Skip to main content

Paradox publishes external report on studio culture after harassment issues raised last year

Seeks "transparency" and admits "clear problems".

Paradox Interactive, the developer behind Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis, has released the external report it commissioned into its own working practices following the results of a damning staff survey last year published in Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and on Eurogamer, where staff shared their experiences.

The report was compiled by Gender Balance, a Swedish firm which specialises in discrimination, harassment and equality issues, as recommended by Paradox staff unions.

Its results tally with the experiences shared in last year's survey and in the reporting that followed - that there are cultural problems within Paradox that foster misconduct, particularly towards women, and which have enabled issues to remain unresolved. In response, Paradox has said it would implement all of Gender Balance's recommendations, some of which it had enacted already.

"We believe that complete transparency is the best way to move forward and address the issues and behaviours that have been identified," Paradox chief of staff Mattias Lilja said. "On February 7th 2022, Gender Balance delivered the final report and recommendations from their audit; it was shared with all Paradox employees shortly after, and we're now publishing it. You can find it here, full and unedited."

Lilja was subsequently interviewed by Swedish news agency Direkt, and Paradox has provided an English translation to Eurogamer directly.

"We are now getting to the bottom of this and we are getting a concrete picture of the problem," Lilja said. "The report is a first step for us to really address these issues and bridge the trust gap that exists. Everyone should feel safe at Paradox and thrive, that is our responsibility to ensure.

"The union's report gave an indication that we needed to have a deeper look, which we are now doing together with Gender Balance," Lilja continued. "Gender Balance expected a larger number of serious cases given Paradox size but found fewer than expected. However, they found a more widespread behavior of the lower degree, such as master suppression techniques and inappropriate/nasty jargon. And it affects women to a greater degree than men, which is completely unacceptable. That is the starting point for our action plan."

The lengthy report, which is publicly linked from Paradox's website, acknowledges a small number of cases described as "severe or overt harassment or sexual harassment", but states that "cases of grey zone abusive behaviour, which may defy clear legal definitions but nevertheless impacts the victim" were "significantly more common."

The report states: "The behaviours include using harsh and demeaning language, ridicule, recurring mean-spirited criticism, unfairly questioning competence, interrupting or speaking over someone in meetings, and blaming and shaming. While single incidents may not always cross the line into harassment or bullying, when the behaviour is recurring it forms a pattern of behaviour or jargon which becomes abusive. Perpetrators are most commonly male employees or managers, although the survey shows that female managers occur somewhat frequently as perpetrators of certain suppression techniques as well.

"A number of women have also reported more overt behaviour, such as unsolicited compliments or comments about their appearance, having their competency questioned in a way that does not happen for male colleagues, or seeing the recurring use of gendered and negative stereotypes. Many have reported that this has created an atmosphere and a culture in which they do not feel welcome, and which they perceive as being open mainly to men. Key positions in the company are described as belonging to men who are not held accountable in cases of misconduct. Bringing up issues related to the work environment or inclusion is frequently berated in this environment, both by managers and colleagues. Several women have reported employing various coping strategies, such as avoiding working with or minimising their contact with certain persons, putting up a harsh façade, or having to advertise that they are in a relationship in order to not receive unwanted advances from male colleagues."

On more severe cases, the report noted the following: "We have handled a smaller number of cases that we characterise as more severe. This may be because the specific behaviours have been obviously violating, because abuse has been ongoing under a long period of time, because of dependency or other types of special vulnerability, or a combination of the above. Because of the small number of cases and the sensitive nature we are unable to comment much, but we can conclude that this type of discrimination by all indications does not appear to have been common at Paradox during the past two years, and we have received few first hand accounts of cases earlier than that."

Speaking to Direkt, Lilja said that no one had been fired from Paradox as a result of the report, but other action had been taken.

"We have identified a few cases of the more serious degree [of harassment]," Lilja said. "Gender Balance and the company have deemed that termination of employment was not a legally permissible measure, and that the level of severity didn't justify us turning to the police. Therefore, no Paradox employee has been terminated due to that type of case, however other measures have come into play."

The report was also critical of managers' handling of cases brought to their attention - something Eurogamer's reporting last year highlighted.

The report states: "Managers lack the training and supportive structure that would allow them to constructively manage incidents of misconduct and adhere to DL and AFS [the Swedish Discrimination Act and Work Environment Authority's Statute Book]. As a result, the company's response to potential misconduct is very uneven, ranging from good to weak and in some cases even aggravating, and largely dependent on the personal commitment of individual managers.

"Many cases that should be relatively easy to manage are dismissed or not picked up at all, creating a climate that in practice tolerates misconduct to some extent. Processes are lacking in structure and transparency, resulting in unclear expectations and reluctance to file complaints."

Paradox said it had now improved harassment policies and case management processes, provided specialist training and reinforced the support structure for management and HR. It has also updated its guidelines for internal and external events, specifically around the use of alcohol.

Next, it will create an action plan in conjunction with staff, union representatives, HR and management for further change, and will continue to take survey staff on the prevalence of misconduct, with the next major review due this autumn.

"This report is an important step in making Paradox a workplace where everyone feels safe and can enjoy their work, and we are deeply grateful to everyone who has stepped forward in the process of this audit," Lilja concluded.

Read this next