Activision Blizzard faces a lawsuit after a two-year investigation deems their workplace a hostile environment for female employees and discovers numerous counts of discrimination and sexual harassment.
Skylanders. Crash Bandicoot. Guitar Hero. Call of Duty. World of Warcraft.
It would not surprise me if you have heard of these games since they have entertained gamers endlessly – filling their days with the blasts of bullets, strums of strings, and mashing of buttons. It would also not surprise me if you were aware of their publisher: the powerhouse that is Activision Blizzard.
I am beyond startled and disheartened that a company like this, a staple in the gaming industry, still finds itself knee-deep in ‘frat boy’ culture
The 20th of July 2021 was a momentous day for Activision Blizzard. It was a damaging day for its reputation and a powerful step in challenging the discriminatory and abusive culture harming its female employees.
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against the video-game holding company alleging discrimination and sexual harassment against women in the workplace. Not a day later, the suit was made public, and the alleged sexist, frat-boy behaviour dominating Activision Blizzard was revealed. In their two-year investigation, the DFEH discovered numerous accounts of discrimination against female employees. The accounts described unequal pay, difficulties progressing in the company, retaliation to complaints, and constant sexual harassment.
With approximately 9,500 employees, only 20% of Activision Blizzard‘s workforce are women – with very few ever reaching the top roles at the company. Those who did, as the DFEH found, received lesser salaries, incentive pays, and lower compensation compared to their male counterparts. These disparities were echoed throughout the entirety of the company, even in starting roles.
The discrimination fosters a hostile environment towards women, subjecting them to many instances of harassment and distress. One such example used was the habit of “cube crawls” that dominated the office, in which drunken male employees would traverse through cubicles and “engage in inappropriate behaviour” towards their female peers.
Any complaints of the harassment and unfair delegation of responsibilities when the men chose to play games and drink rather than work, were retaliated with the complainants being “deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs.”
Alongside unwanted sexual comments and advances with no repercussions, the frat-boy workplace culture on display only seemed to thrive.
Even the tragic suicide of a female employee while on a business trip with a male supervisor – who, as DFEH disclosed, had brought butt plugs and lubricant – did not pause the culture’s growth
In response to the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard further isolated their employees with their initial response. Executive Fran Townsend claimed that the lawsuit “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories.”
Angered by the tone-deaf response, over 2000 employees signed an open letter to the company’s leadership, criticising Townsend’s response, and later held a walkout at Blizzard HQ and work stoppages occurred on July 28th. While a new response from CEO Bobby Kotick was released, employees were still dismayed by the company’s failure to “address critical elements of employee concerns”. Their walkout will demonstrate employees’ resolution to create a more caring and inclusive culture within their workplace.
Blizzard veteran and ArenaNet and Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain has written a letter calling for full-on unionization in the wake of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit.— IGN (@IGN) July 30, 2021
Read the full letter here: https://t.co/XkNCVUPPwS pic.twitter.com/5ucH2l6InN
In a post-#MeToo society and one striving for equality and inclusivity, the state of Activision Blizzard, alongside the allegations shared, demonstrates that more work is needed. The gaming industry is yet to catch up with modern sentiments. A 2020 study by 20-First found that only 16% of executive positions in the top 14 global gaming companies were women, and only 24% working in the industry in 2019 were women.
Some companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Tencent Holdings Ltd. had no women in their executive committees. This gender imbalance in the workforce and particularly leadership roles has massive repercussions. Female representation in video games is hampered or distorted, crafted to appease the male gaze rather than formed to empower women. As if they are the overly-sexualised female characters in the games they played.
Cultures such as Activision Blizzard’s fraternity workplace thrive, and women are treated as inferior objects for their peers’ entertainment
Although the gross discrimination and harassment of women in this industry may suggest that all hope for equality in this industry is lost, there is hope. Initiatives like #RaisetheGame and the Women in Games Ambassador program are working towards making the industry more inclusive and welcoming by offering opportunities to women to progress and develop their skills and network.
Girls Make Games is another initiative that encourages women to join the industry, providing summer camps, workshops, and game jams to assist young girls in developing their coding abilities and knowledge of games development.
Combining these programs with the increased challenge of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, it seems that we are at a pivotal moment of change for the gaming industry. One that, I hope, will highlight the need to address the gender imbalance that dominates games development and create a safer, inclusive community for all.
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