Following a lawsuit filed last week by the state of California, Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick said the company would review its policies to prevent future instances of the types of sexual harassment and discrimination at the center of the case.
Thousands of employees this week signed a letter protesting Activision’s dismissal of the suit, which it called “baseless.” And yesterday, many of them stopped working for several hours to walk out in protest. The suit describes Activision leadership as fostering a “frat boy” culture where women are frequently harassed and intimidated in the workplace. In one instance cited in the case, a female employee is reported to have died by suicide after experiencing sexual harassment by her manager.
Activision says that it has made reforms to its culture in recent years that address California’s complaint, but thousands of employees signing a letter in disagreement suggests it hasn’t gone far enough.
Bad sign — To assist in its effort reviewing corporate policy, Activision hired the law firm WilmerHale. Kotaku goes into a full background on WilmerHale, but the gist is that the law firm seems like it would be favorable towards Activision and not its employees. That’s often the criticism of HR departments, they protect the corporation at all costs.
WilmerHale not only has direct ties to Amazon — one of its partners is a member of Amazon’s board — but the firm helped Amazon in its defeat of a unionization effort at a warehouse in Alabama. So the timing of hiring WilmerHale just as workers are organizing raises the question of how far its policy suggestions will go.
It’s a positive sign to see the workforce at Activision starting to organize. Forming a union to collectively bargain is one way that workers at Activision could push change at the game developer and earn new rights. Unions are uncommon in the field of engineering, as employees are in demand, meaning they’re typically treated to generous salaries and benefits and have strong job prospects. But as the Activision case highlights, money isn’t everything. Sexism is pervasive in the gaming industry, which skews heavily male. Unionizing could offer women more support, independent of Activision’s HR department, and promote initiatives to increase diversity.
Gamers themselves could also do their part by ending financial support to Activision, but boycotts of major corporations are rarely effective.
Unions — WilmerHale was able to defeat the unionization effort at Amazon through tactics like setting up mandatory informational meetings, and spreading anti-union rhetoric, such as the suggestion that a union was only interested in taking fees from their paychecks without offering support. But that contradicts the fact that unions were once responsible for the biggest wage increases in America. That really didn’t change until President Reagan famously fired all the traffic controllers in the United States as retaliation over their protests for better wages. After that incident, union membership began to erode across America as workers became fearful of being too noisy and losing their jobs.
Activision defended hiring WilmerHale, telling Kotaku that “WilmerHale has extensive experience helping organizations strengthen their workplace environment by making improvements around policies and procedures related to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation issues.”