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Toxic culture at Ubisoft connected to dysfunction in HR department

About half of the recent cases of toxic behaviour unearthed at Ubisoft had previously been flagged to HR, recent reports suggest

Ubisoft's HR system has been compared to a wall against which abuse allegations have been crashing for years.

An in-depth article from French newspaper Libération has shed light upon dysfunctions at a HR level at the company, which allegedly perpetuated toxic behaviours. The article was published just a day before three Ubisoft executives, including global head of HR Cécile Cornet, stepped down following the recent wave of allegations around sexual misconduct and a toxic culture.

Every complaint brought to HR about toxic behaviour, harassment or sexual misconduct was met with remarks such as "They're creatives, that's how they work" or "If you can't work with him, maybe it's time you go," Libération reported.

A high-ranking Ubisoft employee only identified with the name Romane described a meeting during which Cécile Cornet tried to "clear HR's name" and distance HR from its responsibility in the current crisis.

"During the meeting, all the departments whose function is to guarantee a safe working environment, diversity, and inclusion were present, and there I was told that they needed to be cleared of all responsibilities," the employee said.

"Not all HR departments are guilty of having concealed toxic behaviours, [but] it still constitutes a collective failure"

Another call, which took place since the crisis started, gathered 90 HR managers and was described by an anonymous source as "grotesque."

"The Montreal HR boss intervened and said: 'These articles are unfair, and if Yves [Guillemot, Ubisoft's CEO] doesn't share a public statement that exonerates HR, it's simple, I will leave Ubisoft with half of my team.' After this, all his right-hand staff fell in line: 'I agree', 'I agree'..."

Romane added: "It was insane, our discussions took a weird turn, a number of HR would place themselves as the victims. Even if you can absolutely understand that not all HR departments are guilty of having concealed toxic behaviours, it still constitutes a collective failure."

HR dysfunctions at Ubisoft's Montreal studio were also revealed today in an article from Le Journal de Montréal. A former employee for example said: "Working on Far Cry cost me two burnouts, psychological and sexual harassment, and humilitation, and HR never deigned to listen to me."

Libération talked to an HR staff member who had been able to read all the recent abuse testimonies, and reported that about half of the recent cases had previously been flagged to HR. A quarter of these accusations involved chief creative officer Serge Hascoët and members of the editorial team he was in charge of before he stepped down earlier this week.

Another source explained that Ubisoft's approach was to bury issues and wait for things to wane. In 2015, there was an attempt to create a code of conduct. But it was watered down by HR managers.

The code of conduct was also prevented from touching upon what would happen in a case of harassment from a manager, because it was deemed "too pessimistic and employees would then believe that it can happen."

"All the managers have been asked to talk to employees, but they only do it because they have to. They're calling it a witch hunt"

"The people responsible for seeing people and helping them in their professional journey at the company were not trained to handle harassment issues," said a source going by the name of Catherine. "They don't know how to listen to the victims. And, worse than that, they've never been told that people should come before the business. Never, never, never. At Ubisoft, you just make sure that the games release when they need to."

The Libération article detailed harmful actions by Serge Hascoët at great length, a number of which had been flagged to HR. He's described as having "the most toxic behaviour of the entire company" as well as being "misogynistic" and "homophobic."

In a letter to all employees sent last week, Guillemot promised he would make in-depth changes to the HR processes at Ubisoft, with one of the first tangible tools for change being the introduction of a system to report issues anonymously. The tool had been introduced two years ago to report corruption; one employee said it was originally suggested to use it for reporting harassment as well, an idea Cornet allegedly squashed.

Reporting through this tool will also alert the crisis unit that Ubisoft created on June 22 to deal with the situation, a few days after the first allegations started. The unit, called "Respect at Ubisoft," has received over 100 cases since its inception, covering everything from bullying to rape accusations within the company. About 20 people are also currently under external investigations from lawyers, which should lead to more redundancies, a source believed.

The article also touched upon whether or not Yves Guillemot was aware of the situation. An anonymous source reported that, in 2019, Cécile Cornet said that "Yves is fine with a toxic management team as long as the results coming from these managers exceed their toxicity." She also reportedly said that Ubisoft is a company that believes in second chances but also "in third chances, or more, if it's key personnel."

However, the article mentioned that the recent wave of allegations was a wake up call for Yves Guillemot, who according to Catherine told his teams that he wanted to be personally informed about every case going forward.

Since Libération's first in-depth article unearthing Ubisoft's toxic culture, the situation has aggravated for women at Ubisoft, one testified: "The reactions at the various studios have been extreme. All the managers have been asked to talk to employees, but they only do it because they have to. They're still convinced it is detrimental to their freedom. They're calling it a 'witch hunt.' In addition to everything else, as women, we became a threat. It's far from being pleasant."

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