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So hello, and welcome back to the Marcus Williams Training Academy podcast. We welcome you, whether you are listening you're an audio listener or you are watching the video today. We are going to do a segment that I call, "Misconduct in the News," or, "If Only They Had Taken My Training." So today we are talking about an ongoing story, something that's happening right now with the video game company Ubisoft. I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly. I actually looked it up and it turns out there is even some confusion amongst employees on how to properly pronounce the word. So Ubisoft is a video game company started by a group of French brothers and they have offices in France and in Toronto. They've done games like Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, some games that you might be familiar with.
So this summer, summer of 2020, things at Ubisoft have imploded. Apparently there has been misconduct, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment going on in the company for years that wasn't dealt with properly and finally has started to come out. So how did it come out?
So employees of Ubisoft, former and current employees, started posting on social media, started making the allegations public; some by name, some anonymously, which I can understand because they were afraid that it would negatively impact their careers. Which, based on how Ubisoft had been handling misconduct in the past is totally understandable. So they started telling their stories online. Ubisoft got wind of it or rather the media got rid of it. Ubisoft actually knew about a lot of this stuff. The media got wind of it and suddenly Ubisoft was in a position where they had to act. They had to respond to it in some fashion. They couldn't hide it any longer; which is one of the accusations, that they were hiding
or sweeping under the rug misconduct allegations to protect their senior executives.
So they've actually cleaned house at the top. At top levels people have been fired or resigned at the top and now they are in this ongoing push to change how they do things and how they manage allegations. Even their HR director has stepped down. So it was allegations were-they were being mishandled, not only at the executive level but also within human resources, which is kind of scary. So in, and I'm looking at an article from Kotaku from July 6 2020, and I'll also use an article from Bloomberg Businessweek from July 21st 2020, and then again the Los Angeles Times from July 11 2020. The Kotaku article was the most in depth so I'll refer to that the most.
I don't have any insider knowledge into this case. So the point of this segment is to just take what's in the news, just take the publicly available information to and to break it down on what the company could have done to avoid being in this situation and what they need to do now.
All right, so what were some of the allegations? So there was a story that one of the senior executives had strangled an employee. So they were at a function or a party or something and he went up to a female employee and he made some comment about how another female this is what she liked, and he put his arms around her neck and strangled her. Clearly inappropriate, wrong. Should be that, should be against any company policy. Problem is he was a senior executive so she didn't want to report it because she was afraid of what would happen to her own career. A co-worker reported it but it didn't go anywhere and basically they did nothing, which further confirmed to the victim of this alleged incident that they were not willing to do anything. And it became this legend. People would talk about this strangling story, the choking story and say, be careful this is the kind of thing that happens here. It became like this legend because nothing ever happened, nothing was ever done about it.
One woman said Beland (and there are a lot of french names so I'm probably not going to pronounce them correctly) Beland but Beland was the executive who did this. And the woman who was hesitant to report it; the victim of this incident said, "You're conditioned to feel like you're lucky to be there." So you don't want to rock the boat because they've made you feel like they don't need you. You need them. You're lucky to be there and if you cause any kind of waves you're gone; you're out of here.
So Beland was one of the first people to be suspended by the company when all this started to break. Now another quote was talking about kind of the overall workplace culture "that undervalues women's contributions, normalizes sexism and harassment, and makes excuses for the worst offenders..." So an employee in toronto said, "The way the studio-HR and management-disregards complaints just enables this behavior from men."
So complaints had been made. HR did nothing or appeared to do nothing and so it just seemed like it was okay, it was accepted, it was encouraged. There's nothing wrong with it. So big problem.
So they also had a party culture where they would have these booze filled events and there was pressure that if you didn't attend these, if you weren't participating, if you weren't part of it then you couldn't get promoted and that was the only path forward.
So I'm a person who doesn't drink and I've seen this. Not-my organization wasn't necessarily a party one, but there definitely was a drinking culture that I didn't participate in. They went out to have what they called "choir practice" at the end of the week where they would all go out and go to bars and drink and they created these friendships and these relationships. And then when it came time for promotions, for good assignments they helped out the drinking buddies. And so I understand. I understand how frustrating this is as someone who doesn't drink, who doesn't want to watch other people get drunk and act stupid. I didn't attend these. I went home to my family on Friday nights, which to me seems like the value that you would want more in your employees. But it was, it's an issue everywhere and apparently at Ubisoft it was a big issue.
When you have these booze filled parties and people start misbehaving and engaging in misconduct then they would blame the alcohol. Oh he was just drunk. Boys would be boys. It was just a party don't worry about it. And they said that that kind of thing was happening here at Ubisoft. One person said directors would get drunk and get quote "handsy" and it would just continue to be happening in public. And then they would use alcohol as an excuse. So clearly we've got this problem here.
Another complication going back to the strangulation. So in the article it uses the word choking, but to be accurate strangulation is what happens when you put your hands around someone's neck. Choking is what happens when a piece of food gets stuck in your throat. So I've used the word choking here because that's what the article uses, but technically it should be strangulation. So we're using them interchangeably. I understand that it's not correct so you don't need to correct me.
So here is the problem. Beland was married to Rima Breck who was the interim head of HR at the time. So the senior executive engaging in misconduct, his wife was in charge of HR! So do you think employees felt like they could go to Rima with complaints against her husband and that she would do something about it? Of course not! This is directly from an employee quote: "You're not going to go to his wife are you? That was always kind of awkward." End quote. That makes sense. I think all of us would feel awkward in that situation.
So other people said they didn't even report to HR because of the department's reputation for being unhelpful at best. Another employee said quote, "I've seen a lot of women's careers get destroyed by speaking up." This is not an uncommon thing. It happens in companies around the world. It's how the companies respond that really shows the difference in their values and what they believe in, and really separates these companies out. How did they deal with it once they learned about it?
Ubisoft unfortunately didn't. They didn't deal with it until it became public and they were essentially forced to for public relations purposes. So that's unfortunate.
So the other problem is that the head of Ubisoft was saying something different publicly than the way the company was acting internally, so there was this mixed message. So Parizeau (again french word, french name so I apologize) "Parizeau has long talked about the importance of transparency from leadership and giving everyone at the studio a voice." Quote, "'If people have a voice, you're going to do well,' he told GamesIndustry.biz in a 2015 interview. This is the most important thing. It's been part of our culture and philosophy since the beginning." But has it? But if this stuff was going on in the background was that really part of your culture or was that what you wrote down as part of your culture? Your culture is in your actions. Your culture is in what you do.
So employees are calling on Ubisoft to do better, to be transparent, to create a policy, to create a process that actually deals with misconduct. So Ubisoft has hired a PR firm because this has been a PR nightmare for them. So that seems like a logical thing that a company would do. The PR firm put out a statement. In the statement it says, "We have policies and procedures in place that address misconduct and provide ways in which employees can report any inappropriate behavior. We are conscious of and deeply saddened by the fact that these systems may not have done enough to protect our employees and community in the past, and we have launched a comprehensive audit to understand why."
So as I'm going through this story, I'm thinking to myself, "If you would have just-like all of the training courses that I offer talk about all this stuff. If you would have created a policy and a process that you followed consistently no matter who or where the allegations had come from. If you would have had a clear line of reporting, some clear responsibility for who was in charge and who was supposed to act and how to act and none of this would have happened. And that's essentially what the, in a very "PR" type way, they're saying. Yeah, we had a policy but we didn't follow it, so we're going to figure out why. Well the why was your seniors your executives were part of the problem and they felt like this policy didn't apply to them. Again one of the things that I teach, when you create a misconduct policy you have to have buy-in from the highest levels of leadership, from your president from your board of directors, and they need to understand that they are under that policy, that they are required to follow the rules just like every other employee. And they will face consequences just like every other employee if they don't.
And that was the problem here. The PR firm is not going to come out and say that and I understand that, but that was the issue. They had different misconduct behavior expectations for important people than they had for your average employee, and that is always always going to be a problem. Alright, so what are they doing now? So they have a PR firm handling their PR and the PR firm says they're trans-they're going to be transparent and communicate their changes and their decisions as they move forward. So that's great. But again, none of this matters if they don't actually follow it. And they can't just follow it in fear of getting in trouble again or in fear of bad press. They need to actually follow it because they believe in it. That's the only way it's going to be effective.
The only way to rebuild the trust that has been lost, destroyed with the employees is to actually show you believe in it. And firing some of the top executives is a good start. That's a great way to go because these are people that were seen as untouchable in the past and suddenly you see nobody is untouchable. But there's also kind of a cynical feeling amongst the employees that this only happened because it hit the news you would have never done this, you would have never made this decision to force this person to resign if we hadn't had made this information public.
So you still have a trust problem. That does not fix your trust problem. So the company said that they are restructuring and strengthening their human resources department and they begin looking for a new global head of human resources. So restructuring and strengthening, really what they're doing is trying to find a human resources director that will do their job. The HR director always had a responsibility to deal with misconduct and chose not to, whether through personal choice or through pressure from the executives. And I don't know that. It's possible the HR director tried and wasn't able to.
So the (this is from the Los Angeles Times article that I mentioned) the company said "it would adapt its human resources department to better address what it deemed the (quote) 'new challenges of the game industry.' (end quote)" Wrong! These aren't new challenges. Yes, the gaming industry has historically been male dominated, but this isn't a new challenge. This is not like it suddenly popped up. We're dealing with allegations spanning years. So they're trying to downplay and soften all of these allegations that have come out. So that's disappointing.
They talk about being transparent and honest and then they put something like this out that is clearly dishonest. The company said it is quote, "In the final steps of hiring a top international management consulting firm to audit and reshape its HR procedures and policies as previously announced," end quote. "Ubisoft has fallen short in its obligations to guarantee a safe and inclusive workplace environment for its employees. This is unacceptable, as toxic behaviors are in direct contrast to the values on which I have never compromised - and never will." So they're hiring a consulting firm to help them build their policy, build their process, figure out how to ensure that this doesn't happen again.
Now unfortunately they didn't hire me because all of these things that are in the article, all of the mistakes, the missteps that they made, are all part of my training: things to avoid. If I made a list of everything I say in my training of things to avoid, Ubisoft did all of them. So I'm glad they're hiring an outsider, someone from the outside that will help build trust. That is a good decision because it's an outsider, someone who is not invested in the company, someone who isn't. It's a family-run business. There's five brothers. So it's not one of the brothers, right. It's someone from outside helping make the changes that in and of itself will help to build the trust, and being honest, being transparent like they talked about.
All right, so several employees say that they were shocked by the company's swift response once it hit the public. That's great but again, just like we've talked about, this was a problem that was ongoing and my question is: if these employees had never gone public, what would have happened? If they had never posted on social media, if the outside world never got wind of what was going on, what it was really like to work at Ubisoft, would these changes have been made? From what I've read it looks like unfortunately the answer to that question is no. Things would have just continued as is, and that's unfortunate because the president said he had culture and values and this misconduct did not fit that culture. And yet, he was unwilling to hold his friends, his executives, other executives at those high standards.
So we could talk about other specific incidents, but I want to kind of back up this claim that they didn't do anything in the past a little bit. I know this isn't just something that I'm saying or extrapolating from the story. There was another executive named Francois. He, over the past decade he had been reported multiple times "for incidents including sexual propositions and genital grabbing. In the Bloomberg article, one former employee wrote an email directly to the CEO, so not even to HR. This employee went above HR's head, went directly to the CEO in an email, in writing and said, some years ago and talked about all these issues with Francois, that he was doing all of these things. And not long after that email was sent, Francois was promoted. So this was not just a lack of trust with HR. This went all the way to the top.
The CEO, who's claiming this doesn't fit our values and we're going to change and this is so bad was part of the problem. An email in writing saying that one of your executives is doing this at work to other employees and Francois was promoted-not demoted, not fired, not investigated. And that's what I said, it's not, you don't need to immediately fire someone because there's an allegation. You need to investigate. You need to look at the allegation and see if there's evidence to support the allegation.
Another issue again that shows that the values, value statement that he said was their values wasn't really. Again from Bloomberg article a former member of Ubisoft's HR team, someone in HR who would have been responsible for dealing with misconduct, who asked not to be identified because of concerns about legal repercussions, "says management held a general distrust of victims, which hindered the department's ability to properly respond to complaints. So again, the problem wasn't with, I mean it was with HR, but not solely with HR. This is someone in HR saying we couldn't even investigate it properly if we wanted to because senior management just had a bias against victims from the very beginning, from the get-go. So that's a problem.
And now we've got employees who are submitting complaints, who are flooding HR with complaints of things that happened years ago. Some of them they filed the allegation years ago and nothing happened and now they're wanting something to happen. So they are going to be inundated. So that's one thing this new, this consulting firm is going to have to help them figure out is how do we deal with old allegations, things that we should have handled and didn't? How are we going to fix that?
So not only how do we fix things in the future going forward, but how do we fix what happened in the past. Do we go back and investigate those? One more example: there was an accusation where Ubisoft actually sided with the victim after investigation and they removed the woman's boss, but then the way they gave the woman a $200 gift card. It's like not how you should handle the closure of an investigation. “We're sorry the boss did this to you. Here's 200 bucks. Don't spend it all in one place.” You know, that's kind of a, that's just a slap in the face clearly showing that even when they chose to investigate they really didn't know what they were doing. They needed additional training.
So, "Misconduct in the News." What is-what is the ultimate takeaway from the story? It's an ongoing story; new stuff is coming out all the time. The takeaway? You need to get trained. You need to be prepared before it happens. Don't wait for it to be made public. Fix it now so that it doesn't become public. If Ubisoft would have just handled these things correctly there wouldn't be a story. We wouldn't be talking about it now because it would have just been taken care of. It's great they're hiring a new company to help them rebuild their policy and their process, but it won't do them any good unless they follow it. They admitted through the PR firm that they had a policy and a process in place and they failed to follow it.
You have to follow your process consistently in every case no matter who the allegations are against. No one is immune from being held responsible for misconduct, not the CEO, not your intern, and anyone in between. You have to consistently apply your policy and your process no matter who it is. If you want people to actually believe that you take your values and your culture seriously, you have to act, you have to actually walk the walk. You can't just post it on your website and hope everyone believes it. You actually have to take the action, to follow it.
And that was the biggest downfall here is they were not actually walking the walk. They weren't doing the things that they claimed they believed in. So hopefully they're going, this is a very difficult process for them, hopefully they come out on the other side and they turn into a great place to work and a great employer because they fix things. I hope that's the case. I only want these to be success stories even after these massive failures. They have a long way to go to rebuild trust with-within their ranks, within their employees, but I think they can do it and I wish them the best. I hope that they are able to.
All right, thank you for listening! Please subscribe whatever format you're, whether you're listening or you're watching, please subscribe and hit the notification button so that you will be notified of new episodes. Thank you for watching and I'll catch you next time on the Marcus Williams Training Academy podcast.