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ActiBlizz CEO apologizes for lawsuit response, but protesting devs say his statement falls short

While the actions shared by Kotick promise positive change, the developers responsible for organizing the Activision Blizzard Walkout say those changes still fall short of what employees need from leadership.

Alissa McAloon, Publisher

July 28, 2021

5 Min Read

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has weighed in on the recent controversy surrounding the company with his own statement, apologizing for how studio leadership responded to a sizable lawsuit from the State of California alleging years of harassment, discrimination, and frequent pay disparity throughout the massive game company.

In that statement, Kotick acknowledges that the past week has been "difficult and upsetting", and that the initial reaction from Activision Blizzard leadership (which included a particularly strong-worded, anti-lawsuit pushback from corporate affairs EVP Frances Townsend) lacked "the right empathy and understanding".

"Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf," writes Kotick. "It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way."

His statement, which can be found in full here, says that Activision Blizzard is taking five specific actions to show that it is "committed to long-lasting change," with each effective immediately. However, while the below actions shared by Kotick promise positive change, the developers responsible for organizing today's Activision Blizzard Walkout say those changes still fall short of what employees need from leadership.

Kotick's five promised changes are as follows:

1. Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.

2. Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.

3. Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.

4. Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.

5. In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.

His comments notably arrived the night before today's planned walkout, and only hours after Acitvision Blizzard employees announced their intent to protest via a work stoppage. Organizers released their own response to Kotick's statement and promises this morning ahead of the walkout, reiterating the changes they asked Acitvision Blizzard to commit to and arguing that Kotick's response fails to entirely acknowledge a single one.

"On the evening before our employee walkout, Activision Blizzard leadership released a statement apologizing for their harmful responses to last week's DFEH lawsuit," reads the statement sent to Axios. "While we are pleased to see that our collective voices -- including an open letter with thousands of signatures from current employees -- have convinced leadership to change the tone of their communications, this response fails to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns."

Organizers shared their list of four demands alongside the walkout announcement yesterday, explaining that each would allow the company to improve conditions for marginalized groups at Activision Blizzard. Today's statement reiterates those points, and highlights that Activision Blizzard's official response has so far neglected parts of all four of their demands. That full list can be found below, with the specific elements Activision Blizzard has so far failed to address in bold.

1. The end of forced arbitration for all employees. 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.

2. Worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies. 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. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.

3. The need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality. 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. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.

4. Employee selection of  a third party to audit HR and other company processes.  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. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.

"This is the beginning of an enduring movement in favor of better labor conditions for all employees, especially women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups," reads a portion of the statement.

"We expect a prompt response and a commitment to action from leadership on the points enumerated above, and look forward to maintaining a constructive dialogue on how to build a better Activision Blizzard for all employees. Today, we stand up for change. Tomorrow and beyond, we will be the change."

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