Mixed feelings about the new Steve Ballmer mail

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/05/06 03:00 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2005/05/06/415187.aspx

Robert Scoble posted about it:

MAJOR NEWS: Microsoft reverses its position on anti-discrimination bill

and then he posted the actual mail Steve sent out (with permission, of course!):


There is good and bad here.

Obviously it is good that they are doing the right thing now. But now it looks like they really have no convictions and can be swayed by random pressures. I sincerely doubt that the religious personalities claims have merit, and I also doubt it was as simple as the black eye they got from a PR standpoint in public discussion on the withdrawl. But now there will be people in all camps who can make credible arguments on either point.

The one item which they COULD have used for the PR spin and had a more genuine feel and in my opinion should have been pushed harder:

After looking at the question from all sides, I’ve concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda. Since our beginning nearly 30 years ago, Microsoft has had a strong business interest in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest and most diverse workforce possible. I’m proud of Microsoft’s commitment to non-discrimination in our internal policies and benefits, but our policies can’t cover the range of housing, education, financial and similar services that our people and their partners and families need. Therefore, it’s appropriate for the company to support legislation that will promote and protect diversity in the workplace.

Accordingly, Microsoft will continue to join other leading companies in supporting federal legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – adding sexual orientation to the existing law that already covers race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability. Given the importance of diversity to our business, it is appropriate for the company to endorse legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on all of these grounds.

This is an opinion that lets the original position (not wanting the corporation to go beyond cooporate interests) be correct, but points out that employees are also impacted by issues such that not supporting such legislation means that they are in effect not supporting those employees who the policies are designed to support. If they had pushed the idea that the original view was heartfelt but very shortsighted and that in the end they were basically wrong, I think they might have been able to look much better now.

Alas, I think we should all take what we can get. We may not always like the motivations behind the message or the forces that drive it; as long as the core message itself is correct, then at least the end result will be much more fair. :-)

And using my personal barometer (i.e. how would I feel if it applied to the handicapped and directly impacted me) I would feel I was somewhat assaulted by the process but at least compensated in the end. Which is assuredly better than nothing would have been!

# Tom on 6 May 2005 3:48 PM:

I think the reversal is great, and shows that Microsoft is smart enough to read and react to the reaction of its customers, employees, and others.

It's hard to always make the right decision in such complex matters, but if someone helps you understand things differently, I don't see any problem with changing a position.

I don't think anyone will perceive MS as being a flip-flopper because of this (unless Steve Ballmer reverses his opinion again). I can't see how this is in any way negative.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 6 May 2005 4:58 PM:

Hey Tom,

I totally agree with you on that point. And a loit of the actual motivations are less sinister than they are being presented after the fact.

But isn't the whole point of a huge PR engine to do a better job at that? It seems like they keep missing out on getting the message communicated here, on top of the weird decision makling procss and lousy timing....

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