lot of talk about the inclusive culture Nadella is trying to build as CEO. He recognizes that to create the culture he wants, the company needs to back up words with actions.

“If you are not helping to create an inclusive culture, your rewards, your career trajectory and possibly even your employment will be impacted,” Nadella wrote.

Here are a few of the HR Changes Nadella laid out:

  • Microsoft will bring in additional HR workers to improve capacity to investigate complaints of employee behavior.
  • The HR department will create a new Employee Advocacy Team that focuses on guiding employees reporting misconduct through the investigation process.
  • Microsoft will centralize all of its investigations globally under Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs and add more investigators to those teams to speed up inquiries.
  • New company-wide disciplinary guidelines will include a range of expected outcomes in an investigation and any time a manager strays from that range, he or she will have to get approval from a corporate vice president.

In addition to these new policies, Microsoft will roll out a required training track for the company’s more than 16,000 managers that includes tools and resources on leading diverse teams. The company also plans to make diversity and inclusion a factor in deciding managers’ compensation, something it already does with its senior leadership.

“Put together, I believe these new steps will move us farther and faster to create an inclusive culture that values diversity and helps us all exercise a growth mindset to learn from each other,” Nadella wrote. “But these will not be the last steps we take. There is a role for every one of us. Each of us can ask ourselves: What can I do to help? How can I show respect and empathy for my colleagues? How can I speak up when I see non-inclusive behavior?”

Microsoft issued the following statement on the memo:

“We each have a role to play in closing the gap between the culture we seek and the day-to-day realities we experience. It is not a simple issue that will ever be solved by the decisions we can announce in a single day, but these new steps will move us farther and faster to create an inclusive culture that values diversity.”

The email groundswell caught the attention of the company’s top leaders nine days after the first message. As the thread accumulated dozens of responses, Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources and chief people officer, weighed in. In a message shared with GeekWire earlier this month, Hogan wrote that she brought up the issue with the company’s senior leadership team and that they were “appalled and sad to hear about these experiences.”

As Microsoft has turned around its culture to reclaim its position among the tech elite, it has also reformed its reputation. However, this thread, as one email put it, “has pulled the scab off a festering wound.” In addition to this internal strife, the company has faced a handful of gender discrimination lawsuits in recent years.

The most notable is a gender discrimination case now in front of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Originally filed in 2015 by several current and former engineers, the suit alleges systemic discrimination against women in technical roles.

In court documents for that case Microsoft said it has been committed to diversity and inclusion for more than 20 years. It has a 25-person team working on diversity issues, and a budget of more than $55 million per year through 2020 for new initiatives.

Microsoft reports that a little under 27 percent of its global workforce are women. In tech and leadership roles, the split is about 80/20 in favor of men.

Here is the full memo from Nadella:

Today, I want to talk about something that matters deeply to each of us: our culture. To those who started this conversation by sharing your stories — thank you. To other underrepresented groups and anyone who said they relate to these experiences, I hear you too. I’m disappointed to hear about any behavior in our workplace that falls short of the diverse and inclusive culture we are striving to create. But I’m encouraged that people feel empowered to speak up and demand change. I want all of us to learn and act on this feedback.

I also appreciate the pride in Microsoft that many of you have shared, as well as positive stories about colleagues who have been supportive in your careers and lives. This is why the current conversation is so important. We each have a role to play in closing the gap between the culture we seek and the day-to-day realities we experience. Ultimately, this is important to all of us as individuals. And as a company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, it is fundamental to our collective success.

I appreciate that leadership in this area needs to start at the top. It also must involve deeds and not just words. As a Senior Leadership Team, we’ve sought to exercise our own growth mindset, listening and learning from the ongoing feedback and using this learning to take new steps. This is a journey — it is not a simple issue that will ever be solved by the decisions we announce in a single day — but I want to share with you several concrete steps we have decided to take to accelerate our progress.

Our expectations for each other: First, we will all come together as teams across the company to better ground ourselves in a common set of expectations. In recent years, we’ve created a Standards of Business Conduct and rolled out tools and training around leadership principles, inclusive behaviors and unconscious bias. But one lesson from recent conversations is that we need to do more. We will create new content, and all of us will participate in this conversation by the end of the calendar year. Every one of us needs to understand the behaviors that are prohibited by law or policy and, equally important, those needed for a respectful workplace to which we’re committed. Our time at work can’t be shallow in terms of the commitments we make to each other. No business or product success can replace the human dignity and basic decency with which we treat each other. The empathy we develop to see each other for who we are, where we are coming from and how we make each other feel as we work together is what we will most cherish and remember. Let us be accountable to each other based on this higher standard.

Our expectations for managers: Each of our over 16,000 managers needs to be an effective culture champion dedicated to improving the experience of our employees. To help, we will provide managers with additional support, in part by rolling out a required manager learning track in FY20 that includes tools and resources on leading diverse teams and further activating our culture. In addition, all our managers will prepare for the rewards process with enhanced training that includes guidance on advancing and rewarding people for supporting our inclusion priority. If you are a manager at Microsoft, you are making a conscious choice and commitment to raising your hand to curate our culture. Take accountability and pride in this commitment.

Improved investigations process for workplace behavior: We recognize the need to strengthen the way we handle our investigations of complaints about behavior in the workplace. A team has been working on a plan for this in recent months, and we will move forward immediately in three key areas:

First, we will provide additional support and more information for employees who raise complaints about employee behavior. We will add HR professionals to enhance our listening capacity when issues are first raised. HR is also creating a new Employee Advocacy Team that will focus exclusively on assisting employees going through a workplace investigation, including helping employees understand the process, guiding them through investigations and following up after investigations are finished to check in on the employees involved.

Second, we will increase our ability to pursue investigations more quickly. We will centralize in CELA all investigations globally relating to significant complaints about work-related misbehavior. We will add investigators to this team to match the benchmarks we’ve recently used with other companies, with measurable goals aimed at shortening the median time of investigations to one month or less.

Third, we will promote more consistent disciplinary approaches across the company following an investigation. We recognize the importance not only of taking effective action following investigations but doing so consistently across the company. We will develop new company-wide disciplinary guidelines for work-related misbehavior. When an investigation is finished, we will provide to a manager both a factual conclusion about the findings and the range of expected discipline. Going forward, a manager will no longer be permitted to depart from the recommended range without the approval of a corporate vice president.

In addition, while we need to remain sensitive to privacy concerns, we will also create more transparency around the outcomes from these investigations. After the process is finished, the employee who raised concerns will receive information about the investigation, including about the investigation’s factual conclusion and, at a minimum, generalized information about the discipline that followed. Beginning in FY20, we will also publish, at least once a year, information across the company so all employees will have more information about the kinds of concerns being raised, how often we find a violation and the types of discipline we imposed.

Increased accountability and transparency: We will take new steps to hold everyone accountable for diversity and inclusion. This past year, we increased our commitment with a new core priority on inclusion for every employee. If you are not helping to create an inclusive culture, your rewards, your career trajectory and possibly even your employment will be impacted. Today, the compensation of every member of the Senior Leadership Team includes an element that addresses diversity and inclusion, and the Senior Leadership Team reviews performance around diversity and inclusion as part of its decisions about rewards for all corporate vice presidents. As a new step in this year’s rewards process, we will expand this review to reach all our senior leaders at general manager and above.

We will also take an additional step to promote broader transparency. Currently, we publish annual pay equity and representation data, and all our Senior Leadership Team members share their representation goals and progress. Going forward, we will add further data transparency to our annual representation update, including new data around career progression.

And, of course, we will continue to listen and rely on the leadership and insight provided by our Employee Resource Groups to build on efforts already underway and develop new initiatives.

Put together, I believe these new steps will move us farther and faster to create an inclusive culture that values diversity and helps us all exercise a growth mindset to learn from each other. But these will not be the last steps we take. There is a role for every one of us. Each of us can ask ourselves: What can I do to help? How can I show respect and empathy for my colleagues? How can I speak up when I see non-inclusive behavior?

One of our strengths is that so many of us come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. Our opportunity is to find better ways to connect with and value each other. We won’t always get it right, but I fundamentally believe this is a journey that will help define the better individuals we each can become.

I am committed to this journey, and I ask you to join me.

Satya

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