Mitchel Lewis


The Stepford Wives of Microsoft

When asked for advice to women about asking for a raise, Satya Nadella had a famous foot-in-mouth moment when he told women at a Grace Hopper convention to “have faith that the system will give you the right raise”. Although he was rightfully pulverized for these statements and apologized profusely for them as if it were just a flub, it was reported recently by Reuters and various other outlets that Microsoft is being sued because their HR and their Employee Relations Investigations Team (ERIT) have a habit of erring on behalf of sexism more than 99% of the time, especially when a member of management or leadership is the instigator. When making data-driven career decisions though, it seems as if he was accurate as far as his company was concerned as falling in line, trusting karma, and not rocking the boat appears to be great career advice for women and most likely anyone else seeking to maintain a career at Microsoft.

In response to these allegations and in an attempt to downplay them in comparison to their 65,000 employees in the US alone, Microsoft’s VP of HR, a self-proclaimed champion of feminism, sent an email touting to all staff that an embarrassing 10% of their gender discrimination claims and 50% of their harassment claims, each of which had almost 90 or so instances last year, were found to lack merit by ERIT, which is a team comprised almost exclusively of lawyers on Microsoft’s payroll. In doing this though and despite having a degree in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard herself, Kathleen seems to be implying that discrimination and harassment claims made by female employees at Microsoft are 5–9x (conservatively) more prone to file false reports of sexual and gender-based offenses than the national average which is 8% on the high end. However, findings such as this are so much of a statistical Sasquatch sighting that they would typically require substantial evidentiary support in order to be at all tenable, especially when the morality and ethics of Kathleen and her organization are being called into question.

For comparison

But as a staunch feminist, Kathleen did not address the fact that such a low rate of dignified claims can also serve as a correlate of an environment that discourages people to step forward with claims of abuse as it could be the result of an environment that is ripe for predation, corruption, and oppression as any economist can confirm, but so can RAINN. Although it’s not a 1:1 comparison, the same dynamic also exists with lesser offenses, especially when the instigators are powerful or in dominant positions. This is how oppression is supposed to work.

Further, Kathleen neglected to report how many of the people whose claims were unfounded remain at the company post-incident vs. the people with claims made against them, which is a metric that could validate their commitment to other policies such as their anti-retaliation policy for comparison. She also conveniently forgot to mention whether or not people in positions of management and leadership had better odds of having claims against them found to be wanting as opposed to that of individual contributors, which would support or refute the notion of the impartiality of their ERIT teams and/or the existence of a caste system. Although Kathleen is well-versed in economics and mathematics, it should be noted that she should also know better than most that omission is the single best way to skew the truth with statistics and that this isn’t the first time she’s been called out on issues like this.

Disregarding the statistical problems of this though, the age-old hysteria and delusion approach is somewhat of a cement feathered bird when considering the fact that many of these women are industry veterans with advanced STEM degrees and 6 figure incomes, much like Kathleen Hogan their VP of HR. Most of them simply have too much invested in their careers to risk it all on false accusations, just like anyone else at this level in their career. Given the poor rate of reception reported by Kathleen combined with what they stand to lose by making such accusations, there is no rational reason for women to make such claims unless they sincerely believe that an offense occurred. But Kathleen didn’t even bother to acknowledge the skill level of these claimants nor did she provide evidentiary support to substantiate her wild statistical claims. Kathleen Hogan hasn’t even established a trend that allows anyone to rationally take her on her word in the face of such allegations which she is at the center of; hence why she is at the center of it. However, don’t get too mad at her as she seems to have inherited this problem from another staunch feminist, Lisa Brummel, as this seems to be nothing new.

But really though, what do you honestly expect from an HR department or a team of comprised exclusively of lawyers such as ERIT working at the behest of their employer, Microsoft? It is not exactly a secret that lawyers are contractually obligated to operate with a conflict of interest favoring the people paying them. Traditionally, it’s the job of lawyers to suppress the truths and misgivings of their clients while preventing them from seeing the light of day in court; an employment agreement hardly changes this dynamic.

If they actually acted impartially, then they would likely advise employees to retain an attorney that, you know, isn’t on the payroll of the entity with a vested interest in quashing your claims; all of which would likely get a them “replaced” and possibly even disbarred if they acted in such a manner. Impartiality is one major distinction between a lawyer and a judge. As such and if you consider for a moment that ERIT is just a means of damage control, then it would make sense why a team of lawyers has a 90% rate of suppression (success?) on gender discrimination claims. You don’t hire lawyers to accidentally do a masterful job at damage control like some kind of Chris Farley lawyer movie; which I would totally watch if it existed.

It doesn’t exactly take a lawyer to interpret corporate morals or code of conduct at Microsoft either. However, it may take a lawyer to wiggle out of them which may be why Microsoft still exclusively employs lawyers within their ERIT team to investigate such claims while positioning them as impartial. Given the present state of the world though, which is run almost exclusively by lawyers and that clearly functions for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many, it would be naive to expect lawyers not to thumb their nose at impartiality on a smaller scale. Like anyone else, people, as well as companies, tend to hire lawyers to operate with extreme prejudice on their behalf and you would be wise to assume that the same goes for HR employees.

Alternatively to the HR narrative and given the impact that this had to their share price, temporarily dropping it by almost 10%, it is obvious that Microsoft has a vested interest in suppressing claims that run contrary to their stated values and corporate kumbaya; much like Harvey Weinstein. Based on their HR department’s own statistics, it seems as if it is the modus operandi of HR and ERIT to function as a means of damage control for the status quo, enabling it to prevail just as criminal lawyers enable criminal behavior.

It almost goes without saying, but if Harveysoft truly wanted to get to the root of these claims, they could easily employ a few of their many engineers and data scientists to address them which is why Amazon conducts these reviews anonymously with a panel of peers. However, if they truly wanted to make them disappear, it would make perfect sense to position a team of lawyers in the middle of this in order to suppress these claims as they presently do; especially when considering that Microsoft was founded by the son of a prominent attorney in Seattle. But would anyone actually be shocked if any HR or Legal department, Microsoft or otherwise, functioned like Stepford Wives or some sort of geriatric sorority for the resident good ol’ boys club fraternity at a company? Last time I checked, that’s sort of the de facto assumption just about everywhere you work.

Just for fun though, here are some metrics that Microsoft employees could request of HR which could easily be anonymized and produced in order support Microsoft’s claim to being ethical, committed to treating women fairly while helping to advance gender equality throughout industry.

  1. Compare the promotion velocity of men vs. women with the same degree and/or level of education; this would also be interesting with regard to those with high school educations and those with degrees unrelated to their role.
  2. Run the same comparison as above, but comparing it to men and women with greek/fraternal allegiances to those without.
  3. Compare the probability of having harassment and discrimination claims founded against leaders and management vs. individual contributors
  4. Compare the probability of having claims founded for leadership and management as opposed to individual contributors
  5. As a correlate of their commitment to their anti-retaliation policy, showcase how many claimants with founded and unfounded claims still remain at the company post-incident
  6. If women are willing to self-report weight, then they could also see if there is a correlation between weight and/or perceived appearance and pay/promotion velocity
  7. The metrics that ERIT investigators are held to in their annual reviews, past and present, so as to clarify their true role at the company

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