Microsoft’s board is directing the company to hire an outside firm to review its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices, saying it will “address the full scope” of a shareholder proposal that received extraordinary 78% approval at the company’s annual meeting in November.
Announcing the plan Thursday afternoon, the board said the third-party review will include an assessment of its prior investigation into allegations against Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Microsoft said previously that the 2019 investigation focused on a relationship between Gates and a Microsoft employee in the year 2000.
However, this review is not expected to reinvestigate Gates or result in the release of new information about his behavior during his time as an executive. Gates is no longer on the Microsoft board.
The shareholder proposal was submitted by Arjuna Capital, whose managing partner, Natasha Lamb, called on Microsoft to publicly release the results of an independent investigation into Gates following the vote.
In advance of the vote, Microsoft’s board had recommended a vote against the proposal, calling it “unnecessary because Microsoft has adopted plans to begin annual public reporting in this fiscal year on Microsoft’s implementation of our sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies.”
The board said Thursday that it authorized the company to hire the law firm Arent Fox to conduct the review. “The firm is experienced in these matters and has not previously been involved in representing Microsoft in employment matters, nor has it done a significant amount of work for the company in the past.”
The board’s announcement included this statement from Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO and chairman:
“Our culture remains our number one priority and the entire Board appreciates the critical importance of a safe and inclusive environment for all Microsoft employees. We’re committed not just to reviewing the report but learning from the assessment so we can continue to improve the experiences of our employees. I embrace this comprehensive review as an opportunity to continue to get better.”
Here are the components of the review, quoting from the board’s announcement:
- It will lead to the public release of a transparency report assessing the effectiveness of the company’s workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies, training, and related policies. This will include a review of concerns raised by employees in 2019 in the “In Need of Assistance” email thread, steps the company has taken to respond to these concerns, and additional steps that could further strengthen these safeguards. The review will also include an analysis of policies, practices, and commitments to create a safe, inclusive work environment.
- The report will summarize the results of any sexual harassment investigations during this same timeframe against members of the Board of Directors and the company’s Senior Leadership Team, including the allegations that a Board committee investigated beginning in 2019 involving Bill Gates.
- It will assess the steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
- The report will include data on the number of sexual harassment cases investigated and their resolution.
The 2019 email thread, originally reported by Quartz, included reports of incidents in which women were called derogatory names, forced to perform administrative tasks even though they worked in technical roles and put in compromising situations such as being asked to sit on someone’s lap in front of HR and other executives.
Nadella pledged to take action and instituted a series of changes following those reports.