Nicki Broderick arrived punctually at 9:30 a.m. on June 13, 2011, for her first day as an employee at video game developer Blizzard Entertainment.
Lined up in front of her keyboard, she found a row of shots – she thinks they were Fireball Whiskey – apparently to acknowledge that it was also Broderick’s 21st birthday. She had never taken shots before, at any time of the day, but took them down with her manager. It was the first time Broderick, who spent eight years at Blizzard, felt pressured to drink on the job. But it was far from the last. Later, while on a work trip to Korea, Broderick says he was asked not to turn down drinks during an evening party with colleagues from a company that had partnered with Blizzard for a e-sports event, lest the seller be offended.
“They made me drink until I was drunk,” says Broderick Fortune. “I don’t even know how I got back to my hotel that night.”
Broderick’s experience was extreme, but far from unique. More than two dozen women said Fortune that for most of Blizzard’s three-decade history, they felt they were treated differently from men. In fact, they say, the demeaning and intimidating behavior often began the moment a woman arrived. When onboarding new employees, the men were seen as, as some say, “checking the crop” – that is, the women. When a woman arrived for her first day of work, “there was literally a group of men around her, you couldn’t even see her,” says one longtime employee. In the QA department, according to several employees, including Broderick, there was for some time a spreadsheet for ranking new hires on a “hotness” scale of 1 to 10, listing the best characteristics of a wife and whether she was available or not.
Some women say they quickly learned to avoid answering questions about relationship status. “Otherwise these guys wouldn’t work with me, or go out of their way to help me or engage me in a project,” says a former employee. Fortune.
Blizzard, the 31-year-old video game powerhouse known for World of Warcraft and Monitoringis a division of Activision Blizzard, which ranks #373 on the Fortune 500. In 2008 Activision acquired parent company Blizzard and the video game maker became a unit of Activision. Yet Blizzard has long retained its own distinctive culture, one that many former and current employees describe as toxic.
Workplace issues at Blizzard came to the fore thanks to a July 2021 lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) alleging gender discrimination., harassment and retaliation – this after a more than two-year investigation into the company that began in 2018. The 29-page court filing and subsequent 35-page amended complaint claim the company “fostered a sexist culture “paying women less than men despite instances where employees have performed substantially similar work; assigned women to lower-level jobs and promoted them at slower rates than men; fired or forced women to quit more frequently than men; and subjected women to “constant sexual harassment”. As the amended complaint states, “Female employees almost universally confirmed that working for defendants amounted to working at a fraternity, which invariably involved male employees drinking and subjecting female employees…to sexual harassment without repercussion.” The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also filed a lawsuit against the company in September for sexual harassment and pregnancy-related discrimination. (Activision denied “all allegations of wrongdoing” and said it had agreed to settle the DFEH lawsuit to avoid “the expense, distraction, and possible litigation associated with such a dispute.” The company also sent Fortune a list of 15 recent changes he instituted to improve working conditions, including a November policy to ban alcohol in the workplace and waive required arbitration for individual sexual harassment complaints and discrimination.)
Over a period of several months, Fortune interviewed 29 current and former Blizzard employees about their experience. Taken together, they paint a dark and complicated picture of how Blizzard, a dynamic and outrageously successful gaming startup that for its first three years employed not a single woman, became part of a Fortune 500 which regularly allowed women to be harassed, belittled and discriminated against. You can read the full story here.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com