Game developer giant Activision Blizzard is pushing back on a request from America's Unions (AFL-CIO) that the company implements a hiring process that promotes racial and gender diversity. In January, AFL-CIO submitted a proposal separately to Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts, asking them to employ a version of the "Rooney Rule" — a requirement for companies to interview one diverse candidate for every open position they are hiring for. While EA has been willing to consider the proposal, however, Activision Blizzard has expressed concerns about how implementing such a rule on all levels would be "unworkable".
What is a "Rooney Rule" and why is AFL-CIO insisting on it?
The "Rooney Rule" was first established in the NFL in 2003 and requires that teams interview at least one candidate of ethnic minority groups for head coach and senior management jobs. Throughout the years, the "Rooney Rule" itself has been a subject of several controversies, most recently in 2020 when despite the rule, only one non-white coach was hired despite five head coach vacancies, raising the question how effective the "Rooney Rule" is.
When it comes to gaming companies like Activision Blizzard, AFL-CIO argues that "a diverse workforce at all levels of a company can enhance long-term company performance". The proposal also aims to deal with "worker concerns related to diversity, discrimination, and harassment", writes Vice.
"The idea that companies need to be responsible for diversity comes up often in the organizing meetings. Games workers want to be more diverse but they don't get to choose who's hired. 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," union organizer Wes McEnany told Vice.
Why is Activision Blizzard resisting this?
While Activision Blizzard told Vice they "value the diversity of the Activision Blizzard community and understand that our employees and players come from a wide array of backgrounds", they've pushed back on AFL-CIO's proposal, quoting logistical reasons. One Activision Blizzard attorney told the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in January that a "Rooney Rule" has been implemented for senior-level positions (director and CEO), to implement it for the hiring for all vacancies would amount tp "an unworkable encroachment on the Company's ability to run its business and compete for talent in a highly competitive, fast-moving market."
The attorney further pointed out that such level of micromanagement would leave "no room for the Company's management or Board of Directors to exercise discretion in how new hire decisions are structured."
Even if Activision Blizzard would not be adverse to AFL-CIO's Rooney Rule proposal, getting it past the shareholders is not guaranteed and it's unlikely a Rooney Rule is voted in with a majority. According to AFL-CIO director of investments Brandon Rees, this is more likely to trigger a back-and-forth conversation, rather than enforce an immediate policy change.
Rees for Motherboard:
"Typically what happens is the shareholders files a proposal. Then they have a dialogue with the company, and then depending on the outcome, agree to withdraw proposals if the company agrees to taking steps to fix the problem. If they agree to disagree, then it goes to the shareholders for a vote."
The diversity question in hiring has been a divisive one for sure, and not only when it comes to gaming companies. While advocates of it, such as the AFL-CIO, insist that a diverse workforce carries a long-term benefit, its proponents argue that hiring just for diversity's sake carries the exact opposite.
Esports editor and journalist of 10+ years. Lives on black tea and corgi love.