Microsoft is facing a wave of backlash for a bash it threw in San Francisco during the Game Developers Conference. The main act: dancers in skimpy school-girl outfits.
Aaron Greenberg, marketing head for Xbox, responded on Twitter that he was “disappointed to see this.”
According to Business Insider, the scantily clad girls “were also said to have been paid to socialize with attendees” at the conference’s March 17 after-party.
The misstep is a major contrast to Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to encourage women to work in the tech industry. The Redmond, Washington-based company is a major partner with organizations that aim to address the tech gender gap, including the Anita Borg Institute and the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Microsoft also encourages its employees to volunteer at events it hosts year round that introduce high school girls to careers in technology.
Last year, the company extended its family-leave policy to 20 weeks for new mothers and 12 weeks for non-birth parents. More recently, CEO Satya Nadella announced at Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting that all employees have taken a mandatory class on overcoming unconscious bias. (Nadella himself invited backlash when he suggested in 2014 that women seeking salary bumps should rely on karma instead of asking for raises.)
To some of the female game developers in attendance, it was yet another reminder that the industry remains a boys club.
In a statement sent to Quartz by Microsoft’s press office, Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox business at Microsoft, had this to say:
At Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was not consistent or aligned to our values. It was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. I know we disappointed many people and I’m personally committed to holding ourselves to higher standards. We must ensure that diversity and inclusion are central to our everyday business and core values. We will do better in the future.
For now, though, the company’s recent efforts at progress appear to have been undermined with one poorly planned party.