The Line in the Sand

Lots of buzz around town about Microsoft being put under the microscope for not supporting a state bill that would have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer stated in a memo to employees that it was the decision of the company to remain neutral in politics while maintaining a discrimination-free work environment.

Normally I’d applaud such as stance as every company has a right to draw their own line in the sand where politics are concerned. In this case, however, I am not applauding, I’m walking out completely. Microsoft has made it known that they have been strong supporters of diversity initiatives in the past, drawing their line and yet they’ve backed away from this one. It could very well be for the reasons that Steve Ballmer gives, however the timing stinks. His announcement comes conveniently after a meeting with a religious leader who claims that he threatened Microsoft with a national boycott. This article in The Stranger tells the whole story.

I’m curious as to why would Microsoft even take a meeting with a religious leader who has made more than his share of disparaging comments towards the gay community. It really doesn’t look good. If they wanted to remain neutral, they should have taken neutral stance all along. A company as powerful as Microsoft can’t play it both ways. There’s no way for them to slip under the radar.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft has excellent diversity programs, excellent policies and excellent recruiting processes. Their internal structure is probably ideal given their resources, but removing themselves from this vote really set them back in many of their employees’ eyes. In fact, one employee, Robert Scoble, made his opinion known (after gaining permission from Microsoft’s PR department) on his blog. One has to admit that this was a very bold move on his part, but he did get permission.

Companies really need to be careful when drawing that political line because moving the line back doesn’t work. Just ask Microsoft.