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Sunday, 3rd December 2023


The Telegraph today has a detailed article on a case of sexual discrimination at Microsoft, resulting in an award of £1million.

Natalie Ayres worked there for 15 years, and did very well, except for the final promotion to Managing Director, where she was passed without even being given an interview. Quotes from other staff suggest a culture of harassment of women and a glass ceiling at the top. This kind of behaviour is not unusual as we know from the evidence of glass ceilings for women across many organisations in the UK. However, what is unusual is when the matter goes to court and a large settlement is awarded. This is when the truth gets revealed, and the cost for the employer is very high and is not just the award, but the hugely damaging publicity that results from it.

A pro-active way to prevent such abuse is to invest in positive equality policies and build a culture of respect and equality throughout the organisation, with leaders and managers acting as strong examples and leading through character and conduct. Here again, another recent case against Microsoft showed how there was a culture of harassment by married senior executives against younger women. This is clearly very serious and unfair and should not be tolerated by any employer. It is possible that in practice, especially for successful senior managers, companies turn a blind eye and look away from such abuse as they do not want to lose them. This is wrong and sends absolutely the wrong signals. Microsoft has clearly paid its price for this.

If you ask me how many companies invest in positive attitudes and equality throughout the organisation, and building a culture of respect, then I would say not many and the data reflects this. There is more investment in this area, and more effort to create special interest groups such as women's groups, faith groups, disabled groups - to help minorities to support one another and feel at home inside the organisation.

A holistic approach is what is really needed to have a sustainable solution. And this requires time, resources and patience, but its benefits would go far beyond meeting the minimum requirements of equality. They would shape a very positive and dynamic culture throughout the organisation.

Article added on 19th September 2011 at 3:29pm