Microsoft employees protest 'boys club' culture to CEO Satya Nadella

A group of employees say that women are denied advancement opportunities and that serious HR complaints are ignored.

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Microsoft Annual Shareholders Meeting

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with employees on Thursday.

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A group of Microsoft employees Thursday protested the company's treatment of women, raising concerns to CEO Satya Nadella during a company meeting, reports Wired

The meeting was attended by 100 to 150 people, the publication said, and livestreamed throughout the company.

The complaints are aimed at an alleged culture that restricts women's advancement and ignores sexually inappropriate behavior. The impetus for the protest was an email chain started in late March, reviewed by Quartz, in which women at  Microsoft  shared their experiences of enduring discrimination.

Nadella and Microsoft's HR head, Kathleen Hogan, told employees at Thursday's meeting that there would be better transparency around women's advancement within the company, an employee said to Wired.

The initial email that kicked off the chain was sent on March 20 by a frustrated female employee who, despite the support of her superiors and peers, was unable to secure a promotion in six years, according to Quartz . The employee accused Microsoft of being a "boys club," reports Wired, which also reviewed the emails.

Women in the company subsequently added their own experiences to the email thread. They included stories of a female engineer getting death threats from a male employee at a partner company if she didn't engage in a sex act with him. Another employee said she was asked to sit on a male employee's lap during a business meeting that included Microsoft executives and HR.

The woman who was pressured into sexual acts with death threats was told, after she informed HR, that the man was probably joking, according to Wired. When she refused to travel with him again she said she was given 60 days to find a new role within the company. She subsequently moved from engineering to operations.

"We are appalled and sad to hear about these experiences," Hogan said in the email thread on March 29, nine days after the thread began circulating through the company. Microsoft shared her full response with CNET. "We are appalled and sad to hear about these experiences. It is very painful to hear these stories and to know that anyone is facing such behavior at Microsoft. We must do better." 

Hogan encouraged staff who have had "such demeaning experiences" to contact her directly, and sessions for employees to give feedback to HR have been set up for April 22.

"I also read and agree with the comments that for us to solve this as a company," she wrote, "the burden does not reside only with us women." 

The protest comes a day after Google released its annual Diversity Report, which illustrates the company is making progress in closing the diversity gap -- slowly. In 2018, women constituted 32.2% of new hires, up from 31.3% the year before. The company also hired more black and Latino workers, though the gains were less dramatic. Black hires were up to 4.8% from 4.1%, and Latino hires were up to 6.8% from 6.3%.

Treatment of women within tech has been an especially prominent issue since February 2017 when former Uber employee Susan Fowler wrote a blog detailing her year at the company. In it she described a toxic workplace culture not unlike the one Microsoft employees are now protesting.

Originally published April 4, 7:20 p.m. PT. 
Update, 10:38 p.m.: Adds response from Hogan.