Microsoft is encouraging employees to begin presentations by stating their race, gender, and other physical characteristics.
Videos from last week's Microsoft Ignite conference show employees reciting "visual descriptions," which are meant to make blind audience members aware of presenters' biases. In one video, program manager Allison Weins opened her remarks by saying she was "an Asian and white female, with dark brown hair."
In a blog post released after the conference, Microsoft notes that it does not require its presenters to provide visual descriptions but recommends mentioning "distinguishing characteristics like hair color, race/ethnicity, gender, clothing, and background details to avoid unconscious bias." The presenters at Microsoft’s conference all highlighted their race, preferred gender pronouns, and outfits.
One of the presenters who used visual descriptions, Nic Fillingham, directed the Washington Free Beacon to a video explanation of visual descriptions in which an activist explains the practice is "intersectional" and that visual descriptions "help fight racism, sexism, and classism." Fillingham introduced himself by saying, "I’m a Caucasian man with glasses and a beard, I go by he/him, and I’m a security evangelist here at Microsoft."
Neither Microsoft nor its PR firm responded to requests for comment.
In her opening remarks, Weins also noted that Microsoft wanted "to acknowledge that the land where the Microsoft campus is situated was traditionally occupied by the Sammamish, the Duwamish, the Snoqualmie, the Suquamish, the Muckleshoot, the Snohomish, the Tulalip, and other Coast Salish peoples since time immemorial. A people that are still here, continuing to honor and bring to light their ancient heritage."
"Land acknowledgments" have come into vogue in recent years in social justice circles. According to the Portland, Ore., City Council, which carries out a "land acknowledgment" before every meeting, the practice can help "make amends" for centuries of colonialism. Microsoft frequently highlights its work with Native Americans, including hiring a Native American contractor for a day to help design a Native American video game character. Microsoft has not announced plans to return land it owns to indigenous peoples.
The town of Sammamish, the ancestral home of the Sammamish people where a major Microsoft campus is located, reported the highest median income of all cities in America in 2019.