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Microsoft Hit By Social-Media Criticism Over Party At Game Conference

By Matt Day The Seattle Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  Microsoft apologized for scantily clad dancers at a party the company held Thursday night at a gaming conference. For many, the party recalls the video-game industry's long history of casual sexism and games that often portray women more as sex objects than developed characters. With that said, there has been a concerted effort focused on empowering women to join the gaming industry. Ironically, earlier in the day, Microsoft had hosted a women-in-gaming luncheon at the same conference.

The Seattle Times

Microsoft is taking heat for the appearance of scantily clad female dancers at a party the company held Thursday night on the sidelines of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Attendees of the party, posting to Twitter and Instagram, reported women dressed in schoolgirl outfits dancing on elevated platforms.

For many, the party recalls the video-game industry's long history of casual sexism, including "booth babes" promoting brands at industry conferences and games that often portray women more as sex objects than developed characters.

The issue of the treatment of women by the games industry and its fans grabbed headlines in the past couple of years amid online harassment targeting some female game developers.

Some attendees of this week's party said they intended to complain to Microsoft. "I'm trying to encourage women into the industry then this happens," one posted.

"This is how the games industry excludes women," another said. "By pretending we don't exist and having (developer) parties with strippers."

In a statement Friday, Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft's Xbox group, said the event "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," the statement continued. "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."

Microsoft earlier Thursday had hosted a women-in-gaming luncheon at the conference.

Some in the video-gaming industry have been pushing back against the notion that all game players are young men who crave violent first-person shooter games that cost $100 million a pop to produce. The industry, they say, should be more inclusive in both its hiring and the types of games it makes.

The Entertainment Software Association trade group estimates 44 percent of U.S. gamers are women, and the average age of people who play video games is 35.

In the broader technology industry, a lack of workplace diversity has been a major topic of discussion recently.

Microsoft has occasionally held that spotlight, particularly after comments by Chief Executive Satya Nadella suggesting women didn't need to ask for raises, and instead could wait for the system to reward them fairly. He quickly said the comment was incorrect and elaborated on his views in an email to employees.

The company has struggled since to broaden the makeup of its workforce. Women accounted for 26.8 percent of Microsoft's workforce at the end of September, according to the most recent batch of data released by the company, down from 29 percent a year earlier.

Microsoft attributed the decline to big layoffs that fell on its phone hardware unit. The factory floors and research and design teams had a larger portion of female employees than Microsoft's business as a whole.

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