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Nokia layoffs strike a blow against diversity at Microsoft

Gender balance tips in favour of male employees after loss of "factory and production roles" where females were in the majority

Microsoft's decision take a $7.6 billion charge relating to its failed Nokia acquisition has dealt a firm blow to its strategy around employee diversity.

The impairment charge led to 7,800 job losses, most of which affected Microsoft's mobile phone business. Now, with the publication of the company's latest diversity data, it is clear that this had a disproportionately large impact on the female workforce.

Between September 2014 and September 2015, when Microsoft updates its diversity data, the company's female employee count fell from 36,765 to 31,064 - a drop of more than 15 per cent. By contrast, the male employee count fell by just 5 per cent in the same period, from 90,011 to 84,695. As such, the company's overall gender balance shifted several per cent in what the company now openly regards as the wrong direction. As of the end of September 2015, Microsoft's total workforce was 73.1 per cent male, up 2.2 per cent year-on-year.

"I want to emphasize that we are not satisfied with where we are today regarding the percentage of women in our workforce"

"I want to emphasize that we are not satisfied with where we are today regarding the percentage of women in our workforce," said Gwen Huston, general manager of Global Diversity & Inclusion, in a blog post.

She continued: "The workforce reductions resulting from the restructure of our phone hardware business...impacted factory and production facilities outside the U.S. that produce handsets and hardware, and a higher percentage of those jobs were held by women. This was the main cause of the decline in female representation at Microsoft.

"In short, a strategic business decision made in the longer-term interests of the company resulted in a reduction of jobs held by female employees outside the U.S."

This could be regarded as an unfortunate and unintended consequence of a necessary tactical change - which it is, to an extent. But it also represents the deep-rooted problems that companies the size of Microsoft now face in their attempts to find balance. In its blog post, Microsoft emphasised that 27.2 per cent of its Senior Leadership team was now female, a new high for the company. This is commendable, of course, but at that elevated level even a small number of roles added or lost can cause a significant percentage shift. In other areas with higher concentrations of employees, a single per cent can represent hundreds of jobs. Across the whole company, which has 115,000 employees, that 2.2 per cent shift towards men represents around 2,500 people.

"Making dramatic changes in terms of our overall workforce composition is an undertaking that cannot be overstated"

In terms of Leadership roles - which is a more broad category than "Senior Leadership" - the gender balance remained exactly 82.6 per cent in favour of men between 2014 and 2015. In Microsoft's Tech positions, the balance moved 0.2 per cent in favour of men, who represented 83 per cent of that category in September 2015. Given the nature of Microsoft's business, it's reasonable to assume that the majority of its most influential and best paid positions are found in these two areas, where women have either made no progress or lost a sliver of ground.

The areas that reflect the biggest changes are Non-Tech, Retail and Direct Production Factories. These are the areas with the highest proportion of female employment: As of September 2015, 57.9 per cent in Direct Production Factories, 34.9 per cent in Retail, and 41.7 per cent in Non-Tech, each one a drop of several per cent over the previous year.

They are also divisions with larger numbers of employees and, very probably, less influential roles and generally lower salaries. This is where Microsoft's recent cuts have been most keenly felt, and that has resulted in its female workforce taking more of the strain.

"In a company the size of Microsoft, making dramatic changes in terms of our overall workforce composition is an undertaking that cannot be over-stated," Huston said. "Our cultural transformation will not take place overnight. It will take steadfast commitment, accountability, targeted actions - and time."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar

Matthew Handrahan


Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.