Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Microsoftie Reality Check

A recent comment about the front-page worthy political bunglings as of late:

How many employees who would consider leaving Microsoft because we pulled support for the bill? Now how many would have considered leaving if we had supported it and the bill had passed? Which number do you think is greater? I'm just guessing, but I'd wager that pulling support for the bill tipped more employees toward leaving. If not convincing them to quit on its own, maybe coupled with whatever other reasons they might have (oooh - the towels!) they'll leave. I thought that was what you wanted.

First: less people working for Microsoft? Bing-bing-bing! Yes. That's exactly what I think is in the best interest for a healthy Microsoft and is key to Microsoft building an efficient product-creating whiz-bang future.

Next: I don't know how many people would be up to leaving based just on this issue in and of itself. However, I agree it's one of those tipping point events as each employee gets to do a reality check:

  • Do I still have faith in this company, its leadership, and my position here?
  • Do I want to stay here?
  • Could I get a great position elsewhere more inline with my beliefs and values?
  • Damn, why isn't anyone excited about Longhorn?

Alright, I had to slip that last one in there. An interesting snippet from this AP story, Microso ft Criticized for Gay Rights Stancee:

The Boeing Co., Nike, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Molson Coors Brewing Co., and Levi Strauss & Co., are among businesses that supported the Washington state bill, which would have banned discrimination against homosexuals in housing, employment and insurance.

Asked why Hewlett-Packard supported it, John Hassell, the computer maker's director of federal and state governmental affairs said: "One word: competitiveness."

HP started offering domestic partner benefits to gay employees in 1996 -- three years after Microsoft did -- and, like Microsoft, has an anti-discrimination policy that protects gays.

"It's not just a nice-to-do thing. It's a requirement to be successful in the private sector," Hassell said.

So it's an employee recruitment and retention business focused decision. It is very unlikely that someone is going to pass on your Microsoft job offer because you provide such benefits and support legislation like HB 1515 - it's just not relevant to their day-to-day need, irregardless if it totally violates their own personal code of ethics and politics. It is very likely that they will come work for Microsoft if those publicly defended benefits are directly relevant to them and is something that is relevant to their day-to-day needs.

If you're a Microsoftie, do your own reality check-check-check and decide if this is the company for you. If you're at Microsoft, there's a good chance that you're talented, smart, and motivated and can find a rewarding career elsewhere (and if you're a Microsoftie and not talented, smart, or motivated: oooo, your time is coming, Spanky). You can fill out all the SharePoint protest lists and send email directly to Bill and Steve, but it's not going to truly be heard by them and affect them in a relevant manner until people start leaving, noting this bungling as a defining moment in their decision.


Fazal Majid said...

Microsoft's about-face is certainly a much bigger deal for gay and lesbian employees, and I don't think it far-fetched that the proportion of LGBT employees at Microsoft could fall in the near future.

There are a number of studies on what factors determine the economic success of cities. One of the major one is the presence of a "creative class" with critical mass, not to make too fine a point of it, places like Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and so on. There is a strong correlation between a creative class and tolerance towards homosexuals.

In that sense, disaffection among gay or lesbian microsofties could lead to a reduction of creativity, and that is the last thing MS needs at this juncture.

Countries that persecute their minorities lose out economically. Spain threw out its Jews in 1492, many of them went on to Amsterdam, much to the fortune of the Dutch. Catholic king Louis XIV of France revoked the tolerance edict his Protestant grandfather had passed, and French Huguenot refugees essentially made Berlin what it is today. The Nazis expelled an entire generation of Germany's best physicists, many of whom found their way to the Manhattan project.

In the long run, tolerance is good for business, it's not just an ethical or political call.

Anonymous said...

>Damn, why isn't anyone excited about Longhorn?

Well, it is hard to get excited about something that is a) to be released 18 months in the future (best case), and b) hasn't been managed well by Microsoft - by this I mean that all I've heard about Longhorn is how many features are getting dropped in order to make the 2006 deadline.

Anonymous said...

>Damn, why isn't anyone excited about Longhorn?

Well, it is hard to get excited about something that is a) to be released 18 months in the future (best case), and b) hasn't been managed well by Microsoft - by this I mean that all I've heard about Longhorn is how many features are getting dropped in order to make the 2006 deadline.

Joe Clark said...

Your entire posting seems to assume that it would be extreme and implausible for a Microsoft employee to quit over this. That would only be true for straight people. This is a big deal for queer people.

Nonetheless, queer Microsoft employees in Washington state will still enjoy the same benefits today as they did before the bill went down in flames. Quitting-- and it's interesting you kept using the word "leaving," as though it were a dinner party-- would be a matter of principle, and principles are kind of important.

Anonymous said...

Who are the highest-ranking queer employees at MSFT? Why isn't the leadership of this "class" of employees speaking out on this issue? My guess is they don't care .... if you are a talented and productive worker who gets things done, you have nothing to worry about. Regardless of what you do between the sheets.

Anonymous said...

A public company taking a stand on social issues is like an individual having a job and a hobby.

It's fine if you can do your job and the hobby, that's great. But at the end of the day, it's the job that pays the bills.

If you need to focus on the job, that needs to be the focus. That's not anti-gay, pro-Christian, or any other polarizing label you may want to attach. It's Darwinism.

Seriously - the stock is in the toilet, we have legal issues in the EU, etc. We have a core mission and right now that needs more attention.

It's not like we haven't been thought leaders in this space and been ahead of the pack for years.

And for most of you out there, get over yourself.


How invested were *you* in the bill? Did you testify, right a letter, go door to door, collect signatures, etc.? I'm sure most of you weren't. I've read some blog entries by notable bloggers where they hadn't even read the bill at all, but lashed out without all the information.

It's easy to criticize what Microsoft did/didn't do because it's the cause celebre at the moment - but of those of you complaining that weren't participating before, shut up. For those who haven't read the bill from start to finish, shut up and read.

Do your homework, participate in the process, and then you have a right to complain. Otherwise, shut your undedicated, uneducated mouth.

Idiots screaming about things they know nothing about only weaken the message the dedicated are trying to get across. Focusing on aspects of the bill that polarize people based on their lifestyle and/or religious beliefs will only do just that - polarize them.

And for those of you who complained because local clergy spoke out against supporting it. Shut up too.

Don't use this as a platform for an anti-organized religion stance because it's convenient. The great thing about this country is the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I think it's great that Brad Smith took the time out to speak to a community leader (even if it isn't your/my community) and heard what he had to say. Don't complain about the preacher, he had the right to complain and to threaten a boycott. He's following his beliefs just as others who have organized boycotts have done . Just because you disagree with his beliefs (while you may have agreed with say, MLK), don't portray him as a monster. He's excercising the rights that make this one of the greatest countries on earth.

And for the Anti-republican, crowd, don't jump on this for your purposes either. I saw one site that went so far as to audit Bill and Steve's political contributions. Just because your Republican doesn't mean your anti-gay. Given that this thing we're talking about is an *anti-discrimination* bill, take your anti-Republican angle and jump off the bandwagon, this isn't the place for it.

And for the record, just because Smith met with him doesn't take away from the fact that he said the decision was already made. I'm sure if you open any execs calendar you'll realize they meet with ALOT of people, many times asking us to do/not to do something. Just because there's a request put in, it doesn't mean it's a deciding factor.

And for those of you who did participate in the process and are complaining, let me pass one some advice. Find a leader who's studied PoliSci. Instead of bitching that Microsoft didn't support the bill, educate people on why they should have. Focus on it being anti-discrimination and not pro-gay. Find the common ground, noone likes discrimination but by playing the gay card your forcing people to take a side on a different issue.

And I'd also suggest your disassociate yourselves from those anti-Microsoft folks who are using this as a cause to knock the company. Remember history - Microsoft was/is ahead of the pack on these issues.

In the end, the telling things for me, is that Bill didn't realize the effect that this would have internally or publically. To me, that's an indication that the employees didn't let him know how important it was to them until after the fact. And to be honest, I'd be interested in finding out if this is an issue for a vocal minority vs. the silent majority.

There's only one way to find out. Let management know what you believe in and what you support. The company represents two major pieces the individuals that provide the intellectual horsepower and the individuals (investors) who provide(d) the funds for us to do what we need to do.

By making it a polarizing issue (pro-gay vs. anti-discrimination), you're making a concious decision to piss off some of your customer base, some of your co-workers, and investors. We're a public company with a big target on our back already.

I know there was one legislator who said our position would have changed his vote. Did he say why? If MS was so important to him was he aware of our pretty visible track record? Has anyone looked at his voting record prior? I think that he's using MS as a way to deflect criticism from himself.

Us coming out for or against this bill really shouldn't have mattered in the big scheme of things. To me, it seems that everyone already knows where we stand on the issue. We're a case study on how to handle diversity in a large corporation.

Anonymous said...

Voice of Reason said:

"In the end, the telling things for me, is that Bill didn't realize the effect that this would have internally or publically. To me, that's an indication that the employees didn't let him know how important it was to them until after the fact."

To me it's an indication that management were asleep at the wheel if they didn't realise the impact this switch of position would have in the current climate in the US.

And, a simple question, were GLEAM consulted at any stage in the process to reach the decision to switch? Or were they simply told about the decision after the fact?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure we could use more lawyers and lobbyists working with the EU (an issue that affects our bottom line) vs. this.

Employees and shareholders are free to use their dividends and paychecks to support whatever issue they want.

Someone needs to start another petition in the company for people who support Microsoft's decision here -- but I know people are afraid of speaking out on the other side of the issue for fear of not appearing PC enough.

If Microsoft reverses itself here (which I predict), is management going to spend the time going around talking to Christian and conservatives on campus and getting their feelings about this ahead of time? I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

the main problem with the last anonymous' argument is that this support for this bill is a clear conclusion from company values as something that is supported internally, and it's easy to see the extension to external support.

if you believe in sexual orientation-based discrimination, you should find a new employer whose values are more in line with your own - the author of this blog will likely be happy to see you go solely on attrition grounds.

that said, there's a difference between saying "i don't support microsoft officially supporting this bill", "i don't support microsoft flip-flopping again on this bill" and "i don't support this bill."

saying the former two are perfectly legitimate, and actually, if one so desires, obfuscate personal support or opposition for it. even if you believe in discrimination based on sexual orientation, you can still easily hide behind a shield of stating that microsoft has no place to get involved in such matters and/or will look even weaker if it flip-flops again. while there are zealots who would surely argue with you, most would not try to eviscerate you if that's the concern. the fanatics in either wing are scary though, i'll give you that.

saying you don't support it is giving someone an excuse to dock you on your review for not living up to the company's diversity values. ironically, if you fall into this group, you really shouldn't have an issue with such discrimination, since you don't oppose discrimination as a rule.

lastly, if someone "needs" to start a petition (probably that specifically talks about MS' support as opposed to the subject matter of the bill), assuming you are indeed a fellow employee, no one is stopping you.

Anonymous said...

"And, a simple question, were GLEAM consulted at any stage in the process to reach the decision to switch"

Unless they've renamed the shareholder elected board of directors to GLEAM, why should we be crying foul that this particular organization was not "consulted"?

I know I wasn't consulted. I'm guessing that the NAACP and NOW didn't get a call from Steve either. And I'm almost positive the reps for disabled, Jewish and Muslim communities didn't get IMs from Bill.

Yet, none of these groups are complaining. I think the only one in that fine group of individuals that is complain is the first one - me.

But why aren't these other groups shouting from the roof tops? Why? Because they get it.

While Microsoft didn't come out for the legislation, they also didn't come out against it. They took a pass.

A company with a history of leadership in diversity took a pass because they wanted to focus on their core business.

How dare they? They dare because it's their responsibility to do that. It's what they are paid for. They are elected members of a board of directors, answerable solely to two groups - the stockholders and government regulators - with a core mission to steward the business not social policy.

The vocal opposition should really step back, take a deep breath and listen to some of the comments being made. Indignant bloggers crying foul because GLEAM was not "consulted"? C'mon. Do you hear what you're saying?

Statements like this - of which there have been many during the "discussion" - portray GLEAM as some sort of homosexual Godfather from which Bill or Steve must consult to make decisions on how to run the business.

I do recall this being a discussion about a bill for anti-discrimination, yet you set yourself and your opinion higher than that of the board of directors, your co-workers, the shareholders or for that matter anyone who disagrees with you.

To the non-partisan, you come across worse than the clergyman the vocal minority are decrying.

Disagree with his politics if you like, but the man stepped up. He was in the loop on the issue, he organized, he asked for the meeting, and he said his peace. He went to the media, and he made sure the company knew his point of view. Like him or not, he was involved and put himself out there *before* there was a vote.

In theory, this guy works for the Almighty and he didn't expect Bill or Steve to "consult" him, ask for his permission and kiss his ring. I don't know that I agree with him, but I respect him.

I'm not sure I say that I can say the same for GLEAM, or atleast the people who appear to be their most vocal supporters. And it has nothing to do with the membership being gay, lesbian bisexual, or transgender. It has to do with the attitude.

It has to do with the downright nasty *discriminatory* attacks that came out against people who had an opposing view. Don't agree with me? You're a religious nut! You're obviously a gay hating Republican!

You create an environment and a level of noise that makes opposition to you by the average person uncomfortable. You've become what you're supposedly against. You've become the bully.

Shame on you.

With all the fervor and emotion and bullying that's been going on, noone has asked the more important question.

Why has everyone rallied against Microsoft on this issue and not against the folks who actually voted on it? Unless I'm mistaken, the legislators are in the business of public policy. That's what we pay them for. If they're not representing your point of view - get in before the polls close and send them packing.

But no, that's not what folks upset with the vote do, do they? Instead they blame a corporation. Not just any corporation, but a corporation that blazed new trails in diversity and against discrimination. And for those keeping score, their mission - unlike the legislators - is not social policy and don't actually get to vote on this or other bills.

So the way a logical person would interpret this would be - Let's get mad at the good guys, but let the guys that voted against us off the hook. What kind of Bizarro world have I woken up in here?

Let me provide everyone with some reasonable courses of action.

If you have a problem with the legislation, take your issue to the capitol not to Redmond.

You have a problem with the way the company is run? If you own stock, great; if you don't, buy some. Rally some stockholders and make change. Put up or shut up.
If yours is a strong and supported voice, you'll make it happen.

Do it the democratic way. Educate people on what your stand is and why it's important. While you may not win a shareholder vote, you'll win my respect.

And as someone who loves the company and is trying to be - as the name implies - a voice of reason, I'll also offer you some advice.

Why don't you let more folks know about what it is that GLEAM does , what they stand for, how they're funded and what they're doing.

You could be a fine, upstanding organization. But I couldn't tell you one way or another. I've never been included, invited to a meeting, never received an email, seen a poster, heck I don't even know what the acronym breaks down to.

Most individuals who 'side with you' right now, do so either because of a pre-existing hate to which this applies (religion/republicans/microsoft/'the man') or our of fear of having attack dogs sic'd on them. While I don't know much about the organization, I don't think stoking the fire of hate and discrimination or bullying people into submission are part of the groups mission statement.

Going back to Poli Sci 101, how can anyone support you if they don't know where you stand. And if you only come out after the vote has been cast, how can you complain about the result?

If you really want to gain ground, an argument, or the hearts and minds of your opponents, focus on what brings people together - not what pulls people apart.

And when you rally your troops and are ready to make change, this next time make sure to take them to the right battleground (heres a hint: if you go to the right place, they're not wearing jeans)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm sure "Voice of Reason" [sic] enjoyed his/her last rant. It's clear that he/she doesn't know who GLEAM are. I suggest a little research is in order.
Oh, and "consult" is what good leaders do. They listen, and then they lead.

Anonymous said...

Who GLEAM is was completely irrelevent to VoR's post. The basic point that you seemed to have missed is that it is not MSFT's (nor its management's) responsibility to make sure certain legislation passes. Was it a bad move to decide that MSFT shouldn't be getting mixed up in controversial social issues? No. Was it a bad PR move to back out? Yup. Dems da breaks.
Good business leaders make decisions based on what is best for their company and shareholders. They do not seek to manage by consensus nor is it wise to poll every special-interest group on the planet to get their take on an issue. You seem to have confused MSFT with a governmental entity.

Anonymous said...

This e-mail is now going around:

The media has many quotes from Steve, Bill, GLEAM members and those external to Microsoft who are on both sides of the debate. But how much have they looked into those of us who actually agree that Microsoft should have taken a neutral stance from the beginning, regardless of our personal beliefs?

We may not make media headlines, but now we can show our support to management regarding this issue.

Please join me in signing this letter (or feel free to go sign the one saying that MS should support the bill, I have a link to it) by following this link: http://msweb/sites/erboy/Lists/Company%20Values%20for%20EVERYONE/AllItems.aspx

Anonymous said...


As a former Borgie and small-time Microsoft shareholder who did support the bill, did write, and did lobby, here's the big deal:

1. Microsoft supported this bill in its nearly-identical form for many years; dropping that support is a substantial change. SteveB et al now say that they decided to drop off all non-core-essential legislation support some months ago. But they didn't tell anyone until they got badgered by a fundamentalist activist, who they made very happy.

Even assuming Ballmer is telling the truth, that's remarkably stupid. Microsoft now looks weak. Microsoft now appears to be a company you can push around. Even though I'm no longer an employee, I'm still wondering - okay, what are they going to drop next? Fundamentalist activists will, do, and have made demands to do things like drop DP benefits, or stop advertising in queer-positive channels. They now know Microsoft can be bulled - what do they demand now?

If they'd announced this months ago - and announced it in a general way, regarding all non-core-related bills - that would have been one thing. But to "announce" it by quietly letting legislators know, trying to hide it from the public until after the session, and doing so only after meeting a couple of times with a fundamentalist activist in response to threats... well, quite frankly, I don't believe him. And I do wonder what's next.

2. Why would this change any votes? Because as a former Republican, it seems clear to me that the party, particularly in this state, is controlled by the fundamentalists. Remember, this is a party that nominated a gubernatorial candidate who made it a campaign issue to remove children from the households of their gay parents not very long ago, and which today campaigns on adding anti-queer language to the state Constitution. If you're an Eastside Republican, you need some help to stand up against that without severe punishment from your party establishment. (And yes, the party establishment matters. It matters very much.)

Microsoft's endorsement provided a shield to allow Republicans who are not anti-GBLT to support the bill. They could say, "Look, the biggest employer in my district is for it." It provided a shelter from the upper-level party.

Microsoft yanked that away. And if you don't think that matters, look at the difference in the House vote - where Microsoft's support was still assumed, since it had been there for the previous fifteen years - and the vote in the Senate. In the House, with the Microsoft Okay (tm), non-fundamentalist Republicans could vote for the bill. In the Senate, not one could.

Not one. And one was all that was needed.

So yeah, that support was important, not because it would change someone's conscience, but because it would enable them to vote their beliefs. Sure, it shouldn't work that way, and in a better world, isn't wouldn't; people should feel free to vote their conscience and not have to worry about repercussions from their party for not toeing the exact party line. But we live in this place called reality, where stuff like that matters, and matters a lot.

And that's why it mattered, and why people are upset.

Anonymous said...

Wait a second - you are suggesting that MSFT is at fault for not providing a shield for cowards who don't have the integrity to stand up for their beliefs? Sheesh, is there anything MSFT isn't responsible for nowadays? Grow some frikkin' balls.

Anonymous said...

OMGWTFBBQ: political animals take the support of their party into account when taking a vote against the demands of their party leadership. Party leadership which has huge discretionary power in which candidates to fund, and thus help control which candidates are viable in their campaigns. THEY R T3H C0WARDS!!!one!!

Let me know when you feel like dealing with political reality when analysing the results of a political decision.

Anonymous said...

So, again, you are implying MS is responsible for shielding people who live like cowards for the sake of political convenience. I still fail to see where this is a realistic expectation. In the end it still sounds like a bunch of children crying that they didn't get their way and now they are looking for someone else to blame. Good luck with that!

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world, as I previously stated, you're right; people would vote their conscience at all times.

But again, that's not reality. Political considerations are real. Political markets are real. Fundraising is considered. Party backing is important. Politicians caucus for power - that's what a political party is - and they often need shelter if they want to break out of that contract. That's just the the way politics works, and if you don't understand that, you don't understand politics.

I'm sorry if you don't like the reality part. I, too, wish life was a little more like an Ayn Rand novel, with brave heroes who always act according to their ideals. But it's not.

So you can accuse me of being childish all you want, but the facts on the ground are on my side, not yours: party pressure matters. Party leadership dictates have weight. Money talks.

And political shelters - like the endorsement of your district's biggest employer - change votes. We have a pretty clear indication of that in this very series of votes. With Microsoft's assumed endorsement, Republicans in the House felt they could vote for it and survive. Without it... not one did.

While I agree that a better world would be, well, better, the hard facts are that one needs to work with what one actually has, rather than what one might like to have, if one wants to get anywhere. All the LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU in the world won't change that, just like Microsoft will have a hard time convincing people that fundamentalist pressure can't be used to order it around now.

And again, there was a right way to do this, if that's what they really wanted to do. It's not even a complicated way. They didn't take that way; they met with a fundamentalist leader, they tried to hide the decision outside of letting the legislature know, quietly; it came out and they tried to doubletalk their way through it. It made the company look weak.

Were I you, I'd worry about that, too.