Microsoft Investigating Multiple Sexual Harassment Claims

Posted on April 4, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Microsoft with 34 Comments

Microsoft is reportedly investigating a number of sexual harassment claims internally after multiple women shared their stories on a 90-page long email chain. Quartz is reporting that Microsoft’s Senior Leadership Team is looking into the reports, with an all-hands meeting expected to happen today.

Quartz also gained accessed to the 90 pages of email, where multiple Microsoft employees shared their stories of sexual harassment, as well as discrimination; most of the cases were initially overlooked by Microsoft’s human resources team.

The stories are quite horrifying. One female Microsoft employee claimed that an employee of a partner company threatened to kill her if she did not perform “implied sexual” acts. Microsoft’s HR team didn’t take any action due to lack of evidence, and the fact that the man worked for a partner company. “I raised immediate attention to HR and management. My male manager told me that ‘it sounded like he was just flirting’ and I should ‘get over it’”, the employee wrote.

Another employee had been called a “b*tch” more than once at work. “We did a roundtables with the women when I was in Xbox core [team] & every woman, except for 1, had been called a bitch at work. Before people say this is just an Xbox thing (as I’ve heard that dismissiveness way too many times within Microsoft before) the other eng [engineering] orgs where my experiences happened were Windows & Azure. This is a Microsoft thing, a common one.” the employee wrote.

On another occasion, a Microsoft Partner was asked to sit on someone’s lap twice in the same meeting, in front of HR and other executives of the company. And once again, no action was taken.

Microsoft’s head of HR has now discussed the allegations with Microsoft’s senior leadership team, and it’s being dealt with seriously by the company’s top executives, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, who are both part of the email chain.

It would appear that sexual harassment and discrimination is a reoccurring thing at Microsoft. The massive email chain first started off with an employee asking for advice about moving up in the organization after failing to see any potential promotions for 6 years at the company. More and more employees later shared their own stories, and they are all very identical.

It’s honestly sad to see such a big company like Microsoft overlooking serious sexual harassment cases like these. This also isn’t the first time Microsoft is under fire for sexual harassment cases, by the way. There shouldn’t be any excuse to any of this, and Microsoft really needs to do better for a company that claims to empower its employees.

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Comments (34)

34 responses to “Microsoft Investigating Multiple Sexual Harassment Claims”

  1. jbinaz

    Here's the problem with many (not all) of these situations, such as the first one where the man from a partner company threatened to kill her if she didn't participate in "implied sexual acts". Were there witnesses? If not, you have a "he said, she said" situation. Some men are pigs and say inappropriate things. (And threatening to kill is a whole different, worse level.) But, some women (and men, too) will lie to get ahead, gain attention, etc. Do you automatically assume she's telling the truth and fire the man? You could ruin someones life because of a false accusation. And in this case, add in the fact that it was a man from a partner company, and then it's a question of who is responsible for investigating? If Microsoft investigates and finds no evidence, do they tell the partner company? Do they tell the partner company, and let them investigate? I'll add that if the woman's manager responded with ‘it sounded like he was just flirting’ and I should ‘get over it’, then the manager has no business managing people.


    Every allegation should be taken seriously, investigated, and people fired if need be. But again, what if it's one person's word against another? What if the man has no history of doing things like this? Should he be fired? If he really did it, and you don't fire him, then you have a woman as a victim, understandably upset because she has to try to continue to work with a man who threatened to kill her (or, made inappropriate comments, inappropriately touched, etc.). But if he didn't do it, and you fire him, you've unjustly fired an employee, and it could potentially ruin his career.


    I can't imagine a work situation where it would be OK to ask someone to sit on your lap. And to do it in front of HR and other execs in the company and have nothing done? That to me might indicate a problem with culture in a copmany.


    All hard questions with no easy answers. Glad I'm not in HR.


    • Daekar

      In reply to jbinaz:

      Well put. It all needs to be taken seriously - the possibility of guilt AND innocence.

    • Polycrastinator

      In reply to jbinaz:

      Really rare for these things to have witnesses (although sit on a lap? In front of others? WTF?), but it is usually a pattern of behavior. What HR needs to be doing is recording this stuff so if there are multiple accusations from different women regarding the same man, that's evidence there's something happening there.

      The problem I think is that women need to believe they're being heard and action taken, which means that when the egregious, obvious stuff mentioned here happens action is taken. That way when the answer is "we can't act on this without witnesses, but we'll take a note, put it in the employee's file, and if this turns out to be a pattern of behavior you can be sure we'll act on it." Employees will only trust that process if they see HR acting when it's required, though.

      • jbinaz

        In reply to Polycrastinator:

        Absolutely women need to believe they're being heard and action is being taken. But it when it actually happened with no witnesses, it has to be difficult for a woman to hear "We've taken note of it, and if something else happens, we'll take action then," and have that be the end of it (unless it happens again). But what else can you do if there aren't witnesses? And it's even worse if the harrasser is only targeting one woman, and there's never other witnesses. Then it's still he said, she said.


        All tough.

    • Xatom

      In reply to jbinaz:

      Rarely do these things happen only once. That is, an inappropriate act targeted at one individual and the perpetrator never does it again. More typically there are multiple victims and this is why it needs to be investigated. If it is the first time, then the bad actor, either the alleged perpetrator or alleged victim, have a track record. These reports must be treated seriously 100 pct of the time. No one should be subject to pressure of this kind. Power imbalances tied to harassment can ruin lives. They gut the souls of the victims.


      Look at the uproar over the former US VP. A total abuse of power so much so that he didn't even realize it or didn't care. He couldn't imagine how someone could not want him smelling their hair and the powerless victim had to take it. Just shake their hand like a normal person and sniff your spouse's hair for God 's sake. To quote Arrested Development- no touching.

    • wright_is

      In reply to jbinaz:

      For a death threat, wouldn't the first stop be the nearest police station?

    • wright_is

      In reply to jbinaz:

      I have only ever seen sexual harrasment once in over 30 years of working. I have had many female managers over the years and many female colleagues and I have never seen anything like what is described here or heard of such reports. Normally the female members of staff are treated with the same or more respect than their male counterparts.

      The only experience was being told to go home early (the whole office). Allegedly a male member of staff went up to a secretary, pulled out his tool and aksed her what she could do with it... The answer was to show it to her boss. After we were dismissed for the day, he was marched to his desk to collect his possessions and then marched out of the building. Not sure how he explained to his fiancé that he no longer had a job, when he got home. I also don't know if he was prosecuted.


    • jbinaz

      In reply to jbinaz:

      I was terrified to post my comment because it's such a sensitive issue for fear I'd insult someone (unintentionally). Seems that fear was unfounded - there have been some good, reasonable points made without insults.

  2. mrdrwest

    There's no excuse for using foul language or abusive speech when addressing anyone. It's shows a lack of (self-)respect, improper application or disregarded corrective disciplining during formative years, poor etiquette, and limited vocabulary,

  3. Steven Lendowski

    The bigger problem IMHO with all these so called "allegations":

    If you are the victim of a crime, you should go to the police, and take action. Not only for yourself, but to prevent future crimes happening to other victims.

    I know this is a hard step, but years later to complain about it via email is not the right way.

    There is a justice system just for that, and even if it is often broken, there is no way around it.

    Otherwise, you enable the offender. Or get allegations back, that you just come up with this after many years when it severs your own agenda.

    Disclosure: I am the victim of multiple child misuses, meaning my stepdad tried to kill my sister, my mother and me, with my mother being beaten, and raped months long before he tried to kill us. And while the police could never do justice, though my mother did try her best, self-made "justice" is no justice at all, and still no alternative.

    Social justice warrior modus operandi is neither social nor justice. Just war.

    My 2cents.

    • skane2600

      In reply to AllThisEv1l:

      It's hard to take anyone seriously who talks about "social justice warriors". The fact that a lot of sexual harassment doesn't rise to a level necessary to involve the police, doesn't mean it isn't unethical and doesn't mean it shouldn't have consequences for the perpetrator.


      Your first sentence is a bit hard to comprehend as written. You don't think there were actual allegations? As in "I said that I made an accusation, but I was making it up, I didn't actually accuse anyone of anything".

  4. ebraiter

    The fact that the US has a "president" with 18 women claiming some type of sexual misconduct and nothing really has happened shows you how things are.

    It's not like he would lose his job if found guilty [the constitution says he can only lose his job for impeachable offences and the gravest of convictions like killing someone].

  5. Thom77

    I've been falsely accused of sexual harassment. It happens.


    The Smollett situation shows just how far someone is willing to go to lie for an agenda.


    Women know in today's climate, men are guilty until proven innocent.


    I was told growing up that women NEVER lie about rape. Ask the Duke Lacrosse team about that.


    I'm not moved at this point to knee jerk an emotional virtue signalling reaction to any of this. To be honest, I'm pretty apathetic about it.

  6. skane2600

    Contrary to what some people here believe, the word "bitch" does have a sexual connotation and using it can be sexual harassment. Anyone who works at a company and thinks otherwise should review their company's policies if they don't want to get in trouble.

  7. minke

    I never understand why it takes so long for large companies to react properly to these things. Yes, there are lots of people and therefore lots of complaints, but there are also whole departments devoted to HR that are bigger than most companies. Of course they almost never take any ageism complaints seriously, and frequently senior management does it too.

  8. mirwell

    The important thing here is to see the bigger picture: Even if some cases would be "He said, she said" and even if some cases would turn out to be false accusations, it still paints a picture of a company that's allowed these cases to pile up. They were not effectively communicated internally or to the outside, countermeasures weren't taken, unprofessional behaviour went unpunished and it therefore reinforced additional negative behaviour.


    Empowering every person on the planet also means that you have to take sides and speak out.

  9. Daekar

    So... some of that is pretty bad. The death threat is pretty damn surreal... I would've liked to see MS work that one through the HR department of the partner company. In a world where tweetstorms over things that didn't happen can result in resignations, you'd think that some kind of action would have resulted.


    Some of it they need to get over. Being called a bitch isn't sexual discrimination, it's name calling. Do you think we'd be hearing about it on Thurrott if it was revealed that a group of men had all been called bastards at work? No. To be clear, abusive language points to a negative environment with poorly handled conflict resolution, but lumping that one in with the sexual discrimination is nonsense.

    • jbinaz

      In reply to Daekar:

      It's interesting you say that being called a bitch isn't sexual discrimination. I think one can make an argument that it is because of the fact that you would never call a man a bitch - it's targeted solely at women.


      In my original comment below, I almost put as a thought experiment try having a guy calling another guy an "asshole." Is that the same thing? My original thought was yes, but I changed my mind, simply for the fact that the term bitch is never directed at men, it's always women. So, you're using sex as a basis for using that term.


      Neither "bitch" or "asshole" is appropriate in a workplace, though.

      • Daekar

        In reply to jbinaz:

        The fact that a word has a gender assigned to it does not make the use of it sexual harassment or gender discrimination. That's absurd, because it means that things like, "you are such a dick," or "stop being a tool," become gender discrimination when they are obviously not. The key to avoiding knee-jerk discrimination syndrome is to reverse it...if it doesn't work in one direction, it doesn't work in the other.


        To be clear, none of that is acceptable in the workplace, but the reason is not gender related.

      • RonH

        In reply to jbinaz:

        Not too sure about that. On TV/movies, everyone gets called a bitch...


        While I was working, people never called someone a bitch or a-hole, it was always behind the back stuff.


        Always hated it, don't miss it a bit.

        • jbinaz

          In reply to RonH:

          I'm not doubting you, but I can't think of an example. I'll keep my ears open.


          I have heard guys sometimes say "Stop being a little bitch," which usually has the underlying meaning of "Don't be such a woman" or "stop whining," which itself I would think would be offensive to women, as men whine too. I just looked up the definition on merriam-webster.com, and the only time the definition doesn't involve females (canine or human) is when it's used to something that is specifically neither male or female.


          My recommendation (not to you specifically, just in general): don't call people rude names; address them directly about whatever bothers you. And if you have to call someone a name, use a non-gender specific term. Then at least the complaint to HR won't involve sexual harrassment.


          And, like you, I always hate the behind the back stuff. Grow up, and either ignore people you don't like (if you can), or address the person about what's bothering you if you can't ignore them.



  10. skane2600

    The "He said, She said" scenario should not be an excuse to avoid taking an accusation seriously. There's often multiple "Shes" abused by one "He" and a legitimate investigation would likely uncover that fact.


    Of course dismissing inappropriate behavior as "flirting" or ignoring inappropriate behavior one has witnessed indicates a serious systemic problem.

  11. jules_wombat

    Must do a lot Better. Is Satya really the right person to turn this situation around ?

  12. lvthunder

    As someone who has been falsely accused of sexual misconduct you absolutely need more then just one persons word. Luckily in my case she recanted a couple days later. Yes they cases need to be investigated and the accuser taken seriously, but there needs to be concrete evidence before much action can be taken.

  13. dalef

    The answer is body cameras. If these body cameras can last a full workday on a charge and can upload their content in real-time to the cloud, then we will no longer have to rely on "he said/she said." These cameras will probably serve to keep most honest, so sexual harassment may be less likely to occur in the first place.


    Microsoft is a tech company. They should use or develop a tech solution.

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