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2005-04-26

Bill Gates on Corporate Citizenship

The Seattle Times: Business & Technology: Microsoft may rethink position on gay-rights bill.  After the weekend, it is interesting to see how the press and the leaders of Microsoft are responding to the upset over a Seattle alternative paper’s report that Microsoft caved in to pressure from a fundamentalist preacher.  I’ve learned a lot watching the coverage and the remarkable participation of Microsoft employees and management in having a public discussion over it.

Observations:

  • The bill, which failed in the Washington State legislature by a 24–25 vote in the state senate, was not exactly a gay rights bill.  The bill proposed amendment of the state anti-discrimination statutes to add “sexual orientation” to its list of characteristics that qualify for protection against discrimination in the specific ways that the law covers.
  • No existing rights were removed, there is no change to the current status of the laws here, and the public, civil, and constitutional commitment to equal treatment under the law has not changed.  This also seems the closest such legislation has come to passing in the many years it has been offered.  So all eyes can be on the 2006 legislative session now.
  • Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, affirms that its commitment to non-discriminatory treatment of all employees and others the company engages with remains in place and is a serious commitment.
  • The speed with which the discussion moved under the blogodrome was remarkable and inspiring.  There are a number of lessons in tolerance illustrated in the exchanges and in the heartfelt passions that were expressed, such as those of Robert Scoble and also Microsoft researcher Kevin Schofield.  There are a number of lessons around waiting to for facts and also looking to put events in proportion, too.
  • This is a major conversation that extends beyond the specific case of non-discrimination to the general subject of human rights and to the relationship of employees, employers, corporations, governments, and society in how we address social issues.  It is a big piece of our perpetual exploration and refinement of social tolerance and civil participation in democratic societies.
  • A remarkable “Snapcast on Scoble” was created while the blog exchanges were building.  The short conversation, with participants on three continents, provided a generous perspective on this topic along with expressing some concern for possible corporate backlash against employee blogging.  For me, the most important observation made about tolerance for this kind of debate was "Maybe it isn't about we're [Microsoft] for this or against this, we're for the discussion."  I hear a valuable conversation on social issues that transcend boundaries of workplace and civil life.

Well, what about Sir Bill?  Brian Dudley's 2005-04-26 Seattle Times article has this:

Gates said Microsoft was surprised by the sharp reaction after it became known that the company took a neutral position on the perennial measure this year, after actively supporting it in previous years.

"Next time this one comes around, we'll see," he said. "We certainly have a lot of employees who sent us mail. Next time it comes around that'll be a major factor for us to take into consideration."

The response to the stories surprised Microsoft. "Well, we didn't expect that kind of visibility for it," Gates said. "After all, Microsoft's position on a political bill — has that ever caused something to pass or not pass? Is it good, is it bad? I don't know.

"Is my being behind it good? Look at the referendums I've been behind. I've lost gun control — I'm looking really good on that one," he quipped.

Gates said he and Ballmer both support the measure personally but "we won't always pick every issue for the company to have a position on."

Gates also noted Microsoft's generally progressive stance. "We as a company were amongst the first to have domestic-partner benefits, to have anti-discrimination things, and so in this general area we speak very clearly," he said.

Advocacy groups still feel betrayed. The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center demanded the return of an award it gave the company in 2001.

Gates welcomed the feedback.

"It's perfectly fair for us to be scrutinized on anything," he said. "We didn't realize that one would get that level of scrutiny, but there's people who care a lot. They care a lot about the issue."

This was also the weekend that there was a rare public sighting of Gates, at the U2 concert here.  And we learn that U2’s Bono was staying with Gates while in Seattle.

Meanwhile, I have to remind myself that when Scoble expresses his passion about something in emotion-laden content (thinking about whether he works in the right place, feeling exploited for his authority as a connector, and so on), I must remember that the biggest part of it is Scoble simply allowing voice to his emotion and anger.  But he never stops listening and he doesn’t defect from the conversation.  Maybe that’s the foundation of tolerance and respect we can use a lot more of in managing to govern ourselves in the creation of a just society.  Thanks, Robert.


I am working towards dis-intermediation of my blog and having a way to author and manage blog entries entirely on my desktop.  As my first step, I have installed BlogJet on trial.  The first message that BlogJet gives me as a test is a smidgen icky, since I am going to post to a live blog.  (I have a test blog, but I didn't think of it.)  No matter, here it is, and I agree: the tool is extremely cool.  It is wonderful to wander all over the Internet pulling this note together while knowing that I won’t loose my BlogJet window or the work I have done so far:

I have installed an interesting application - BlogJet. It's a cool Windows client for my blog tool (as well as for other tools). Get your copy here: http://blogjet.com

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." -- Pablo Picasso

[dh:2005-04-26T21:38Z I touched this up a little and made the attribution to the quoted article more emphatic.]

 
Comments:
 
A version of the initiative passed in the 2006 session of the Washington State legislature. There is now a move afoot to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal the act. This will take much greater public debate that what got us to this point.
 
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