Microsoft Allegedly Paid £1m To Sidelined Female Exec

Reports claim Natalie Ayres was paid more than £1 million when she was denied the top UK job

Microsoft paid more than £1 million to a female executive who was denied the top job in its UK business, according to reports in the Daily Telegraph.

Natalie Ayres, who had been with the company for 15 years, was seen as an “outstanding” candidate to take over the UK business in 2006, but the job went to Gordon Frazer – and Ayres got a seven-figure payout, anonymous sources told the Telegraph, which earlier this month reported allegations of “lewd drunkeness” at the company.

No Windows in the glass ceiling?

Ayres joined Microsoft in 1991 – at a time when office PCs were still a novelty for many, and some years before Windows 95 expanded the market and consolidated Microsoft’s grasp on it. By 2005, she was head of the small and medium business division in the UK, and on the UK board of directors.

According to reports, her application for the top job was cut short, when the company appointed Gordon Frazer from Microsoft South Africa. At the end of 2006, she left the company. Microsoft described this as a “personal decision”, but the Telegraph‘s source says a “compromise agreement” gave her a seven-figure payment.

Gordon Frazer’s regime at Microsoft has come under attack from Simon Negus, a sacked executive who says “drunkenness and outrageous misbehaviour were rife” at the company.

Negus was hired by Frazer in 2008 and, like Ayres, expected a crack at the top job. Instead he was sacked in September 2010 amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour. When Microsoft demanded the return of £75,000, a third of his 2008 joining bonus, Negus countersued, alleging a culture of lewd drunkeness at the company, claiming unfair dismissal and asking for fifteen years’ salary.

This new leak seems designed to paint Microsoft in a poor light though. If true, it suggests the company acknowledged an error in its treatment of Ms Ayres. She was prominently featured in a deleted page (Google cache link here)  illustrating the company’s “diversity and inclusion” record.

Ms Ayres is now listed as a non-executive director of London-based Virtual IT, which provides managed IT services for SMBs. She has not responded to our enquiries.

Microsoft has issued the following statement:

“As is standard practice for any responsible company, Microsoft does not comment about individual employees, current or former. However, Microsoft places great importance on the core values of diversity and inclusiveness, which is just one of many reasons why it is consistently ranked as one of the top 50 work places in the UK.”