We live in the 21st century. There are certainties that come with this, like the fact that we are bearing witness to the rise of economic globalization and that Brad Pitt is aging better than Johnny Depp. Those are irrefutable facts, ones you’ll find amid a slew of contradictions, assumptions and fallacies. One of the most common misconceptions? “Gender discrimination is a thing of the past.” Yeah, and I’m secretly Jeff Bezos. I’m not, and gender inequality, especially in the workplace, is alive and well.
Male-dominated industries are unavoidable and are often built upon toxic foundations that incite, if not encourage, the belittlement of their female counterparts. But are the bad behaviors exhibited in today’s workplace mere echoes of the discriminatory days gone by? Not quite, as the so-called evolved divergence that men of the newer generations like to use as a mask to cast an air of acceptance, are really just shrouds for their prejudices.
Sure, we’re past the chauvinistic standards of the ’30s, when those harboring a vagina were restricted to secretarial positions, but the price for full — or even partial — female integration into the workplace is steep. The sexually violent bullies that make up some of today’s male employees are a far cry from their condescending, Mad Men-esque forefathers.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recognized this when they launched a two-year-long investigation into Activision Blizzard, which culminated in a recent and highly publicized lawsuit. I think it’s safe to say that when court transcriptions come with a trigger warning, one can assume that an anti-sexual harassment agreement was most likely not included in the new employee onboarding packet.
Now’s a good time to stop reading if you’re sensitive to triggers, which, for this article, include suicide and non-consensual sexual situations. If you are still on board, then brace yourself.
- Female employees were assigned lower pay rates. This includes a lower starting pay as well as a lower salary for full-time employees, a status that typically takes female employees twice as long to reach compared to their male counterparts. Female employees continue to earn less, while male employees are paid substantially more for the same, or at least extremely similar, work.
- Complaints made to H.R. were not just ignored but were not kept confidential, resulting in aggressive and oftentimes violent retaliation toward the individual attempting to file the complaint.
- There were repeated warnings made to female employees against them “falling pregnant.” The women who didn’t heed this ridiculous piece of advice and thus “fell” were subjected to backlash in the form of scathing job evaluations drafted during their maternity leave, termination of employment, disregarded medical restrictions and an overall hostile work environment.
- Promotions among female employees are rare. What is common? The rate at which the female staff is let go or fired.
- Female workers were assigned disproportionate workloads while male employees were paid more to work less. On top of that, male employees would often delegate what few duties they did have to female subordinates so they could have time to play video games with other neglectful male employees while on site.
- When female employees requested time off, in response, they received a one-page list of demands for them to work on during their vacation. However, male employees making similar requests were never given work to complete during their requested time off.
The list continues, yet the further we travel down this path, the more it becomes littered with stale beer and bad decisions as each offense turns more sexual. In an effort to oversimplify, and in turn downplay, these offenses, the male employees of Activision described the following events as just part of their harmless, frat-boy antics. I should point out that the preceding events as well as the ones to come involve employees at every level, including management.
- Cube Crawls, which are essentially pub crawls minus the pub, took place multiple times per month. During one of these worktime crawls, the amount of alcohol these men consume is equivalent to what one might imbibe during a night out at a bar. Instead of a clumsy walk to find their Uber, however, a belligerent employee meanders through the open workspaces’ cubicles, and unwanted gropings and an onslaught of unwelcome advances ensue.
- Being a part of an industry that caters to those with a Y chromosome, women often become a part of or overhear inescapable conversations, not willingly but due to their proximity. This was the case at Activision Blizzard when a boozed-up coworker lewdly talked about what they’d like to do to their female coworker, who stood no less than five feet away.
- Proudly coming in on mornings following an alcohol-fueled evening and clearly hungover, male employees are known to pass on the day’s responsibilities to a female employee so that they can catch up on playing games. Again, this is at work. I can’t stress this enough because while their place of employment is, or was, at a video game company’s headquarters, this isn’t “Grandma’s Boy,” and there’s no break room that doubles as the designated gaming room for employees.
- Then there’s the infamous “Cosby Suite” — an odd title from a group of men adamant that their offensive behavior was all in good fun. The organizer of the suite and former creative director, Alex Afrasiabi, was known for being a bully but persistently claims the suite was meant for nothing more than relaxation. However, a brief look through the texts between members of the self-titled “Cosby Crew” suggests the time spent there was less about reaching Zen and more about drunken debauchery.
- The event that, in a very real sense, was the final nail in Activision’s coffin, was the suicide of a female employee while on a business trip with her supervisor. When questioned and searched, the supervisor was found to have lubricant and multiple sex toys in his possession. Without the release of the names of those involved, it’s unclear if a longer sordid history is at play here. Rumors run rampant, ranging from the two being ex-lovers to the supervisor circulating nude pictures of the deceased at a holiday party.
So, what is the intended outcome of this lawsuit? There are four key points that, ideally, Activision would be forced to address, and they would have to make any changes deemed necessary to have these four stipulations met.
- Elimination of the use of forced arbitration
- Worker participation in the hiring and promotion processes
- Greater pay transparency to ensure equal compensation for equal work
- The addition of a third party that can audit HR and other similar company processes
Unfortunately, so far, the only result from the filing of this lawsuit has been the 500 new complaints of sexual assault and harassment that were made. Time will tell whether anything will come from these legal issues, but for now, Activision Blizzard remains a topic of conversation surrounding gender discrimination.