Microsoft launches investor-requested workplace sexual harassment investigation

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Microsoft announced Thursday that it is launching an investigation into how it is responding to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, including how it is handling allegations against co-founder Bill Gates.

The review comes in response to pressure from Microsoft investors. Nearly 78 percent of shareholders voted at the company’s annual meeting on Nov. 30 to call for more accountability in handling complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“We are committed to not only reviewing the report, but learning from the assessment so we can continue to improve our employees’ experience,” CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Microsoft’s board of directors hired a law firm to investigate Gates in 2019 after a Microsoft engineer wrote in a letter alleging she had had a sexual relationship with Gates for several years. Gates resigned from the board in 2020.

Suggestions by activist investors to change company policies are rarely successful. Microsoft had urged shareholders to reject the proposal, which required the company to investigate its harassment policy and issue a public report about it.

But the investment firm behind the proposal, Massachusetts-based Arjuna Capital, said it was pleased with the company’s response since the winning vote.

“I’m quite impressed with how Microsoft has followed through on its commitment since the annual meeting,” said Natasha Lamb, co-founder and managing partner of the social investment firm.

She said she was in discussions with Microsoft about how the investigation would proceed. The board authorized the company to engage the law firm of Arent Fox to conduct the review.

“Our concern is not only what has happened to Microsoft in the past, but whether this behavior will be addressed and mitigated in the future,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “Ultimately, from an investor’s perspective, it’s about how the company treats its employees and whether it’s able to attract and retain talent.”

The Redmond, Wash.-based company said its public report will include an assessment of the effectiveness of its policies against harassment and discrimination. It will also summarize the findings of investigations into allegations of harassment against board members and senior executives, including how the 2019 Gates investigation was handled, and outline steps to hold executives accountable.

Check out the latest from the Consumer Electronics Show on Gadgets 360 in our CES 2022 hub.

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