Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick, along with a number of other senior executives, has spoken again as the company remains embroiled in controversy following the recent California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, discrimination, and a “frat boy” work culture at Blizzard.
Addressing investors during Activision Blizzard’s Q2 2021 results call this evening, Kotick said, “I want to start by making clear to everyone that there’s no place in our company where discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind will be tolerated. Nowhere.
“We so appreciate the current and former employees who’ve come forward in past recent days with courage and I want to reiterate the commitments we’ve made to you. Our work environment, everywhere we operate, will not permit discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment. We will be the company that sets the example for this in our industry.”
After reintroducing new Blizzard co-leaders Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, alongside studio co-founder Allen Adham, now leading new product and incubation efforts at the company, Kotick continued, “Each of these individuals brings vast industry experience and tremendous integrity to their roles. They’re the very best examples of leadership with character and accountability. I’m confident this team will ensure that Blizzard provides a welcoming, comfortable, and safe workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.”
“In addition,” Kotick continued, “we’ll continue to investigate each and every claim and complaint that we receive. When we learn of shortcomings, we will take decisive action, and to strengthen our capabilities in this area, we’ll be adding additional staff and resources. People will be held accountable for their actions.
“That commitment means that we will not just terminate employees where appropriate, but will also terminate any manager or leader found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims, and imposing appropriate consequences.
“Because our work cannot be successful without diverse voices, views, and talents, we made a commitment to consider diverse slates of candidates for all open positions and will continue to add resources to ensure this occurs throughout the company.
“Over the past several years, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture, reflect more diversity within our leadership teams, and create environments [conducive] to reporting any time of misconduct. We’ve amplified internal programmes that encourage employees to report violations, we’ve reinforced channels for employees to voice concerns in confidential and safe ways without any fear of retaliation. We’re directing additional resources to our compliance and employee relations teams dedicated to investigating complaints.
“We pride ourselves on paying our employees competitively and fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We regularly review our compensation to ensure that we remain equitable in our approach. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors such as performance, role, and expertise. And we conduct extensive anti-discrimination training, including for all employees involved in the compensation process.
“Our workplace initiatives are crucial to our continued success and our leadership effort is my priority. Our workplace safety also remains a priority and as we consider our return-to-work initiatives, we remain focussed on providing the very best healthcare for our employees and their families.”
“You have my unwavering commitment that we will continue to focus on serving our players and delivering the sustainable growth that you’ve come to expect,” Kotick concluded, “And we will take all necessary actions to foster a culture that is supportive and welcoming for all of our employees and we expect to be the very best example for other companies to emulate”.
Many of those sentiments were repeated again and again throughout the tightly scripted earnings call, with chief financial office Armin Zerza telling listeners, “I want to reiterate that our priority is ensuring a workplace that provides opportunity for all in the most welcoming and inclusive way possible… We couldn’t be more committed to ensuring an inclusive work environment for all our employees as well as for long-term sustainable growth. We’ll be working with our teams to improve our company together to become the most empowering and inclusive entertainment company possible”.
President and COO Daniel Alegre continued, “The leadership team and I will do our utmost to make sure that we’re always improving and building the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to enable creativity and professional growth for all employees. There will be no tolerance at our company for harassment or unequal treatment of any kind.”
Reiterating some of the steps the company is making to address employee concerns, Alegre continued, “We will… be adding staff to our compliance and employee relations teams and investigate employee concerns… to ensure that we’re always considering diverse candidates for all open positions [and] we will be evaluating and training our people managers to make sure they are complying with our policies for handling employee concerns as well as taking the right action.”
Alegre also highlighted Activision’s decision to hire an outside law firm to “conduct a review of our policies and procedures with respect to our workplace and where employees can connect if they have experienced any issues whatsoever” – a controversial move that’s been heavily criticised, given that the firm in question, WilmerHale, has a pre-existing relationship with Activision, calling into doubt its ability to remain impartial.
As for new Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneale – the only Blizzard executive in attendance to directly speak on the topic – she struck a more human note, saying, “There’s nothing more important to me than our people, and I and Mike Ybarra, who’s partnering with me to lead Blizzard, feels exactly the same… When we come together we make some of the best games in the industry, and we’re now seeing that energy applied to our culture, which is equally important. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but the passion and productivity are already here, and when our people feel safe and supported, the rest is going to take care of itself.”
Ultimately, tonight’s call appeared to mark a deliberate shift away the combative – and widely lambasted – tone originally taken by Activision Blizzard as news of the lawsuit broke. At the time, chief compliance officer Fran Townsend called the legal action “truly meritless and irresponsible” in an all-staff email – part of an initial response Kotick later called “tone deaf”.
However, despite the softening of Activision’s message, Kotick and his executive team once again failed to address the bulk of demands shared by workers prior to last week’s strike action – which saw more than 500 workers walk out and “hundreds” more participate virtually around the world, according to organisers.
Reiterating these demands in a new letter to Kotick, as shared by IGN, the ABK Workers Alliance wrote, “We communicated a list of four demands aimed at protecting our most vulnerable workers. These are: (1) an end to forced arbitration in employment agreements, (2) the adoption of inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, (3) increases in pay transparency through compensation metrics, and (4) an audit of ABK policies and practices to be performed by a neutral third-party. Importantly, we demanded that this third party be selected by an employee-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force.
“In response to our demands, you wrote a letter to employees expressing a commitment to doing a better job of listening. You said you would do everything possible to work with employees in improving our workplace. And yet, the solutions you proposed in that letter did not meaningfully address our requests. You ignored our call for an end to mandatory arbitration. You did not commit to adopting inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. You made no comment on pay transparency.
“One of our demands, a third-party audit of ABK practices and policies, was ostensibly addressed by your decision to hire WilmerHale to conduct an internal review. While we commend the idea of hiring a third-party firm to perform an internal review, The ABK Workers Alliance cannot support the choice of WilmerHale as an impartial reviewer.”
“We call on you and your executive leadership team to do better,” the letter concludes, “and to fully address our list of demands. We will not abandon our cause. Our ranks continue to grow across multiple Activision Blizzard studios… We are doing what we can, and we call on you to do what we cannot.”