Microsoft announced on Thursday that it is launching an inquiry into the effectiveness of its policies and practices regarding workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination, including its handling of allegations about co-founder Bill Gates.
The company said it plans to issue a “thorough” and “transparent” public report with its findings this spring which will include data on the number of sexual harassment cases investigated, as well as their resolutions.
It comes in response to an advisory shareholder resolution (pdf) last year calling for such a review. At the time, shareholders noted that the issues regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the company can “harm shareholder value” and result in higher staff turnover, lower productivity, and increased absenteeism, as well as higher sick leave costs.
“Our culture remains our number one priority and the entire Board appreciates the critical importance of a safe and inclusive environment for all Microsoft employees,” Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella said in a prepared statement on Thursday.
“We’re committed not just to reviewing the report but learning from the assessment so we can continue to improve the experiences of our employees.”
Microsoft has hired law firm Arent Fox LLP to conduct the inquiry which will specifically focus on the effectiveness of the company’s workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies, training, and related policies, including a review of concerns raised by employees in a 2019 “In Need of Assistance” email thread, which saw dozens of women working at the company share stories of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The inquiry will also look into the steps Microsoft has taken in response to these concerns and will include an “analysis of policies, practices, and commitments to create a safe, inclusive work environment.”
Arent Fox’s report will also provide a summary of the results of any sexual harassment investigations since 2019 against members of the Board of Directors and the company’s Senior Leadership Team, including the board investigation of co-founder Bill Gates.
Finally, the inquiry will assess the steps that Microsoft has taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
In addition to the above, the review will also benchmark Microsoft’s current practices against “best practices” adopted by other companies in an effort to identify areas of improvement, something which the company noted had not been called for by the shareholder resolution but which they had opted to do.
“The firm is experienced in these matters and has not previously been involved in representing Microsoft in employment matters, nor has it done a significant amount of work for the company in the past,” Microsoft said of Arent Fox.
Arent Fox will first deliver its findings and recommendations privately to the Board and management, who will then prepare a plan of action based on the recommendations and report this to the Board. The report will then be published to the public.
Gates announced he was stepping down from the Microsoft board in March 2020 to focus more time on his “philanthropic priorities.” In 2019, a board committee began investigating allegations that Gates had “sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000.”
When contacted for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson referred The Epoch Times to the company’s announcement regarding the inquiry.