Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella vows action after leaked emails reveal stories of sexual harassment

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New Delhi | Updated: April 16, 2019 3:55:52 PM

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has promised action after women at the tech firm started sharing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The Microsoft CEO sent a memo to the employees on Monday morning which aimed to address these complaints and overhaul how HR probes employee misconduct in the company, a report by GeekWire said.

While not acknowledging the specific complaints of sexual harassment, Nadella thanked those who started the conversation 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 said in the memo published in Quartz.
He added, “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.”

How it all began

What started as an email chain on March 20 by an employee who, being in the same position for the last six years, asked other employees for advise to further her career morphed into a thread where women shared their stories of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The thread which was reported by Quartz, reviewed over 90 pages of emails recounting instances of women being called disparaging names, compelled to perform administrative tasks even after working in technical roles and put in compromising situations such as being prompted to sit on someone’s lap in front of HR and other executives.

What Nadella’s memo addresses

In light of all this, Nadella’s memo speaks about the inclusive culture the CEO is trying to create. The 51-year-old also recognized that in order to build that culture, Microsoft needs to back up words with actions.

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

The HR policy changes as laid by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella –

Microsoft to bring more HR workers to enhance capacity to probe complaints of employee behavior.

The HR department will build a new Employee Advocacy Team which focuses on steering employees reporting misconduct via the investigation process.

The tech giant will centralize all of its investigations globally under Corporate, External, as well as Legal Affairs and also include more investigators to those teams to fast-track inquiries.

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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.

Apart from these new policies, Microsoft will launch a training track for Microsoft’s over 16,000 managers which includes mechanisms and resources on leading diverse teams. The tech giant is also ideating making diversity and inclusion an important factor in determining managers’ compensation, which, it is to be noted, Microsoft already does in practice with its senior leadership.

Underlining the above points, Nadella wrote in the memo that these will help build an ‘inclusive culture’ which would ‘value diversity’ and also stimulate a “growth mindset”, adding that it will also have to be an initiative by every employee of the company.

Nadella added, “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?”

What the Microsoft HR says

The email, as expected, grabbed the attention of the company’s top leaders nine days after its first message. Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources and chief people officer Kathleen Hogan wrote a message in early April. She told GeekWire that brought attention to the issue with the Microsoft’s senior leadership team and that they were “appalled and sad to hear about these experiences.”

But history has not been forgotten either

With Microsoft trying to turn its work culture to reclaim its position among the tech giants once again, the company has tried to reform its reputation. And yet, this thread, as one of the emails said, “has pulled the scab off a festering wound.”

Apart from this internal discord, Microsoft has also seen a few gender discrimination lawsuits in the last few years.

Notably, a gender discrimination case now stands in front of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The suit was first filed in 2015 by many current and former engineers, alleging “systemic discrimination against women in technical roles,” reports Geekwire.

Microsoft in its defence said in the court documents that the company has been committed to inclusion and diversity for over 20 years. It says that the tech giant has a 25-membr team working on diversity matters, and a budget of over $55 million per year through 2020 for new proposals.

The company also reports that nearly 27 percent of its global workforce are composed of women. The tech giant claims that in technical and leadership roles, it is nearly 80/20 in favor of men as opposed to women.

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