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The independent Gender Balance investigation also found women are "considerably more exposed" to abusive behavior.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

February 17, 2022

4 Min Read

An independent audit of Paradox Interactive found the company has "clear problems" with abusive behaviours including suppression techniques and verbal harassment that specifically impacts women at the studio.

The Stellaris developer enlisted Swedish discrimination prevention and investigation company Gender Balance to conduct a third-party audit of its workplace after several current and former employees detailed a culture of harassment and toxicity.

That outpouring of allegations eventually prompted Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester to come clean about subjecting an employee to "inappropriate behaviour" in 2018 during a company-wide conference.

Following the conclusion of Gender Balance's audit, Paradox said it wanted to publish the full report online in the interest of "complete transparency."

Although the company noted that "few severe cases" of misconduct were identified, it acknowledged it failed to "equip our managers sufficiently with the tools needed to identify and act against [misconduct]."

More specifically, Gender Balance highlighted a "signifiacant lack of structural capital in terms of the company's response to misconduct," highlighting that managers lack the training and supportive structure that would allow them to constructively manage incidents of misconduct.

As a result, the audit claims Paradox's handling of potential misconduct is "very uneven, ranging from good to weak and in some cases even aggravating."

"Many cases that should be relatively easy to manage are dismissed or not picked up at all, creating a climate that in practice tolerates misconduct to some extent. Processes are lacking in structure and transparency, resulting in unclear expectations and reluctance to file complaints," it reads.

"Clear-cut discrimination has not been common during the past two years, but grey zone abusive behaviors are common enough to constitute recurring or significant work environment issues in many parts of the organization. There is a clear gendered pattern to this, with women being significantly more likely to be victimised as compared to men, although men also experience it."

As for what forms of misconduct were unearthed, Gender Balance said behaviors included the use of harsh and demeaning language, ridicule, recurring mean-spirited criticism, unfairly questioning competence, interrupting or speaking over someone in meetings, and blaming and shaming.

Notably, the audit found that women were "considerably more exposed" to those behaviours than men, and had also reported more incidents of overt behaviours such as unsolicited compliments or comments about their appearance.

"Many have reported that this has created an atmosphere and a culture in which they do not feel welcome, and which they perceive as being open mainly to men. Key positions in the company are described as belonging to men who are not held accountable in cases of misconduct," continues the report.

"Bringing up issues related to the work environment or inclusion is frequently berated in this environment, both by managers and colleagues. Several women have reported employing various coping strategies, such as avoiding working with or minimizing their contact with certain persons, putting up a harsh facade, or having to advertise that they are in a relationship in order to not receive unwanted advances from male colleagues."

As a result of those findings, Paradox said it has already taken action including reviewing and updating its harassment and victimisation policies, increasing training for all employees, and reinforcing managerial support structures.

Additionally, the company has pledged to track misconduct through internal surveys, update its guidelines for both internal and external events -- specifically around alcohol availability and consumption -- and follow-up and evaluate its action plan with an anti-discrimination council.

Paradox technical lead and union representative Zack Holmgren said both the Unionen and SACO unions are "very satisfied" with Gender Balance's work, and praised the thoroughness of its investigation.

"We trust that their report provides an accurate picture of the issues present at Paradox. It underlines a lot of the issues we had identified with our members before the audit. We are working in close collaboration with the company and other stakeholders, such as our safety officers, to follow up on and evaluate the execution of the action plan created based on Gender Balance's recommendations," said Holmgren.

"We trust that the clear acknowledgement of existing issues, the actions planned, and the transparency surrounding this process will lead to clear improvements of the work conditions and culture at Paradox."

Paradox isn't the only game company grappling with cultural issues. Other notable studios including Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard have also struggled to deal with endemic harassment and misconduct, with employees taking action in the form of strikes, walkouts, and more in a bid to usher in meaningful change.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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