Activision Blizzard has called proposals to adopt the Rooney Rule, a policy requiring it interview at least one diverse candidate when hiring, "an unworkable encroachment" on its ability to do business, Motherboard reports.
Established in 2003, the Rooney Rule is an NFL policy requiring teams interview at least one non-white, non-male candidate for coaching positions. It's since spread to other industries in various forms. Earlier this month, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) submitted shareholder proposals to publisher Activision and EA calling on them to adopt the policy across all hires.
EA, for its part, told Motherboard that it would consider the AFL-CIO's proposal at its next board meeting. But while Activision claims to already use the practice for director and CEO positions, the publisher is reportedly trying to get the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to intervene, letting Activision reject the proposal outright.
In letters obtained by Motherboard, lawyers representing Activision write that "implementing a policy that would extend such an approach to all hiring decisions amounts to an unworkable encroachment on the Company's ability to run its business and compete for talent in a highly competitive, fast-moving market".
Activision's lawyers argue that the proposal seeks to "micromanage" the way the publisher handles its hiring strategies. A spokesperson stressed that the company invests heavily in scholarship programs, mentors and internships. Reinforcing (but not elaborating on) its claim that diversity is an important part of its hiring culture, Activision Blizzard told Kotaku that Motherboard had "completely mischaracterized" its SEC filing:
"In fact, our hiring practices are rooted in ensuring diversity for all roles. We engage in this aggressively and successfully. Our objection was rooted in the fact that the AFL-CIO proposal failed to adequately consider how to apply these practices in all of the countries we operate in.
"In order to ensure that our games stay true to our mission—to connect and engage the world through epic entertainment—we require that all candidates of all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, races and sexual orientations are considered for each and every open role. We aggressively recruit diverse candidates so the workforce provides the inspired creativity required to meet the expectations of our diverse 400 million players across 190 countries. We remain committed to increasing diversity at all levels throughout Activision Blizzard worldwide."
The AFL-CIO told Kotaku that the proposal is, in fact, "clearly workable", given the number of companies that have successfully implemented them. Having worked with banks to improve their hiring methods, the Federation is now turning to tech companies. Even where the AFL-CIO's proposal isn't taken in immediately, director of investments Brandon Rees tells Motherboard that the proposals often start internal conversations that lead to companies establishing their own policies.
"We see this as a helpful tool," said Rees. "And felt that now was the right time to take steps to ensure their hiring practices promote diversity and inclusion in gaming. It's important given the Black Lives Matter movement's focus on racial justice, and #MeToo's focus on gender equity and sexual harassment in the workplace."
Discrimination in the games industry is nothing new. In recent years, the likes of Ubisoft, Riot and even smaller teams like Season developer Scavengers Studio have been wracked by allegations of abuse and harassment. These reports are almost always accompanied by mention of a "boy's club", an internal culture of toxic masculinity that sees security granted to embedded abusers.
Promising to interview (never mind hire) someone from outside the white male demographic is the smallest of steps a company could take—and if Activision feels that unworkable, it's worth questioning what steps it feels are within its power.
"Games workers want to be more diverse but they don't get to choose who's hired," Campaign to Organize Digital Employees organiser Wes McEnany told Motherboard. "It's really hard to attract talented candidates from marginalized and minority communities in games and tech when the only places you're looking to recruit are overwhelmingly white and male. Once people get hired, there's no community for them. They are expected to represent these groups."