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Microsoft Employees Confront Microsoft CEO About Sexism, Harassment at Company

A large group of Microsoft employees met with CEO Satya Nadella Thursday to protest the company’s treatment of women including discrimination and sexual harassment, according to reports by Quartz and Wired.

The topic was addressed in the Monthly Employee Q&A with Satya. It was a powerful dialogue, a Microsoft spokesperson told Variety.

The discussion was sparked by a March 20 email chain that quickly snowballed into more than 90 pages of emails written by members of a distribution list for female employees viewed by both publications.

The original email was written by a woman seeking advice on how to gain a promotion, something she was unable to do after years of trying, despite the support of her manager, manager’s manager, and other employees, according to Quartz and Wired.

The email chain quickly broadened in scope as dozens of other women at Microsoft shared their own concerns and run-ins with discrimination and sexual harassment.

One woman, who once worked on the Xbox team, talked about how frequently women in the company were called a “bitch.”

“We did a roundtables 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, according to Quartz. “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.”

Wired reported that 100 to 150 employees attending a question and answer session in person with Nadella Thursday, while others watched via a livestream. Both and Nadella and chief people officer Kathleen Hogan promised additional transparency around advancement within Microsoft, according to Wired.

“This thread has pulled the scab off a festering wound,” Quartz reported, one employee wrote. “The collective anger and frustration is palpable. A wide audience is now listening. And you know what? I’m good with that.”

Hogan also engaged in the email thread, Microsoft told “Variety.” The company provided her full comments in the thread as the official Microsoft response.

“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.”

The meeting comes as the broader gaming industry continues to wrestle with issues of toxic workplaces, sexism, and unstable work environments.

Last year, Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming, called out the toxic culture that infests some pockets of the video game industry in a talk at the DICE Summit.

In an hour-long talk, Spencer explored his personal beliefs in the power of video games, the importance of inclusivity in hiring, development and gaming culture, and the terrible damage toxic culture does to everyone in both the game industry and game culture.

“With all these new tools empowering new creators,” Spencer said at the time. “And with the increasing reach to new gamers around the globe, I think we – as an industry – are at our own crossroads. Has gaming reached its full potential and power to reflect and shape the world for all of us?”

Spencer said that Microsoft doesn’t tolerate any employees or partners who create a hostile environment. “We stand for inclusivity. I personally committed to do better. I think it”s a leaders job to absorb the hit, to take personal accountability. And to be clear about our culture: who we are and what we stand for.”

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