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Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick apologized today for the “tone deaf” company response to allegations of sex discrimination at the big video game publisher.
In a statement to all employees, Kotick said that he appreciated the courage of all of the employees who have come forward with their own complaints in the wake of the lawsuit filed by the state of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
“Every voice matters — and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future,” Kotick said. “Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.”
He said it is imperative that the company, which publishes games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way.
“I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding,” he said.
He was referencing an internal memo to employees from Fran Townsend, chief compliance officer, that denied the allegations in the lawsuit, as if the company were trying to aggressively combat the state agency rather than consider the possibility that some of the testimony from its own employees might be valid.
Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYF
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
Many people pointed out that former Blizzard president Mike Morhaime, former executive Chris Metzen, Activision president Rob Kostich, and current president J. Allen Brack used far better tone in acknowledging possible failings in the past and how this let the women of Blizzard down.
Townsend’s note said that the lawsuit presented a “distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.” She said the Activision companies of today are great companies with good values. She said the company takes a hardline approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues. She described what the company has done to make it easier to report violations and how it investigates them. But she also said, “We cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity to all employees.”
This message from Townsend served to anger both outsiders and employees. Outsiders called for boycotts of the company’s games, while some employees said they would stage a walkout on Wednesday.
This is later than it should have been. Here’s my response. pic.twitter.com/0h8iF6a1JR
— Chris Metzen (@ChrisMetzen) July 24, 2021
Kotick’s message appeared to be an attempt to walk back the hardline stance. Kotick said that ensuring that the company has a safe and welcoming work environment is his highest priority.
“The leadership team has heard you loud and clear,” Kotick wrote. “We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.”
He said the company will do everything possible to make sure that together, the company improves and builds the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.
“I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace,” Kotick said. “This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.”
Kotick said that anyone with violations of policy to report or other problems that made people uncomfortable in the workplace could use existing channels to report those problems or reach out to Avakian.
Activision Blizzard walkout organizers just released a statement in response to CEO Bobby Kotick's email to staff in which he described the company's response as "tone deaf" pic.twitter.com/64D7w8PhOL
— Megan Farokhmanesh (@Megan_Nicolett) July 28, 2021
“Your outreach will be kept confidential,” Kotick said. “Of course, no retaliation will be tolerated. We are committed to long-lasting change. Effective immediately, we will be taking the following actions.”
You can see the actions the company will be taking below.
We’ll update this story as we see responses come in about the message.
Here’s the full text of the letter from Kotick.
This has been a difficult and upsetting week.
I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters – and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.
Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.
It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.
Many of you have told us that active outreach comes from caring so deeply for the Company. That so many people have reached out and shared thoughts, suggestions, and highlighted opportunities for improvement is a powerful reflection of how you care for our communities of colleagues and players – and for each other. Ensuring that we have a safe and welcoming work environment is my highest priority. The leadership team has heard you loud and clear.
We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.
We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.
I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.
We encourage anyone with an experience you believe violates our policies or in any way made you uncomfortable in the workplace to use any of our many existing channels for reporting or to reach out to Stephanie. She and her team at WilmerHale will be available to speak with you on a confidential basis and can be reached at ATVI@wilmerhale.com or 202-247-2725. Your outreach will be kept confidential. Of course, NO retaliation will be tolerated.
We are committed to long-lasting change. Effective immediately, we will be taking the following actions:
1. Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.
2. Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.
3. Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.
4. Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.
5. In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.
Your well-being remains my priority and I will spare no company resource ensuring that our company has the most welcoming, comfortable, and safe culture possible.
You have my unwavering commitment that we will improve our company together, and we will be the most inspiring, inclusive entertainment company in the world.
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