Phil Spencer Calls for More Black and African American “Visible Leaders” in Gaming Industry and Microsoft

Phil Spencer

Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has stated Microsoft’s plans for more Black and African American “Visible Leaders” in the gaming industry and Microsoft.

During an interview with Kotaku, Spencer was asked about Microsoft’s commitments to “addressing racial injustice” [1, 2] published in June. Microsoft’s statement came after the protests and subsequent riots across the US over the death of George Floyd.

Other actions by publishers and developers included delays, postponements, removal of police cars from Fortnite, and in-game messages of support by PlayStation, EA [12], EA SportsIGNGuerrilla Collective, along with Activision and Infinity Ward with the Call of Duty franchise [12].

Microsoft stated they would donate an additional $150 million of diversity & inclusion investment, sought to double the number of Black and African American senior staff in the US by 2025, extending their “vision for societal change throughout [their] ecosystem,” and using their technology and partnerships to help improve the lives of Black and African American US citizens.

Even so, former Mixer employee Milan Lee accused senior employees being racist that month. This allegedly included him being the only black employee at Mixer, and being hired because he was “street smart” and as part of a “diversity goal.”

A manager also allegedly used an analogy using slaves and slave masters, and defended herself in using that analogy when confronted by Lee, even when “Google showed her it was NEVER okay to use that analogy”. 

Complaints to a skip manager (including how his ideas were ignored until white colleagues suggested similar) were allegedly not passed onto Microsoft. Lee had quit, but was allegedly told by Microsoft’s legal team that he did not have a case as the manger “CANNOT be racist. The reason she CANNOT be racist is because she hired a black person.”

Lee later stated he had spoken to Spencer, stating “what I believe is a correct course of action.” This included releasing data on diversity statistics, and helping support Black developers, business owners, and communities.

Microsoft’s plans to hire more Black employees even prompted comments from the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP); concerned Microsoft would engage in race discrimination (violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act). Microsoft Corporate Vice President and General Counsel Dev Stahlkopf stated that they “emphatically” were not.


Kotaku had asked Spencer during an interview (in their words) “how Microsoft was following through on its pledges,” and discussed “Black people’s prominence—or lack thereof—in game studios and in leadership.”

Spencer stated that while attentions may have shifted from how “hyper-focused” people were at the time, he felt it was an issue “that we should come back to.” 

“The area where I think we really need to focus more as an industry, including my own team, are, as you said, those visible leaders. Because there was a generation where this didn’t happen.”

Kotaku reports that Spencer explained that Black people had not been given many chances to lead gaming companies in the West compared to other people- in Kotaku’s words “the implication being ‘white people.'”

“As those people move up inside of the organization, you get a lot of people like me. And we don’t need more people like me in our organization. We need a more diverse team. So I’d say, for our focus right now, I think about manager representation.”

Kotaku notes Microsoft’s 2020 diversity and inclusion report noted 4.7% of their US employees were Black; 0.3% more than 2019, and reportedly 1.1% more than 2016. This breaks down further, with those employees in the “core US workforce” contributing “5.2% of individual contributors, but only 2.9% of managers, 2.6% of directors, and 2.9% of partners + executives.”

This year, 34.9% of Microsoft employees are Asian, and 6.3% are Hispanic, Latino, or Latina. The report also saw 2.3% of employees as multiracial, with 0.6% including Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander.

Spencer also discussed the aforementioned allegations by Lee.

“Where we start is the makeup of our teams. What is it? And not just from ‘how are our numbers in terms of representation?,’ but the inclusion factor of our teams? How does it feel to work here? What’s your lived experience?

We have work to do. I have work to do in that. You can look at the Milan Lee situation and the conversations he and I had in June. And, you know, PR won’t love it that I bring those things up in conversation.”

I think it’s important that we are forthright and open about the lived experience of everybody on our team. Are we reaching the goals that we have for ourselves? And we have work to do in that space.”

When asked if the manager had been fired, Spencer stated he did not “want to talk about specific employee relations.”

Image: Wikipedia



Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.