2017 brought a slew of sexual harassment claims across giant industries, most notably in entertainment, media, and even technology. Following the egregious Uber sexual harassment claims this June, alongside Google's extremely sexist manifesto circulated internally in August, it's clear that sexual assault isn't relegated to industries where looks matter -- it's rampant across most large industries to date.
And, in response, one of the world's most prominent software creators has taken the reins into its own hands in the form of workplace policy change.
On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it would end forced arbitration agreements with employees who make sexual harassment claims. The software giant also stated that it would support a proposed federal law which would ban agreements similar in nature. As a prominent leader in its field, Microsoft is certainly acting as a pioneer in its actions to act against agreements that have been thought to help to sustain instances of sexual assault in the workplace.
"The silencing of people's voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment," said Brad Smith, current president of Microsoft, in an interview with the New York Times.
By nature, forced arbitration agreements allow companies to keep harassment and discrimination claims out of court, instead shielding alleged perpetrators from the public eye and sometimes even allowing the sexual misconduct to continue for years. But following the massive influx of sexual assault allegations this year alone, lawmakers have begun pushing for eliminating enforcement of forced arbitration -- when it comes to sexual harassment -- under federal law.
"What this legislation does is ensure that peoples' voices can always be heard by going to court, if that's what it takes for those voices to be heard. It's the kind of step that can make a difference," Smith said.
Despite that Microsoft is one of the first companies of its field -- and of its size -- to do away with forced arbitration agreements, what starkly stands out is that only a minority of Microsoft workers have needed to have the requirement enforced.
Pointedly, then, it seems that Microsoft's statement is meant to be symbolic of an effort to work against sexual harassment in the workforce -- rather than a way to cover up past issues of the same vein in the company.