Ubisoft’s Chief People Officer has admitted that “people lost trust” in their new misconduct reporting process amid recent claims that little has changed since it was implemented.
In late June 2020, streamer MatronEdna claimed that she was in a relationship with then Assassin’s Creed Valhalla creative director Ashraf Ismail – despite him being married.
This led to multiple claims of misconduct from Ubisoft employees across numerous studios, with male superiors and colleagues being accused of of physical and sexual assault, sexual harassment, making bigoted comments, and other inappropriate work behavior.
Employees also alleged that female employees were rarely being promoted or being given pay-rises, with male colleagues and friends of executives attaining these milestones much more often.
Complaints to senior staff and HR were allegedly ignored or rebuffed, with the latter reportedly making comments akin to “They’re creatives, that’s how they work,” and “If you can’t work with him, maybe it’s time you go.”
In September 2020, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot issued a statement on how Ubisoft would handle these issues in the future.
According to Guillemot, such efforts to rectify the company’s workplace environment would involve removing and punishing those who had broken Ubisoft’s rules of conduct, improving diversity and inclusivity in every part of Ubisoft, and an addition $1 million to their existing graduate program aimed at woman and people of color. They also hired their first VP of global diversity and inclusion.
At the time Ubisoft had also been accused of using black power imagery for the villains of Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, all while the Black Lives Matter movement begun to pick up media steam.
In response to the outrage, Guillemot stated that safeguards would prevent “inappropriate content” entering their games again, declared the company’s full support of Black Lives Matter, and made a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
However, it seems some employees are not happy with how Ubisoft has been conducting themselves since making these promises. Speaking to Kotaku in October of this year, employees claimed reports to HR are not working.
One employee, given the psuedonym “Valerie” to protect her identity, told Kotaku that just last year she was a victim of sexual harassment, bullying, and racist remarks which led to her being diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
In one instance, Valerie was told that since her harassment was limited to only three incidents, it did not constitute sexual harassment.
Making her reports once more after Guillemot’s promises of change and again receiving no response, she later resigned in 2021 after multiple HR complaints, reports, and half a dozen interviews with supervisors and HR managers led to no further action.
“I wish that I could have continued my Ubisoft journey, Valerie told Kotaku, “but I was really affected by all the harassment, discriminaton, and toxicity I encountered and how it was handled. I really hope that the situation will get better for Ubisoft, but they are not there yet.”
Much like how the ABK Worker’s Alliance formed after the Activision Blizzard sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit, Ubisoft employees have since started the ABetterUbisoft group. That group shared other allegations to Kotaku, from eight current and one former employee (presumably Valerie) about how changes had failed to be made at Ubisoft despite continued complaints of discriminatory pay, continued harassment, and alleged abusers being promoted.
Despite bringing in outside firm Relais Expert Conseil and third-party reporting platforms Whispli and Idoku (depending on the office’s region) to review complaints, reporting still, in Kotaku’s words, “feels like navigating a maze to nowhere.”
Many employees have also felt that by engaging in such behavior as ignoring emails, improperly scheduling and following-up on appointments, and a lack of transparency on whether or not reports were being investigated, HR failed to operate in a proper manner.
Another factor in employees’ discontent was how Ubisoft’s government-assigned Comité Social Et Économique (Social and Economic Committee in English) had reportedly been shut out of the company’s complaint reporting process. While by law every company in France has to have such an oversight body, emails obtained by Kotaku show that though Ubisoft’s CSE had long since requested to monitor the company’s reports, they were denied the ability to do so by management.
As such, the CSE, concerned over the impartiality of involved Ubisoft officials, resorted to asking staff members to contact them directly regarding matters of misconduct ““so we can protect you and ensure that your situations are not ignored.”
Eventually, Valerie left the company in April of this year, including her complaints within her letter of resignation in one last ditch effort to bring attention to her reports. However, though she sent the resignation letter to Guillemot and three other Ubisoft employees earlier this year, Valerie stated that, rathr than any action, all that came of it was a few interviews with the studio’s Head of Workplace Culture, Lindwine Vernet Sauer, and VP of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Raashi Sikka.
One year later, Valerie says she has still not been contacted over the cases she had reported, having received neither word of any potential investigation’s outcome or an explanation as to why no action was taken.
Another former employee, who also wished to remain anonymous, said they ran into issues similar to those faced by Valerie, recalling, “I suddenly began to understand the response some veteran Ubisoft devs gave me when I tried to recruit them to come forward.”
“It was always some variation of, ‘Same thing happens every few years, I’ve reported X number of things, with witnesses and proof and either nothing was done or person X was promoted or moved,” they explained. “It’s sad, and if it’s an intentional way of burying this stuff, it’s working.”
In May, a few weeks after another employee told French news outlet Le Telegramme that nothing had changed at Ubisoft, Guillemot refuted the accusation, stating in a company blog post that “Considerable progress has been made, and we will continue to work hard with the ambition of becoming an exemplary workplace in the tech industry.”
As evidence of this progress, Guillemot pointed to the company’s recent wave of diverse hirings and promotions, their new mandatory anti-harassment training, “new HR processes,” and a “fully updated” internal Code of Fair Conduct.
Kotaku notes that similar general responses have been given by Ubisoft several times since the original allegations became public, including in reply to the open letter sent to management by ABetterUbisoft, wherein they simply acknowledged that there was a lack of confidence in the reporting process and assured the group that it was a top priority for Chief People Officer Anika Grant to “ensure [the processes] are robust and independent.”
Nonetheless, Ubisoft Montreal is reportedly seeing senior developers and others leaving the studio “in droves” for competitors and startups. When asked for comment at the time, Ubisoft told Kotaku it was looking into the allegations made in their report but “didn’t have a comment to share at this time.”
In a recent interview with Axios, Grant asserted, “At the beginning of the crisis, we spent a lot of time making sure that we had the right process in place, that we were able to very quickly and efficiently run an investigation and get to some outcomes.”
“What I think we missed, though,” she relented, “is the employee experience through that. I don’t think we always communicated enough back to the people who had raised an issue in the first place about what we found as part of the investigations — the decisions that we made and the actions that we took. And so I think, unfortunately, people lost trust in that process.”
As such, Grant stated that ensuring a better follow-through with employees who reported misconduct was, again, “something right now we are 100% focused on fixing.” She also claimed that complaints at Ubisoft, along with the severity of the incidents, has dropped over the last year.
She also noted that Ubisoft’s goal of having a 24% female workforce by 2023 was already being surpassed, as 32% of new hires this year were women.
However, the CPO denied that abusers were being promoted or moved around the company, instead asserting that anyone who had been reported for misconduct had been investigated, with those who remained at the company being either exonerated or sanctioned. She also declined to comment on individual cases that had been shared on social media.
Grant also defended reports being kept confidential, explaining that such measures were being taken “to protect the integrity of the process and the rights of all those involved.”
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