Posted on April 22, 2019

Microsoft Staff Are Openly Questioning the Value of Diversity

Dave Gershgorn, Quartz, April 19, 2019

Some Microsoft employees are openly questioning whether diversity is important, in a lengthy discussion on an internal online messaging board meant for communicating with CEO Satya Nadella.

Two posts on the board criticizing Microsoft diversity initiatives as “discriminatory hiring” and suggesting that women are less suited for engineering roles have elicited more than 800 comments, both affirming and criticizing the viewpoints, multiple Microsoft employees have told Quartz. The posts were written by a female Microsoft program manager. Quartz reached out to her directly for comment, and isn’t making her name public at this point, pending her response.

“Does Microsoft have any plans to end the current policy that financially incentivizes discriminatory hiring practices? To be clear, I am referring to the fact that senior leadership is awarded more money if they discriminate against Asians and white men,” read the original post by the Microsoft program manager on Yammer, a corporate messaging platform owned by Microsoft. The employee commented consistently throughout the thread, making similar arguments. {snip}

“I have an ever-increasing file of white male Microsoft employees who have faced outright and overt discrimination because they had the misfortune of being born both white and male. This is unacceptable,” the program manager wrote in a comment later. {snip}

When contacted by Quartz, Microsoft pointed to comments by three company officials in the message-board threads. A member of Microsoft’s employee investigations team responded to the initial post in January, writing that the company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. Another Microsoft staff member, who leads the team that helps the board of directors determine executive pay, explained the diversity-based compensation initiative. “Our board and executive leadership team believe diverse and inclusive teams are good for business and consistent with our mission and inspire-to culture,” she wrote. “Linking compensation to these aspirations is an important demonstration of executive commitment to something we believe strongly in.”


Below is a selection of comments from the Microsoft employee, with the capitalization for emphasis in the original comments by the employee:


“We MUST immediately cease the practice of attaching financial incentives and performance metrics to ‘diversity hiring’ – as long as we give more money and higher annual reviews explicitly for NOT hiring/promoting white men and Asians, this will continue to be a serious problem at the company.”


As the controversy around Google’s firing of Damore illustrated, it can be extremely contentious for companies to wade into disciplining employees for their personal views on such issues. They can face intense criticism for retaliating against individual speech because it’s not politically correct — and if the company doesn’t respond, critics can say they’re not supporting an inclusive workplace. The abundance of online forums for employees to express their views is a complicating factor, as is the modern worker’s high level of comfort with sharing their views online.


“Where? How? Proof? Data? If if it is [skewed] let’s fix that. But just saying Microsoft has less female than male engineer [sic] is not a valid point,” a male Microsoft employee responded to a separate employee who defended the original poster.


Microsoft employees say that the company’s seeming inaction on this matter directly conflicts with an email sent to all Microsoft employees earlier this month by Nadella promising a more inclusive workplace. Nadella sent that after an email chain, originally reported by Quartz, alleging harassment and discrimination faced by women circulated internally for weeks.

“HR isn’t trying to enforce the inclusive culture that they’re talking about,” one Microsoft employee who read the latest posts by the program manager and responses to them told Quartz. “HR, Satya, all the leadership are sending out emails that they want to have an inclusive culture, but they’re not willing to take any action other than talk about it,” they said. “They allow people to post these damaging, stereotypical things about women and minorities, and they do nothing about it.”