Microsoft Promises Public Investigation Into Sexual Harassment Policies

Topline

Microsoft has hired a law firm to publicly evaluate the company’s handling of sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims, including allegations of inappropriate behavior by co-founder Bill Gates, its board announced Thursday.

Key Facts

Law firm Arent Fox will issue a report to the Microsoft board of directors that will be made public in the spring, the company said.

The report will detail the number of sexual harassment cases investigated by the company, the results of those investigations and recommendations for improvements.

The review will also investigate how the company handled previous claims of misconduct and harassment by executives, including a 2019 investigation into Gates.

In November, Microsoft shareholders voted to approve a proposal asking the board of directors to produce a public report about the company’s harassment policies. 

Crucial Quote

“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,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “I embrace this comprehensive review as an opportunity to continue to get better.”

Key Background

Gates — whose decades-long tenure at Microsoft’s helm helped him build a personal fortune now worth an estimated $134.2 billion — stepped down from Microsoft’s board of directors in 2020, and he and his wife Melinda divorced in 2021. Prior to his resignation, Gates had a years-long sexual relationship with a female Microsoft staffer, the Wall Street Journal reported in May. Microsoft reportedly hired a law firm to investigate the employee’s claims against Gates in 2019, but he resigned from his post as board chairman before the review was complete. Gates also allegedly sent “flirtatious” and “inappropriate” emails to a female employee in 2007, according to the Journal. A Gates spokesperson previously acknowledged he had an affair nearly 20 years ago, but claimed it was unrelated to his exit from Microsoft. A group of Microsoft staffers also detailed broader complaints about how the company handled sexual harassment and discrimination in a 2019 email thread, another topic the company pledged to investigate Thursday. 

Further Reading

Microsoft has hired a law firm to review sexual harassment policies, report to come this spring (CNBC) 

​​Microsoft Board to Review Company’s Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination Policies (Wall Street Journal) 

Bill Gates Was Warned About ‘Inappropriate’ Emails To A Female Employee At Microsoft In 2008, Report Says (Forbes)

Microsoft Board Reportedly Investigated Bill Gates’ Alleged Relationship With Female Staffer Before His Exit (Forbes)

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