Under fire Activision Blizzard exec Frances Townsend steps down from company's women's network

But remains company's chief compliance officer.

Under fire Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Frances Townsend has stepped down from the company's women's network.

Townsend stepped down from the position of executive sponsor of Activision-Blizzard-King Women's Network on 23rd July, the company confirmed to The Washington Post.

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Activision Blizzard executive vice president of corporate affairs Fran Townsend. Image credit Activision Blizzard.

That's the same day Townsend held a listening session on a recorded Zoom call with the women at Blizzard to hear their stories, following her heavily-criticised internal email that called the claims made by the State of California's discrimination lawsuit "a distorted and untrue picture of our company".

Townsend remains at Activision Blizzard as chief compliance officer.

Activision Blizzard's initial public comment on the lawsuit was to strongly deny its claims. An email then sent to staff by Townsend, who was the assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism to George W. Bush from 2004 to 2008, was heavily criticised by staff.

The State of California sued Activision Blizzard over what it alleges to be a "frat boy" culture that created "a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women".

The lawsuit alleges a culture of "constant sexual harassment", mainly at Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, Diablo and Overwatch.

The text of the email sent by Townsend, who joined Activision in March, read:

"A recently-filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories - some from more than a decade ago.

"We work at a company that truly values equality and fairness. Rest assured that leadership is committed to continuing to maintain a safe, fair, and inclusive workplace. We cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees."

According to The Post, Townsend told staff she had followed legal counsel's guidance on language, and that the end result of the email "no longer sounded much like her voice".

More than 2000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed a petition calling the company's initial response to the recent discrimination lawsuit "abhorrent and insulting".

Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick later issued a statement calling this initial response "tone deaf".

Last weekend, Townsend drew more criticism after tweeting an article titled "the Problem With Whistleblowing".

Townsend then deleted her Twitter account. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Kotaku: "This was her personal account. The company didn't ask her to delete it. It was her decision."

Kotick, along with a number of other senior executives, addressed investors this week to insist: "We will be the company that sets the example for this in our industry."

The ABK Workers Alliance, which organised the Blizzard walkout, has accused Activision Blizzard of failing to address its demands.

"We will not abandon our cause," the group said in a letter. "Our ranks continue to grow across multiple Activision Blizzard studios... We are doing what we can, and we call on you to do what we cannot."

Overnight, the ABK Workers Alliance said it was pleased Townsend had stepped down. "Last week more than 3000 current ABK employees signed an open letter asking, among other things, for Fran Townsend to step down as sponsor of the ABK Women's Network," the group tweeted. "We are glad she listened, and hope that this will be followed by leadership addressing employees' other demands."

Activision Blizzard told The Washington Post's Shannon Liao: "She believes in doing what's right for the Network, and will continue to support and advance the work of the Network as best she can."

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Wesley Yin-Poole

Wesley Yin-Poole

Editor  |  wyp100

Wesley is Eurogamer's editor. He likes news, interviews, and more news. He also likes Street Fighter more than anyone can get him to shut up about it.

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