Microsoft hires law firm to review sexual harassment policies, probe gender discrimination

Tech giant promises to create an implementation plan based on outcome

Microsoft's board of directors has hired a law firm to review its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices following a shareholder proposal.

"This review responds to an advisory shareholder resolution that passed during the 2021 Annual Shareholders Meeting, and it will build on steps the company has taken in recent years to address these issues and strengthen Microsoft's culture," said a statement [PDF] from the company.

The shareholder vote came at the urging of Arjuna Capital after the investment management firm warned that "sexual harassment at Microsoft presents a material investment risk."

The company did not have a history of adequately resolving such matters, had not followed best practice for independent investigations, and had not committed to publicly reporting on the accusations against Bill Gates, the shareholder resolution said at the time.

The Microsoft co-founder resigned in 2020, just days before allegations surfaced alleging improper conduct. At the time, a Gates Ventures representative told The Reg: "The claim of mistreatment of employees is ... false."

Microsoft has hired so-called "white-shoe" law firm Arent Fox to conduct the third-party review. The phrase white shoe refers to the laced suede white shoes favoured by Ivy League college students – the implication being that such a firm is more than a few decades old and is well-established amongst the upper crust.

If the name "Arent Fox" rings a bell then, well, it should. It is the same outfit that put together an investigation report concerning China-based surveillance kit maker Hikvision's human rights compliance process and concluded that there was nothing to see, as per a document published by Hikvision [PDF].

According to the Windows giant, Arent Fox hasn't been involved in representing Microsoft "in employment matters" and hasn't done a significant amount of work for the company in the past.

As for Microsoft, its Board of Directors wants Arent Fox to "address the full scope of the proposal passed at the Annual Shareholders Meeting."

The company will then publish a transparency report, doubtless festooned with stock images of smiling employees. The report is expected in the spring.

Additionally, the management team will create an implementation plan for acting on ensuing recommendations, Microsoft said.

The review will also include a study of concerns raised by a 2019 email chain from females at the company that consisted of personal accounts of gender discrimination and sexual harassment ranging from overt to microaggressions. And Redmond-based HQ has promised the Senior Leadership Team would not get a free pass as any past accusations against the team or board members will be assessed.

Any findings will be compared against how other companies deal with similar issues, establishing comparative norms, which is probably a good thing, but given the clear difficulties that are faced by women in tech, The Reg isn't holding its breath on that specific part being useful.

"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," said CEO Satya Nadella, who referred to the corporation's culture as his number-one priority. ®

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022