Earlier this month, Activision Blizzard was asked to institute some version of the Rooney Rule, a policy requiring employers to interview diverse candidates when hiring, according to a new report by Motherboard. Lawyers for the massive publisher behind Call of Duty and World of Warcraft responded that such a policy would be “an unworkable encroachment on the Company’s ability to run its business.”
The largest federation of unions in the country, the AFL-CIO, which also happens to be a shareholder in Activision Blizzard, submitted this proposal to the SEC. In the report, obtained by Motherboard, the organization wrote that instituting a policy similar to the Rooney Rule (a 2003 NFL policy instituted to address the lack of diversity among coaching staffs) would increase “workforce diversity by requiring that the initial pool of candidates from which new employees are hired by the Company shall include, but need not be limited to, qualified women and minority candidates.”
Motherboard reports that adoption of the proposal could be voted on at future shareholder meetings, but Activision Blizzard is trying to get the SEC to intervene to prevent that from happening.
“While the Company has implemented a Rooney Rule policy as envisioned [for director and CEO nominees], implementing a policy that would extend such an approach to all hiring decisions amounts to an unworkable encroachment on the Company’s ability to run its business and compete for talent in a highly competitive, fast-moving market,” lawyers for the company wrote in a letter to the SEC obtained by Motherboard.
Activision Blizzard and the AFL-CIO did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for comment. A spokesperson for the gaming company told Motherboard it has invested in scholarship and mentoring programs to help “develop the best and brightest future diverse talent.”
“Our talent is the lifeblood of Activision Blizzard,” the spokesperson said. “We value the diversity of the Activision Blizzard community and understand that our employees and players come from a wide array of backgrounds. In order to deliver epic and engaging entertainment for a diverse, growing global audience, our workforce must reflect these communities.”
The AFL-CIO sent a similar proposal to Electronic Arts, of which it is also a shareholder, Motherboard reports.
“In accordance with our standard procedures, EA’s Board of Directors will consider the stockholder proposal,” a spokesperson for EA told Kotaku in an email when asked about whether it would be willing to institute its own Rooney Rule across the entire business.
“The Board is committed to maintaining hiring practices that promote inclusion and diversity at EA,” the spokesperson wrote. “More broadly, EA believes that a diverse and inclusive workforce is key to our success. It fuels our creative culture and enables us to create amazing games and experiences for millions of players around the world. EA is committed to attracting diverse, dynamic talent—prioritizing inclusive values and practices at every step of the employee journey.”
The video game industry has long been criticized for being dominated by white men, especially in managerial and c-suite positions. Last June, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests over the police killing of George Floyd, many gaming companies released statements of support for the movement’s calls for justice and racial equality, but few backed up these rallying cries with specific commitments to addressing issues within their own walls.
“Today, and always, we support all those who stand against racism and inequality,” Activision Blizzard tweeted at the time. “There is no place for it in our society—or any society. Black lives matter.”
However, the company declined to comment when asked by Kotaku in June about any particular steps it was taking to promote equity and diversity within its own ranks. A couple weeks later Activision Blizzard announced $3 million in donations to the United Negro College Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow, but nothing further.
EA was a little more reflective.
“Racial justice matters,” the company wrote on its website during the protests. “We’ve long held equality, inclusion, and diversity at the center of our beliefs at Electronic Arts.”
EA announced that it would contribute $1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund collectively, give employees an additional vacation day each year to volunteer in their communities, make Juneteenth a company holiday, and hold a “Company Conversation’’ to discuss how to “focus its efforts to make an impact fighting bias, discrimination, and injustice in today’s world.”
It also published its first annual Impact Report last November which included a section on the company’s demographics. Of it’s 9,800 full-time employees, 54.6% were white, 22.3% were Asian, 8.2% were Hispanic or Latinx, and only 3.2% were Black. Less than a quarter were women.
“While we’ve made some progress, we have much more work ahead of us to continue bringing greater representation into our company,” CEO Andrew Wilson wrote in the report.
Update - 5:45 p.m. ET, 1/27/21: A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard responded to Kotaku with the following statement.
Activision Blizzard is committed to inclusive hiring practices and to creating a diverse workforce; it is essential to our mission. Vice completely mischaracterized the SEC filing made by our outside attorneys. In fact, our hiring practices are rooted in ensuring diversity for all roles. We engage in this aggressively and successfully. Our objection was rooted in the fact that the AFL-CIO proposal failed to adequately consider how to apply these practices in all of the countries we operate in.
Our games have uniquely influenced popular culture and have helped to increase tolerance and inclusion through their connectivity as well as the heroes we portray and our stories that celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion in so many powerful ways.
In order to ensure that our games stay true to our mission—to connect and engage the world through epic entertainment—we require that all candidates of all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, races and sexual orientations are considered for each and every open role. We aggressively recruit diverse candidates so the workforce provides the inspired creativity required to meet the expectations of our diverse 400 million players across 190 countries. We remain committed to increasing diversity at all levels throughout Activision Blizzard worldwide.
Activision Blizzard did not immediately elaborate on what Motherboard “mischaracterized” about its SEC filing reportedly rejecting the AFL-CIO’s proposal.
Update - 8:30 p.m. ET, 1/27/21: According to AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, its Rooney Rule proposal is “clearly workable” as evidenced by other big companies that have adopted similar policies.
“Diversity and inclusion at all levels is important for companies to succeed, particularly in industries where there has been a historic underrepresentation of women and minorities in senior level positions,” Shuler told Kotaku in an email. “We are pleased that many banks have adopted diverse candidate search policies, and we are now turning our attention to tech companies. Such policies are clearly workable given that many companies have adopted them for their boards and are now adopting them for their workforces.”
Some of those companies include Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and JPMorgan.