Breathe a big sigh of relief, everyone: Activision Blizzard has found itself free of “widespread harassment,” according to its own review.
The developer has been under intense scrutiny over the past year for harboring a culture of flagrant sexual harassment and sexism. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision last July, saying the company had been complicit in rampant “frat boy” behavior and had thus violated the state’s civil rights and equal pay laws. Activision executive Fran Townsend immediately responded with a company-wide email deflecting responsibility for the lawsuit. This prompted 2,000-plus employees to sign a petition against the company’s “abhorrent and insulting” response.
Since then, executives have made loose promises to make the company a safer and fairer place to work. CEO Bobby Kotick stated shortly after the lawsuit’s initiation that he’d be hiring a third-party law firm to conduct an independent review of the company’s policies. In practice, this didn’t go over well: Kotick chose to work with the union-busting firm WilmerHale, resulting in employee pushback. (It’s unclear whether the review ever occurred after this.) Now Activision has decided to conduct its own review…of itself. And unsurprisingly, the company issued itself a clear bill of health.
“What we have come to realize over the past several months is that there are many truths about our company—individual and collective, experiential and data-driven—and sometimes they can be difficult to reconcile… Indeed, a single instance of someone feeling diminished at Activision Blizzard is one too many,” a new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing reads. While there have been “some substantiated instances of gender harassment,” Activision has found no evidence that “senior leadership or the Board were aware of and tolerated gender harassment or that there was ever a systemic issue with harassment, discrimination or retaliation.” The filing also says that, contrary to employee allegations, “the Board and its external advisors have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported.”
An internal review conducted by the organization being reviewed is best taken with a grain of salt. (Government entities and law enforcement agencies regularly find themselves free of inner conflict after conducting reviews of themselves, for instance.) One wonders what the findings of such a review would be if it had been performed by a third party.
To its credit, Activision says it has implemented a new company-wide zero-tolerance harassment policy. It’s also allegedly tripled its investment in anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training resources, as well as expanded its Ethics & Compliance team. Whether the company actually enforces its shiny new policy and uses its expanded resources, however, will be revealed over time.