Microsoft opens harassment investigation sought by investors

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Microsoft says it will review its policies regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination and will publicly release the results of an investigation into allegations involving members of its board of directors and senior leadership, including Bill Gates.

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Microsoft said Thursday that it is launching an investigation into how it responds to sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the workplace, including its handling of allegations from co-founder Bill Gates.

The review is a response to pressure from Microsoft investors. About 78% of shareholders at Microsoft’s November 30 annual meeting voted to demand greater accountability from the company in responding to complaints of workplace sexual harassment.

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

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Microsoft’s board hired a law firm to look into Gates in 2019 after a Microsoft engineer alleged in a letter that he had sexually assaulted Gates for several years. Relationships were made. Gates resigned from the board in 2020.

Proactive investor proposals to change corporate policy are rarely successful. Microsoft urged shareholders to decline December’s offer to seek a report on the company’s approach to complaints of harassment and discrimination.

But Massachusetts-based Arjun Capital, the investment firm behind the proposal, said it is happy with how the company has responded since the win.

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

“Our concern is not just the incidents in the past with Microsoft, but that behavior is being addressed and mitigated,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “At the end of the day, from an investor’s perspective, it’s about how the company is treating its employees and whether it is able to attract and retain talent.”

The company said its public reports will include an assessment of the effectiveness of its policies against harassment and discrimination. It will also summarize the consequences of any harassment allegations against board members and senior leaders, including the handling of Gates’ 2019 investigation, and outline steps to hold leaders accountable.

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