Microsoft employees reportedly formed an internal protest over the company’s lack of progress on sexism and sexual harassment. According to Wired, a group attended a 100-150 employee meeting with CEO Satya Nadella in all white.
The getup was influenced by congresswomen, wore all white at February’s state of the union in reference to the suffragette movement. Nadella was reportedly asked to answer to the company’s lack of progress after a two-week discussion in its internal emails.
The thread, according to Wired, began when a woman voiced her complaint at hitting a ‘brick wall’ in terms of promotions. The reveal led to more employees speaking out about the company culture, with claims of sexism, sexual harassment, and death threats.
Dozens of women painted a picture of rampant sexism in the company. Women at Microsoft claimed they have been refused promotions, sidelined to minor, clerical roles, and been the subject of discriminatory language.
Even more concerning are claims that sexual harassment reports fell on deaf ears. One female employee says an employee of a partner company threatened her with death if she refused to perform a sexual act. When this was reported to HR several years ago, the employee says she was told the man was “just flirting”.
After asking for a transfer to avoid him, the employee says her manager raised her inability to perform her job and said she would be laid off if she didn’t find a new role in 60 days.
Another woman says she was asked to sit in someone’s lap at a meeting, despite HR being present. HR reportedly made no comment on this, despite her voicing concerns, and was later reprimanded and the HR leader promoted.
This is far from the first time Microsoft has been accused of sexism. In an eerily similar case last year, an employee said she was forced to continue working with a person she had reported for rape.
Between 2010 and 2016, 238 women at Microsoft filed harassment and discrimination complaints. Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints, only one was marked as ‘founded’.
During a class action lawsuit over the information, a judge accused Microsoft’s lawyers of being over-aggressive. The legal firm reportedly refused to provide the documents asked for, delaying the case. The class-action status was later thrown out, with employees appealing in January.
At the meeting, CEO Satya Nadella was reportedly empathetic about women’s struggles. In reply to the email train, he and human resources Kathleen Hogan wrote:
“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.”
Hogan vowed to look into the experiences personally, with Nadella kept in the loop. Employees will also meet with the company’s chief diversity officer to discuss ways to combat the issues.
Microsoft previously adjusted its policy for more transparency on sexual harassment claims. Employees are now calling for more data on bonuses and promotions.