'There Are Two Companies, Really': Silence on Abortion Adds to Activision's Workplace Woes
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'There Are Two Companies, Really': Silence on Abortion Adds to Activision's Workplace Woes

Employees at Activision Blizzard are growing increasingly frustrated with the game publisher’s refusal to issue any guidance about how the potential repeal of federal abortion protections could impact workers in its offices across the nation.


Several current Activision Blizzard employees told dot.LA the Santa Monica-based company has refused to communicate with staff about the issue. The employees asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs.

Activision’s alleged failure to protect female employees from being sexually harassed or discriminated against at work has led to a bevy of lawsuits from government watchdogs, current and former workers and the family of one former employee who died by suicide on a company outing five years ago. This is all being sorted out as the “Overwatch” publisher struggles to complete a $69 billion merger with Microsoft.

An Activision spokesperson shared the following statement with dot.LA Thursday: "We are committed to an inclusive environment that is supportive of all of our employees. As a company, providing fair and equitable health care is a top priority, and we will closely monitor developments in the coming weeks and months."

In a May 5 Slack message shared with dot.LA by an Activision employee, Blizzard President Mike Ybarra did address some of his team’s concerns. “I realize we are late and I am sorry,” Ybarra wrote. “It has been incredibly stressful for Blizzard (and me personally) as we read the news.”

Ybarra added in his message that leadership at Blizzard met and discussed the leaked SCOTUS draft early last week and “outlined some actions and we are working with ABK to express our views and requested a path forward.”

“These are real time conversations and we're part of a 10,000+ person company and I want to help the broader employees we value and have across organizations. I realize this isn't very helpful but I'm being honest with where we are and what we are discussing across the company,” Ybarra’s message concluded.

Employees who received Ybarra’s message said they felt it was an underwhelming response given that Activision operates offices in several states where abortion is already under attack at the state level, including Arkansas and Texas – where it has a sizable presence of support staff, designers, engineers and producers. One worker said the response from Ybarra only came after employees began asking directly about the issue at work.

“There’s been no communication from the top down,” said Emily Knief, a senior motion graphics designer who’s worked for Activision Blizzard for over 15 years. Knief added there’s been “lots of support from within,” but nothing from executives yet.

“It's completely irresponsible that they continue to remain silent, as the very lives of their employees hang in the balance,” Knief said.

Knief told dot.LA she’s seen a shift in messaging in her cumulative decade-plus at Activision Blizzard. She said in the past “we used to get communication internally, sometimes within hours” related to similar issues.

ABetterABK, the workers group that’s advocating for change and a company-wide union at Activision, issued a statement Wednesday: “We believe there's never been a more urgent time to support those who rely on that care, not just with words, but actions, and that starts with us standing firm on our positions towards these issues,” the group tweeted.

Kate Anderson, a quality assurance tester for Activision working in Minnesota, told dot.LA employees are upset at a lack of communication.

Anderson, who uses gender neutral pronouns, said they’d feel supported if Activision offered to match donations to pro-abortion organizations that employees support, as it’s done with past issues. They also noted Activision could offer to cover the costs for going out of state for reproductive care, which Microsoft, Amazon and some smaller gaming firms have already promised.

Earlier this week, game producer Javiera Cordero began keeping a public running thread of studios that have publicly taken a stance on abortion, and the list so far is mostly indie developers – though Bungie, the gaming firm Sony bought for $3.6 billion earlier this year, issued its own statement in support of workers last week.

Two workers who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation told dot.LA they speculated Activision’s silence could be a reflection of its conservative leadership.

Last year CEO Bobby Kotick donated at least half a million dollars to Republican super PACs through a secret side company called Norgate, including contributions to a political action committee run by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said a nationwide ban on abortion "is possible."

In a statement emailed to dot.LA May 13, a spokesman for Kotick disagreed with that assessment.

"The idea that Norgate is 'secret' is preposterous and false. It is a legitimate limited liability corporation lawfully incorporated in the state of Delaware whose records are public," the spokesman said. "Mr. Kotick has donated roughly the same amount to of money to Democrats and Republicans, generally to candidates who share his passion for supporting the country’s military veterans and their families."

In a report last December, Activision said 26% of its executives are women. Still, it admitted that last year it lost nearly as many women as it hired because of retirement or resignation.

“The reality is that the C-suite is far divorced from the general ethos of the company at large,” Knief said. “There are two companies, really: The C-suite, with what's allowed to be publicly stated, and everyone else, the people that make and support the games... and they are often at complete opposite ends of the spectrum on issues and how we should proceed.”

Update, May 18: This story has been updated to reflect additional comment from Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. It has also been updated to more accurately reflect the company's “alleged failures to protect female employees from being sexually harassed or discriminated against at work.”

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Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

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