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Update (10/28): The ABK Workers Alliance acknowledge and celebrated Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s letter in a statement on BlizzPlanet. They highlighted that now three of their four initial demands have been acknowledged, but stressed that these changes currently contradict the way the company is currently behaving.
“This is definitely the best steps Activision Blizzard has agreed with,” the statement read. “However, I also must point out that what Kotick says in this letter seems an opposite of what Activision Blizzard is doing in court. While Kotick admits EEOC’s claims as true, they attempted to dismiss the DFEH case in court just last week. So there are mixed signals that should not be ignored by fans.”
This company-wide message, sent Thursday, included five new commitments from the organization to promote diversity and inclusion, with a zero-tolerance policy for harassment as one of the targeted improvements for the game publisher.
Kotick’s message, which was also sent to investors Thursday, addressed a lack of diversity at Activision Blizzard, waiving of required arbitration for claims involving sexual harassment and discrimination at the company, transparency as the publisher works toward pay equity across positions at Activision Blizzard and frequent updates on how the organization is meeting its objectives.
“I have asked our Board of Directors to reduce my total compensation until the Board has determined that we have achieved the transformational gender-related goals and other commitments described above,” Kotick added in the statement. “Specifically, I have asked the Board to reduce my pay to the lowest amount California law will allow for people earning a salary, which this year is $62,500. To be clear, this is a reduction in my overall compensation, not just my salary. I am asking not to receive any bonuses or be granted any equity during this time.”
The statement follows months of pushback from Activision Blizzard employees on a lack of action by the publisher on demands set after a lawsuit filed in California publicly revealed the company’s deep-rooted cultural issues. Those demands, which were laid out by the ABK Workers Alliance following a walkout by more than 500 Activision Blizzard employees in July, included:
- An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
- The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization.
- Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company.
- Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff.
ABK Leadership has shown time and time again that performative listening is their preferred method of appeasement. But we want action. We want change.
— ABetterABK 💙 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) July 31, 2021
The statement by the ABK Workers Alliance, made on July 30, went largely unacknowledged by Activision Blizzard until Thursday. A newsletter from the Workers Alliance on Oct. 18 indicated Activision Blizzard’s executive response to the lawsuit, which was issued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, detailed the timeline of deflection and defense by corporate leaders since the lawsuit was made public on July 20.
“Apart from these initial responses,” which, according to the letter, included the departure of former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and a letter from investors on Aug. 5 demanding change at Activision Blizzard, “the company’s Chief-Suite has stayed silent in response to the demands of employees and investors and their rejection of WilmerHale.”
— ABetterABK 💙 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) October 18, 2021
WilmerHale is the external law firm hired by Activision Blizzard to oversee an internal investigation into the allegations levied by employees against the company. However, WilmerHale shared a relationship with Fran Townsend, Activison Blizzard’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, which called the independence of the review into question.
The statement by Kotick did not address WilmerHale’s past rapport with Townsend. Townsend deactivated her Twitter account after backlash about tweets that openly pushed back on Activision Blizzard employees’ requests of the company.
The ongoing legal battle between the CDFEH and Activision Blizzard, has twisted and turned for three months now with no end forthcoming. The full list of commitments from Activision Blizzard is below, though no specifics on implementation were provided. The ABK Workers Alliance has not yet made a statement on Kotick’s comments.
- We are launching a new zero-tolerance harassment policy company-wide – In the past, when we discovered and substantiated harassment, we terminated some employees and provided verbal or written warnings or different disciplinary actions to others. In retrospect, to achieve our goals for workplace excellence, this approach is no longer adequate. We need tougher rules and consistent monitoring across the entire company to make sure reports are being handled correctly and discipline is appropriate and swift.As a result, we are implementing a zero-tolerance policy across Activision Blizzard that will be applied consistently. Our goal is to have the strictest harassment and non-retaliation policies of any employer, and we will continue to examine and tighten our standards to achieve this goal everywhere we do business.Any Activision Blizzard employee found through our new investigative processes and resources to have retaliated against anyone for making a compliance complaint will be terminated immediately.In many other instances of workplace misconduct, we will no longer rely on written warnings: termination will be the outcome, including in most cases of harassment based on any legally protected category.Future employment contracts and equity awards will be clear: termination for these reasons will result in the immediate forfeiture of future compensation.We also want to ensure that employees who file reports are encouraged, protected, and heard. For all reports of harassment and retaliation, we will investigate the allegation and whether the Activision Blizzard personnel who received the report of such behavior took the appropriate steps to protect the integrity of our compliance processes.There may be some places around the world where local law may restrict some of these measures. In those cases, we will apply the highest permissible standards and the strongest possible discipline.
- We will increase the percentage of women and non-binary people in our workforce by 50% and will invest $250 million to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent –Today, approximately 23% of our global employee population identifies as women or non-binary. Building on the success that King and other business units have achieved, we will seek to increase our percentage of women and non-binary professionals by approximately 50% – to more than one-third across the entire company – within the next five years and hopefully faster. Each franchise team, business unit, and functional area will be expected to have plans to help fulfill this ambition.With respect to diversity, while we perform better than our peers with 30% of our U.S. workforce from diverse or under-represented communities, broadening this progress will continue to be a significant focus of mine as well as company, business unit, and franchise leadership.To further this commitment, we’ll be investing an additional $250 million over the next 10 years in initiatives that foster expanded opportunities in gaming and technology for under-represented communities. This commitment includes inspiring diverse talent to pursue career opportunities in gaming through an ABK Academy that includes partnerships with colleges and technical schools serving under-represented communities, mentorships for participants, and a rotating apprenticeship program that leads to game development jobs, similar to the programs we began with the United Negro College Fund and Management Leadership for Tomorrow. We will also provide learning, development, and advanced degree opportunities for current employees to increase the number of women and those from under-represented communities in leadership positions across the company and in our industry.In the coming months, Brian Bulatao, Julie Hodges, and I will share details about how we are operationalizing these goals and implementing and measuring this expanded investment.
- Based on feedback from employees, we are waiving required arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims – For any Activision Blizzard employee who chooses not to arbitrate an individual claim of sexual harassment, unlawful discrimination, or related retaliation arising in the future, the company will waive any obligation to do so.
- We will continue to increase visibility on pay equity – As described in the recent note from our President, Daniel Alegre, and our Chief Administrative Officer, Brian Bulatao, the company continues to focus on pay equity for employees. In fact, our U.S. analysis showed that women at the company on average earned slightly more than men for comparable work in 2020. To ensure transparency on our continuing commitment to pay equity, we will report these results annually.
- We will provide regular progress updates – We will be monitoring the progress of our business units, franchise teams, and functional leaders with respect to workplace initiatives and we will provide a status report quarterly. We also will be adding a dedicated focus on this vital work in our annual report to shareholders and in our annual ESG report with information on gender hiring, diversity hiring, and workplace progress.
Sean Morrison is the Editor-in-Chief of Upcomer, a former editor for ESPN’s esports section and is an adjunct professor at Indiana University’s Media School. Catch him on Warzone, Destiny 2 or Elder Scrolls Online, or just follow him on Twitter.