Some tech and gaming companies have left behind a shameful history of objectifying women in major promotional venues, but Microsoft's behavior at the 2016 Game Developers Conference this week was a surprising reversal of progress. Attendees of Microsoft's GDC party were greeted by women dancing on platforms — a choice made not by the venue but by Microsoft.
In a comment emailed to The Verge, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said that the event "was not consistent or aligned to our values," and promised to "do better in the future." Here's Spencer's full comment:
At Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was not consistent or aligned to our values. It was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. I know we disappointed many people and I’m personally committed to holding ourselves to higher standards. We must ensure that diversity and inclusion are central to our everyday business and core values. We will do better in the future.
Originally reported by Crave, several attendees spoke out about the event on Twitter. "This is the first fucking time I've felt this unwelcome at a games event," one attendee said on Twitter. "Thanks for pushing me out of this party, Microsoft." The event took some Microsoft employees by surprise; head of Xbox Games Marketing Aaron Greenberg said on Twitter that he was "very disappointed to see this."
Conferences like CES and E3 were notorious for many years for using "booth babes" to promote their brands and products by baiting the male gaze, and while representation of women has improved, it's clear that even major companies like Microsoft haven't fully evolved. It's simple: hiring women as sex objects to sell products or promote your brand is alienating and unprofessional. It's also hypocritical if your company holds a "women in gaming" luncheon every year at GDC.
Update, 2:48PM ET: This story has been updated to include comment from Xbox head Phil Spencer.