Critics have attacked the technology industry for decades over its treatment of women. There were stories of women dismissed for not accepting sexual advances from coworkers and managers, disregarded as intellectually inferior, or questioned for lack of commitment to 24/7 work cycles inherent in the startup mindset. Those origin stories are now as old as the three-martini lunch, but some stereotypes persist.
Microsoft announced that it selected a law firm to review its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies. This decision is the company’s board of directors’ response to criticism of how co-founder Bill Gates and the company treat employees, particularly women.
Gates recently made headlines by divorcing his wife, Melinda, of 27 years, herself a Microsoft employee before marrying Gates. While the divorce was relatively civil, it did bring to light accusations of Gates’s inappropriate relationships and sexual advances towards employees even while married. Melinda Gates became increasingly unhappy with her husband’s behavior, including a confidential settlement of harassment lawsuits protecting a Microsoft money manager and Gates’ flowering association with Geoffrey Epstein, who was accused of trafficking in underage girls.
Taking steps toward change
Microsoft’s annual shareholders’ meeting had five proposals on ethical issues to vote on. While calls to prevent the sale of facial recognition software to government agencies and a report on race- and gender-based pay gap at the company did not pass, shareholders did pass by 78% a resolution to review harassment policies and ensure that they protect employees from unwanted advances and harassment.
Changing tech culture for the better
Technology culture celebrates innovators and giants more than just about any other industry. These stars made many people very rich, but they no longer can function inside a bubble. Founders, CEOs, executives and managers now answer to investors, government regulators, and others. A law firm (whom we are not associated with) will review Microsoft policies to better ensure that the employees at all levels are safe from this kind of behavior. The company has an ongoing problem with addressing harassment exacerbated by the high-profile behavior of its co-founder. There are others out there who will need to do the same, no matter how successful they are.