Earlier this year, an email was sent to all employees of Activision Blizzard from the email account of chief compliance officer, former executive sponsor of the ABV Employee Women’s Network, and former torture apologist, Fran Townsend. Sent in the midst of historic allegations of harassment against the company, it was so bad that it was one of the direct, cited causes of a staff walkout.
Today, somehow, this email has returned and become even more explosive, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Townsend didn’t even write it.
The email was one of the most tone-deaf, oblivious pieces of executive hand-waving you will ever see. It was sent right in the middle of allegations that shook a major publisher to its core, and led to a number of high-profile firings and resignations, dragging both Activision and Blizzard’s names through the mud for much of 2021. The email had the nerve to call the lawsuit sparking those moves as having “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company.” It went on to say that Townsend was “proud to be part of a company that takes a hard-line approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues,” despite everything that had just happened, and was about to happen.
Here it is in full, in case you’ve yet to see the whole thing:
As the Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network and our Chief Compliance Officer, I wanted to reach out to you. I know this has been difficult for many of us. A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories – some from more than a decade ago.
The Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values. When I joined the Executive Leadership Team, I was certain that I was joining a company where I would be valued, treated with respect, and provided opportunities equal to those afforded to the men of the company. For me, this has been true during my time. As a leader, I am committed to making sure that the experience I have is the same as the rest of the organization. We have a leadership team that is committed to these principles in every way.
I am proud to be part of a company that takes a hard-line approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues. Our Speak Up campaign reinforces our zero tolerance for retaliation against those who do speak up. We’ve made significant investments to foster inclusive behaviors, and to reflect greater diversity within our leadership teams including:
* Investing in and strengthening our DE&I Employee Networks; creating global networks to bring together the efforts in all of our business units and the introduction of Executive Sponsors.
* Introducing learning and development programs, including inclusive hiring training.
* Amplifying internal programs such as the Way2Play Heroes and the recurring Speak Up campaign.
* Reinforcing channels for employees to report violations including the “ASK List.”
* Introducing an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns.
* Continuing to require all employees to take Equality & Diversity training including anti-harassment training (and have done so for many years).
We put tremendous effort into creating fair compensation policies that reflect our commitment to equal opportunity. We review compensation regularly and feel confident that we pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take proactive steps to ensure that pay and advancement are driven by merit. We reward performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings, including for those who are part of the compensation process.
We work at a company that truly values equality and fairness. Rest assured that leadership is committed to continuing to maintain a safe, fair, and inclusive workplace. We cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees. We aspire in our company to do great things: in our games, in our impact on society, and in our work environment. We continue to hold firm to our principles and invest, as we have in the past, the resources to ensure quality opportunities for all employees. We remain committed as a leadership team to doing what is right.
The email understandably enraged employees, led to Townsend stepping down from her role as executive sponsor of the Activision Blizzard Women’s Network, and to this day remains one of the most spectacularly ill-judged pieces of damage control from the company, in a year where those have become all-too-common.
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Now the WSJ reports that it was in fact besieged Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick who wrote it. The story says that Kotick, who “approves most internal companywide emails, as well as media responses,” drafted the email himself. He then directed that it be sent under Townsend’s name, likely because she was one of the few women executives at a company run predominantly by men.
An Activision rep responding to the WSJ’s reporting, saying Kotick now “takes responsibility for the incident and regrets it,” and adds, “Ms. Townsend should not be blamed for this mistake.” If you remember at the time, Kotick criticised the email as having been “tone deaf,” despite the fact that it now turns out he wrote it himself.
Bobby Kotick must resign.