Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • Microsoft's board said it has hired a law firm to review its harassment and discrimination policies.
  • The review will include misconduct allegations against Bill Gates, which the board reviewed in 2019.
  • Shareholders demanded an independent review at the company's last annual meeting.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Microsoft's board announced on Thursday that it has hired an external law firm to investigate how it deals with sexual harassment.

The board said in a press release that the chosen firm, Arent Fox, will conduct a review of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies.

Arent Fox's report will summarise any sexual harassment investigations brought against members of Microsoft's board of directors and its senior leadership team, according to the board's press release.

This will include allegations brought against Bill Gates, the statement said.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2021 Microsoft board members had opened an investigation into Gates in 2019 after an employee said she had had a sexual relationship with him. 

"Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," Microsoft said in a statement to Insider at the time.

"A committee of the Board reviewed the concern, aided by an outside law firm to conduct a thorough investigation. Throughout the investigation, Microsoft provided extensive support to the employee who raised the concern," Microsoft added.

Gates stepped down from Microsoft's board in 2020 before the investigation was concluded. A spokesperson for Gates told Insider his decision to step down was "in no way related to this matter."

In a May New York Times report, two sources said Gates had asked an employee out to dinner via email immediately after she had given a presentation to him.

Arent Fox's investigation will "assess the steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination," the board's statement said.

The investigation was fuelled by a shareholder proposal, which passed at Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting in November, demanding an "independent and transparent" investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

"Reports of Bill Gates' inappropriate relationships and sexual advances towards Microsoft employees have only exacerbated concerns, putting in question the culture set by top leadership, and the board's role holding those culpable accountable," the proposal read.

Arent Fox's review will end in a transparency report that is due to be released to employees, shareholders, and the public in later this year, the board said.

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