Dancing 'schoolgirls' damaged the brand, Microsoft execs say

Technically Incorrect: In an email to staff, Xbox's chief excoriates his company's party at last week's Game Developers Conference.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


There were some who didn't see the problem.

IvanMoen/Instagram screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The dancing has stopped, but the gyrations of anger have not.

After Microsoft and Xbox were heavily criticized for presenting dancers dressed as "sexy" schoolgirls during its Thursday night party at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Xbox CEO Phil Spencer sent an email to his staff expressing his intense disappointment.

His email, obtained by the Verge but confirmed by an Xbox spokeswoman as genuine, didn't perform a delicate two-step.

"It has come to my attention that at Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values," the email read in part. "That was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated."

Spencer had publicly expressed his regret already, but Friday's email went further.

"This matter is being handled internally, but let me be very clear -- how we represent ourselves as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others is a direct reflection of our brand and what we stand for," he said.

His wasn't the only email from a senior Microsoft figure. Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft's executive vice president of human resources, sent a note to all Microsoft employees. It read in part:

When we heard about this and saw the photos, the entire Senior Leadership Team was embarrassed and appalled. This is unacceptable in terms of how we treat women and how we represent Microsoft, and it undermines the culture we are working so hard to cultivate - one that is diverse and inclusive and grounded in a growth mindset. We are not going to tolerate this. I appreciate that we will be judged by our deeds, and not just our words. And yet every day, we see our people taking important and meaningful steps forward in our journey towards inclusion. As one example, at this same Game Developers Conference we had dedicated and passionate Microsoft employees sponsoring a Gaming 4 Everyone event.

I have heard from many of you individually and on Yammer that you can't believe we let this happen. It is not a stretch to say that the company as a whole is shocked and upset, and that we all are determined that this is never repeated....Microsoft's Employee Relations Investigations Team is involved to make sure we have a full understanding of what happened. And beyond this incident, we are strengthening our commitment to our diversity and inclusion efforts, while evaluating where we must take stronger action to show we are more resolute than ever to make progress and hold ourselves accountable.

In his email, Spencer made clear that "we justly deserve the criticism."

As some pointed out, the harking back to sexist tones was one that Xbox had been trying to escape during a GDC lunch event entitled "Women In Games."

"It's unfortunate that such events could take place in a week where we worked so hard to engage the many different gaming communities in the exact opposite way," Spencer said in his email.

Spencer insisted that Xbox must openly demonstrate an inclusive culture. This is because it "has a direct impact on the products and services we deliver and the perception consumers have of the Xbox brand and our company, as a whole."

Microsoft and Xbox apparently still have more work to do.

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