An increasingly large group of women at Microsoft have been emailing back and forth for several weeks, sharing their stories of sexual harassment at the company. The thread has grown to the point that it now has the attention of Microsoft’s senior leadership team.
Quartz 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.
Quartz reported that the chain 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.
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, 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.” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith were added to the email chain.
Here is Hogan’s full message:
I discussed this thread with the SLT today. We are appalled and sad to hear about these experiences. It is very painful to hear these stories and to know that anyone is facing such behavior at Microsoft. We must do better.
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. I understand the devastating impact of such experiences, and the SLT wants to be made aware of any such behavior, and we will do everything we can to stop it.
As mentioned earlier in the thread, Lindsay-Rae (our Chief Diversity Officer) will be setting up sessions the week of April 22 to ensure we hear and are clear on the feedback, and determine what initiatives or programs to keep/stop/start based on input from this community. Invites for these sessions will be sent to all women’s community groups next week, will accommodate multiple time zones, and joining Lindsay-Rae will be Erin Chapple; Co-Exec Sponsor of the Women’s Community at Microsoft. While I do want to create a forum for the community on the thread, I also read and agree with the comments that for us to solve this as a company, the burden does not reside only with us women.
While reading some of this is very disheartening, I am proud and encouraged to see people empowered to speak up, say this is not right, and stand together for change. Thank you.
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.
In March 2018, Hogan published an internal memo to employees citing specific numbers on how it deals with sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims from its 2017 fiscal year. During that year, Microsoft had 83 sexual harassment complaints and 84 gender discrimination complaints.
Hogan wrote that 50 percent of the harassment claims were found to be supported in full or in part, and more than half of those situations resulted in the termination of the accused employee. On gender discrimination, Microsoft found the complaints supported in part or in full only 10 percent of the time. The company took unspecified “appropriate action” in those cases, Hogan wrote.
“We strive to create an environment where everyone is respected, safe and able to do their best work,” Hogan wrote. “We aspire to ensure all voices are heard, that we listen deeply and that we are fair. We want people to be able to raise their concerns. We take these concerns seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. And where we find issues, we take appropriate action.”
The disclosure came after court documents claimed female employees reported 238 complaints about sexual harassment or gender discrimination between 2010 and 2016. During that period, Microsoft found only one gender discrimination complaint out of 118 lodged to be founded, according to a Reuters report.