Saturday, April 30, 2005

Diversity right now, Dammit!

I was reading this story: Microsoft gay workers call for action

In it, gay and lesbian workers are apparently incensed by Microsoft's neutral stance concerning Washington State Legislature's HB1515, a workplace anti discrimination bill.

The ruckus started when Microsoft declined to actively endorse the bill. At first it was reported in The Stranger that MS had done so in a peer pressure defeat from a local Evangelical Church run by Ken Hutcherson, a nationally known opponent of gay rights.

What made it kind of tricky was that two MS employees had testified in Olympia about the bill:

"....Two gay Microsoft employees, Jean McCarthy, a business development manager, and Gregory S. McCurdy, a senior attorney, testified in the house State Government Operations and Accountability committee in favor of the bill. Asked if they were making their statements as official representatives of the company, McCurdy informed the committee that they were appearing in a personal capacity, but added that "the company has taken a position in support of the bill."
They apparently overstepped their understanding slightly.

Microsoft's gay and lesbian employee group (GLEAM) is now demanding Microsoft support the anti-discrimination legislation. GLEAM called on Ballmer to act before the next year's legislative session, and laid out a series of steps for the company "to achieve the goals that you have outlined in the past".

They said:

"Our company values are clearly documented and our internal policies against discrimination are unquestioned. Because of our long-standing support for anti-discrimination legislation, the withdrawal of support from HB1515 was a shock."

"We are deeply concerned about the way the decision was made, the failure to anticipate its impact, and our inability to quickly repair the damage once it had become evident. This shook our trust in executive management, and has left us feeling abandoned, depressed, and embarrassed for Microsoft."
The article also said:

"Ballmer was asked to affirm Microsoft's support for the legislation, acknowledge this year's neutral stance was a mistake and reaffirm the company's commitment to diversity. The group also asked him to communicate this position to employees, hold a diversity-awareness event for employees and hold mandatory awareness workshops for management on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues."
So they decided that Ballmer must recant, admit the company was in error, support the bill and then institute additional programs within the company.

I don't see why, when the company already offers then equal treatment. Why should they suddenly get the star treatment over all other minority groups simply because Microsoft does not support their pet legislation.

The company already offers protection for "gender identity and expression", what programs are needed? Why target the managers when that was not even an issue?

Microsoft already assaults its employees with a year round calendar of diversity awareness and celebration events. Not a day goes by you don't see a poster celebrating something.

Ballmer replied to the contraversy in an email to all employees:
(note that I found it on the web, I didn't leak it....)

There have been several news stories that imply that Microsoft changed its position on an anti-discrimination bill, HB 1515, because of pressure from a conservative religious group. I want to make it clear that that is not the case.

When our government affairs team put together its list of its legislative priorities in Olympia before the Legislative Session began in January, we decided to focus on a limited number of issues that are more directly related to our business such as computer privacy, education, and competitiveness. The anti-discrimination bill was not on this list and as a result Microsoft was not actively supporting the bill in the Legislature this year, although last year we did provide a letter of support for similar legislation.

On February 1, two Microsoft employees testified before a House Committee in support of the bill. These employees were speaking as private citizens, not as representatives of the corporate position, but there was considerable confusion about whether they were speaking on behalf of Microsoft.

Following this hearing, a local religious leader named Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who has a number of Microsoft employees in his congregation, approached the company, seeking clarification of whether the two employees were representing Microsoft's official position. He also sought a variety of other things, such as firing of the two employees and a public statement by Microsoft
that the bill was not necessary.

After careful review, Brad Smith informed Rev. Hutcherson that there was no basis for firing the two employees over the misunderstanding over their testimony, but did agree that we should clarify the ambiguity over the employee testimony. Brad also made it clear that while the company was not taking a position on HB 1515, the company remains strongly committed to its internal policies supporting anti-discrimination and industry-leading benefits for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.
I can tell you from experience that Microsoft has always maintained a hard stance on discrimination, and they were one of the first Corporations to extend benefits to same sex domestic partners.

I think Microsoft has proven its support for diversity with its actions already.

GLEAM is just, in my opinion, being greedy and latching on to the controversy to try and forward their cause. They are employing the typical squeaky wheel tactic to win.

For their information, the two people who testified could have been sacked. They violated company policy by making a public and official representation of Microsoft's policy and support without authorization. Had it been any other issue, likely they would have been tossed out the door.

That Microsoft chose not to was a gift. I hope they at least got warned.

Microsoft has the right to determine its own agenda regarding political support, and frankly in my opinion, they less they do, the better I like it. People should influence Government, not Corporations.

GLEAM should be grateful that Microsoft supports diversity so aggressively in its own walls, not demand they take the fight elsewhere for them.

Let them call their representatives, like everyone else.