Tuesday, February 27

Blizzard Entertainment aims for systemic change with first VP of culture

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Dive Brief:

  • Blizzard Entertainment has hired its first culture lead, Jessica Martinez, under the title of vice president, head of culture. 
  • Martinez served as chief of staff at The Walt Disney Company, and was a “key strategic advisor” to chief security and chief technology officers at Disney Parks and Resorts, Blizzard said in its press release. Goals of Blizzard’s new appointment include implementing culture strategy, redesigning learning and development programs and bringing “humanity back to business.”
  • “When you create a people-first environment where teams feel safe, valued, and work together toward a shared purpose, everyone thrives — the employees, the players, and the business,” Martinez said in a press release.

Dive Insight:

Since late 2021, Activision Blizzard has been embroiled in controversy, as employees shed light on microaggressions and systemic misogyny present in their workplace. 

Per the lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Activision Blizzard maintained a largely White, male leadership team and workforce. Women who made it to the top ranks, as well as women and nonbinary people across the board, were compensated less than their male counterparts. 

DFEH alleged that sexual harassment — particularly in the form of “cube crawls,” wherein men prowled the office drinking, objectifying and groping co-workers and making sexually vulgar jokes on the clock — was not only rampant, but integral to the video game company’s culture. As arguments for the July 2021 case were heard and Activision Blizzard employees held a walkout, their HR department caught heat for what some saw as co-signed toxicity: inequity in compensation practices, delaying women’s career progression, firing or ousting them at higher rates than their male co-workers and neglecting to protect them from sexual harassment.

The company has made a few moves since summer 2021 to do damage control. On July 27, 2021, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent an email to staff, highlighting the company’s selection of law firm WilmerHale to audit the studio’s workplace policies and procedures.

Shortly after, Activision Blizzard published a press release announcing J. Allen Brack’s departure from his presidential role. Brack had been named in the DFEH suit against the company. 

The Activision-Blizzard-King Workers Alliance published a letter, also on Aug. 3, rejecting Activision Blizzard’s selection of WilmerHale. They dissented mainly because of WilmerHale’s reputation of union-busting and the firm’s pre-existing relationship with company leadership, including taking on Activision Blizzard as a client to dispute a Diverse Candidate Search Policy proposed by the AFL-CIO and UAW. 

The next month, Activision Blizzard touted the hiring and integration of a new CPO, Julie Hodges, effective Sept. 21, 2021. Prior to joining the video game company, Hodges served as Disney’s SVP of corporate HR and compensation, benefits and talent acquisition since 2009, according to her LinkedIn profile. 

“I can’t think of a better person to join our team and help lead our ongoing commitment to an inclusive workplace,” Kotick said in a press release. “Julie is the seasoned leader we need to ensure we are the most inspiring, equitable and emulated entertainment company in the world.”

As publicized on Sept. 27, Activision Blizzard agreed to pay $18 million as part of a consent decree with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, settling multiple claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation of the company’s employees. The decree also mandated that the company submit to unannounced EEOC harassment audits, provide training to HR personnel and integrate an EEO element to performance reviews, among other requirements.

Mirroring Google’s decision after a similar employee walkout, Activision Blizzard decided to end mandatory arbitration agreements for employees’ claims of sexual harassment and discrimination. In his Oct. 28 email, Kotick announced a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. “Any Activision Blizzard employee found through our new investigative processes and resources to have retaliated against anyone for making a compliance complaint will be terminated immediately,” he added.

Prior to the appointment of Martinez, the most recent milestone in Blizzard’s cultural shift had been Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard. In light of the six months prior, HR Dive reached out for comment. The parent company pointed to a statement from Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer on the company’s commitment to “inclusion in every aspect of gaming, among both employees and players.”

Spencer added, “We deeply value individual studio cultures. We also believe that creative success and autonomy go hand-in-hand with treating every person with dignity and respect… We’re looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard.”

Only time will tell how Microsoft and Activision Blizzard’s inclusion and belonging commitments shake out in the coming months.

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