The Activision Blizzard Controversy Continues, More Employees Have Left

By Dylan Balde | 1 month ago

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Activision Blizzard has finally flipped the script in pursuit of greater accountability, a recent press release reveals. The Santa Monica game publisher has conducted its own investigation independent of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and made pertinent changes to the system, exacting various penalties on confirmed members of the Cosby Suite as the aggrieved sees fit. The results are promising. Since top developers Jesse McCree, Luis Barriga, and Jonathan LeCraft were let go in August, with Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack handing in his resignation a week prior, executive vice president of corporate affairs Frances Townsend has managed to get at least 20 male employees sacked, another 20 or so severely reprimanded, and about 19 full-timers subjected to ethics and sensitivity training.

It’s all hands on deck in Activision Blizzard right now, Townsend informs The Financial Times on Tuesday, and the women have rightly taken over from the men, giving the company mission-vision a roughly progressive do-over and rebuilding everything from the ground-up. It’s a daunting task, but Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor from the George W. Bush administration, is more than equipped for the challenge.

Fran Townsend published a comprehensive report on all changes made since Activision Blizzard visibly departed headlines last month, and it detailed what the company has done so far to cleanse the general hierarchy of industrial bad eggs. When news of overly sexist behavior to the point of defamation and harassment attracted the press early this year, Activision Blizzard’s male bigwigs cowered in their seats. The overall pecking order had been compromised and executives would rather quit their jobs and delay corrective measures to avoid ratting out their closest friends. Townsend restored the pyramid by encouraging what Brack should have aimed for from the start: to afford victims the sense of agency they were long deprived of. Once the power was reconstituted back to the women, Townsend could finally refocus her attention on the more pressing matter at hand: rehabilitating Activision Blizzard by fixing what can still be salvaged and expelling what’s already beyond professional help.

Townsend’s plan to get Activision Blizzard back on its feet is fourfold: create an Ethics & Compliance Team in conjunction with Employee Relations for maximum leadership and supervision, back an ongoing centralized investigative unit capable of making difficult Human Resources decisions, reward victims for opening up, and maintain 100% transparency both behind and in front of the camera.

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The Ethics & Compliance Team forms the main bracket and is in charge of retraining confirmed abusers (both regular developers and top executives), carrying out appropriate disciplinary action against those with especially abominable track records, and helping everyone willing to speak up in whichever manner works for them. The team, led by newly minted senior vice president Jen Brewer, is also committed to encouraging honesty and transparency. The group is not only championing previously silenced voices to say their piece and publishing regular reports listing all complaints made and punishments accrued, but it’s also giving away one additional vacation day per quarter to acknowledge good work done. Activision Blizzard under Townsend’s judiciously eagle-eyed rule is going all in.

The goal of Townsend’s four-point plan is to restore Activision Blizzard to a state even better than the original: by making the company the safest it’s been for women since the day Alex Afrasiabi and his friends popularized the Cosby Suite, and used male community bonding as license to harass their female colleagues with. Brewer’s Ethics & Compliance Team has two complementary branches: centralized investigation and Employee Relations. The first is tasked with the seemingly insurmountable responsibility of drawing out every male employee that has at one point contributed to Activision Blizzard’s justly maligned “frat boy” culture. The unit, which already has three new full-time positions set up, accepts round-the-clock calls and tips about any level of abuse that has taken place within the walls of the company.

Employee Relations, on the other hand, is responsible for making individual decisions per pending harassment case; depending on the male employee’s proven history, he will suffer one of three fates: be re-educated, be punished, or be duly booted out. Those unable to be redeemed via conventional therapy will receive the boot, while those with some chance of improvement will stay, albeit with certain new rules and restrictions. Chief people officer Julie Hodges leads Employee Relations.

Townsend remains completely transparent, however, about how much more Activision Blizzard needs to work at; female employees have reportedly called for an immediate end to mandatory arbitration in the case of sexual harassment claims as certain institutionalized issues still persist. Townsend is working closely with CEO Bobby Kotick, as well as the company board, in keeping changes a little more consistent.

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Though Activision Blizzard has yet to settle anything with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the company (under new leadership) has already reached suitable middleground with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last month. And considering what Activision Blizzard was only two months ago, this — and Townsend’s concerted efforts at rehabilitating colleagues — is a good start.