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A new report calls out Alex Kipman and other Microsoft execs for 'verbal abuse and sexual harassment'

Alex Kipman of Microsoft
(Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

What you need to know

  • Insider published a new, lengthy article where Alex Kipman, Terry Myerson, and Tom Keane are accused of poor behavior towards staff.
  • The article dives deeper into how CEO Satya Nadella’s policies while improving the culture at Microsoft have not solved many problems, including “tokenism” and gender-related issues related to pay.
  • Company insiders say a culture of executive misconduct has remained constant and pervasive at Microsoft.

Thanks to a new explosive report from Insider (formerly Business Insider), Microsoft is coming under heat. In the article, executives at Microsoft, both current and former, are accused of bad behavior, including “verbal abuse and sexual harassment.” And while CEO Satya Nadella, who himself had a very public blunder about gender pay a few years ago, has made improvements, the article claims there are still “golden boys” who escape any severe repercussions for their behavior.

According to Insider’s reporting, which is behind a paywall, Alex Kipman, who invented Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-realty headset and currently oversees the company’s metaverse efforts, bears the brunt of the criticism. One story involves Kipman in 2016 or 2017, wearing a VR headset that was also mirrored on a nearby monitor, where everyone in the room could see what he was viewing. The content was not very work-safe, and it made many of the women in the room “very uncomfortable.”

Alex Kipman in VR

Alex Kipman demoing Windows Mixed Reality.  (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

From the Insider report: “In the video that filled the screen, several young women in skimpy clothing frolicked on a bed; an overtly sexualized pillow fight ensued. An employee who was present, speaking with Insider later, described the scene as “VR porn.” The assembled staffers exchanged confused glances, and a couple of them walked out.”

Kipman is later accused of fostering “a culture that diminishes women’s contributions.” 

In another instance, Kipman rubbed a woman employee’s shoulders despite her looking “deeply uncomfortable” and did not lay off even after the employee “shrugged her shoulders, apparently trying to make him stop.”

Perhaps even more damning, managers went to great lengths not to leave women around Kipman. There is even an accusation that Kipman had to have “chaperones” from human resources during meetings (Microsoft denied the practice). And last year, more than 25 employees contributed to a report about Kipman’s inappropriate behavior, although no actions were taken.

Indeed, a blessing in disguise was the pandemic, as it meant no one had to work with Kipman in person, according to one former executive who worked with him.

Myerson and Keane also called-out

Insider’s report goes after some other former executives, including Terry Myerson, who oversaw Windows, and Tom Keane, a corporate vice president of the company’s Azure cloud-computing business.

Myerson’s case is the most interesting as he seemingly (and suddenly) decided to leave Microsoft in 2018. There was never a formal explanation given as to why he was going, and rumors swirled around about the failure of Windows Phone, issues with Windows 10, and other unconfirmed causes.

Terry Myerson, who used to oversee the Windows division, abruptly left in 2018.  (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

However, Insider states that Myerson had a “meltdown” backstage at a Microsoft event shortly before he left, where he publicly criticized “everyone” in a yelling fit. It was such an issue that it reportedly caught the eye of Nadella, and three people with knowledge of the issue claim that his behavior played a significant role in his departure.

Keane is also accused of similar actions, including making a staff member cry in the middle of a public meeting. Other employees noted Keane ran things like a dictator such that staffers called him “King Tom” behind his back due to his demands of obedience. 

In January of this year, after a 30-day unexplained hiatus, Keane was reassigned within Microsoft, although he still oversees hundreds of employees.

Microsoft still has a ways to go

It should not be too surprising that a company the size of Microsoft would take years to change around such issues, but it may come as a bit of a shock that things are still this bad for apparently many employees.

While Nadella talks the talk, more needs to be done, especially around the “talented jerks” who still work there. Even in that 2014 public gaffe when discussing women and raises, Maria Klawe, who was on the board, was asked to resign over the incident (she later did the following year).

But if there is one takeaway from Insider’s continued reporting, Alex Kipman’s time at the company may be short-lived, and if not, it should be. This isn’t the first damaging report on him, as Insider also did recent exposes on his leadership over HoloLens, with the division being called a “s--t show.”

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.