Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has announced a zero-tolerance harassment policy and diverse hiring goals; while also reducing his own compensation to its legal minimum.
In a press release to investors, Kotick reiterated the Activision Blizzard’s commitment to becoming “the most welcoming, inclusive company in our industry.” While he applauds how Activision Blizzard handled the COVID-10 pandemic, he admits that they failed in cases were staff didn’t feel comfortable reporting their concerns, or that they were not properly handled.
Kotick revealed Activision Blizzard had tripled its investment into anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. They have also “made meaningful organizational changes; and we’ve substantially increased resources for reporting and carefully investigating improper behavior.”
The investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was noted as helping expose Activision Blizzard’s flaws; along with public discussion on discrimination and harassment and company reports. Activision Blizzard had previously paid an an $18 million USD settlement
However, they made no mention of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) investigation which kickstarted the whole affair in July of this year. The DFEH had also objected to the settlement, which caused the EEOC to expose a conflict of interest; putting both cases in jeopardy.
“The EEOC’s review was a catalyst to sharpen our focus on the ways we can become a company others emulate as a model for workplace excellence and one with an unwavering commitment to its values,” Kotick states. “We have a lot more to do if we are to be the company that others emulate.”
To meet those goals, Kotick shared five changes within Activision Blizzard. This includes a zero-tolerance harassment policy across the entire company.
Unlike the past where only some employees were terminated or given warnings and other disciplinary measures, those found via the new investigative process to have retaliated against someone who made a report will be fired immediately. Workplace misconduct will also result in termination, with no written warnings.
Those terminated under these conditions will also forfeit any future compensation from Activision Blizzard. The aim is to be the strictest “harassment and non-retaliation policies of any employer;” or as high as possible depending on local laws. Every report will also result in investigation if Activision Blizzard personnel who received it took the appropriate steps.
Further, Kotick stated they aim to increase the percentage of women and non-binary people in their workforce by 50% (currently 23%), aiming to become one-third across Activision Blizzard within the next five years or sooner. They will also be investing $250 million USD to “accelerate opportunities for diverse talent” over the next 10 years.
Required arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims (settling the matter outside of court) are also being waived, based on employee feedback. There will also be annual reports on pay equity, the latest claiming that women at Activision Blizzard “on average earned slightly more than men for comparable work in 2020.”
Finally, there will be quarterly progress updates of business units, franchise teams, and functional leaders with respect to workplace initiatives. Yearly shareholder and ESG reports will also include information on Activision Blizzard’s gender hiring, diversity hiring, and workplace progress.
Kotick also announced that his own compensation (not just salary) would be reduced “until the Board [of Directors] has determined that we have achieved the transformational gender-related goals and other commitments described above.” This is to the lowest amount under California law; $62,500 USD a year with no bonuses or equity.
GamesIndustry.biz reports 2020 filing stated Kotick was reviving nearly $100 million USD in combined stock options and equity since 2016. Proxy advisory service firms had recommended shareholders vote against proposed remuneration in June last year, as they had in previous years along with low shareholder approval votes, due to “irresponsible and unethical corporate behavior and excessive executive pay.”
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment; possibly leading to one woman committing suicide on a company trip. Other claims include discrimination by women being paid less, and promoted less frequently and after longer periods of time.
While initially dismissed by Activision Blizzard as including “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” and “factually incorrect, old and out of context,” almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.”
Staff led a walkout on July 28th. Their demands included ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, adopting policies to improve representation at all levels of the company, publishing pay data to show women are paid and promoted fairly, and hiring a third party to audit the company’s executive and HR staff.
Kotick stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf,” and announced third party evaluations, diverse hiring, and removing references to accused developers from their games. Employees were dissatisfied with the response for not addressing their demands, along with an “alliance” of staff rejecting WilmerHale as the third party auditor, claiming they were biased against workers.
Blizzard Entertainment also announced they would be renaming Overwatch character McCree (due to being named after a developer named in the allegations), and censoring sexual content in World of Warcraft. This has included censoring in-game paintings featuring women with deep cleavage or in their underwear.
Other changes have included removing “negative” emotes (which some may deem suggest physical or sexual assault and mockery) and adding more positive ones, renaming suggestive enemies (and adding male enemies to some purely female mobs), mounts, and achievements. Flirting and sexually suggestive or otherwise “inappropriate” jokes from player characters were also removed.
Claims from temporary workers were added to the lawsuit; along with allegations of Activation Blizzard destroying documents relating to employees and pay. While an $18 million USD settlement deal with the EEOC was reached, the DFEH objected.
They felt it was too lenient, and would hinder their own case as relevant documents were proposed to be destroyed. However, the EEOC claimed there was a conflict of interest thanks to two DFEH attorneys having worked for the EEOC; putting both cases in jeopardy.
We shall keep you informed as we learn more.