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Microsoft Government Politics

Microsoft Reverses Stand on Discrimination Bill 374

Posted by Zonk
from the listening-to-their-constituents dept.
sriram_2001 writes "Bowing to intense pressure both from outside as well as its employees, Microsoft has reversed its stand on the anti-discrimination bill. In a company wide email, Steve Ballmer says that though the Washington legislative session is over for the year, they'll support any such legislation in the future. However, he adds that they'll be supporting it in the US only as they don't want to involve the company in debates in countries with different cultures and value systems. He also says that he doesn't think Microsoft should be involved in most public policy issues." Announcement about the email's release on the Scobleizer main site.
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Microsoft Reverses Stand on Discrimination Bill

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:15PM (#12454288)


    Here's the full text of the email (with the spacing errors corrected).


    Microsoft's principles for public policy engagement


    During the past two weeks I've heard from many of you with a wide range of views on the recent anti-discrimination bill in Washington State, and the larger issue of what is the appropriate role of a public corporation in public policy discussions. This input has reminded me again of what makes our company unique and why I care about it so much.

    One point really stood out in all the emails you sent me. Regardless of where people came down on the issues, everyone expressed strong support for the company's commitment to diversity. To me, that's so critical. Our success depends on having a workforce that is as diverse as our customers - and on working together in a way that taps all of that diversity.

    I don't want to rehash the events that resulted in Microsoft taking a neutral position on the anti-discrimination bill in Washington State. There was a lot of confusion and miscommunication, and we are taking steps to improve our processes going forward.

    To me, this situation underscores the importance of having clearly-defined principles on which we base our actions. It all boils down to trust. Even when people disagree with something that we do, they need to have confidence that we based our action on thoughtful principles, because that is how we run our business.

    I said in my April 22 email that we were wrestling with the question of how and when the company should engage on issues that go beyond the software industry. After thinking about this for the past two weeks, I want to share my decision with you and lay out the principles that will guide us going forward.

    First and foremost, we will continue to focus our public policy activities on issues that most directly affect our business, such as Internet safety, intellectual property rights, free trade, digital inclusion and a healthy business climate.

    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. Obviously, the Washington State legislative session has concluded for this year, but if legislation similar to HB 1515 is introduced in future sessions, we will support it.

    I also want to be clear about some limits to this approach. Many other countries have different political traditions for public advocacy by corporations, and I'm not prepared to involve the company in debates outside the US in such circumstances. And, based on the principles I've just outlined, the company should not and will not take a position on most other public policy issues, either in the US or internationally.

    I respect that there will be different viewpoints. But as CEO, I am doing what I believe is right for our company as a whole.

    This situation has also made me stop and think about h

    • Woo, thanks. All of the people saying that MS got scared into submission were clearly fools now. MS didn't support the bill for their stated reason -- they didn't feel like spending legal money on public policy. But since it's clearly important to people, they're going back and supporting it. I don't believe MS is evil, any more. They were once upon a time, but I think that something's fundamentally changed over there. Even that psycho Ballmer is, I think, starting to see the light of sanity.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      karma karma karma karma chamele-whore, you come and go, you come and go...
    • I thought the spacing issue was an anti-firefox feature ;-)

      ie. It look perfect on IE

      e-i-e-i-o
    • Did anybody see that preacher on TV talking about how he kicked Microsoft's ass? That was hilarious. I swear Fox News is the funniest thing on TV. They gave this guy all kinds of time to crow about how he and god combined were stronger then the richest man on the planet.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:15PM (#12454289) Homepage Journal
    He also says that he doesn't think Microsoft should be involved in most public policy issues."

    Only those which involve guaranteeing a continual source of piles of money large enough to roll around naked in.

    i wonder where they stand on evolution/creation regarding monkey-man Ballmer [jokaroo.com]...

  • by JahToasted (517101) <[toastafari] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:16PM (#12454295) Homepage
    And google is evil now? It's like bizaro slashdot.
    • by SetupWeasel (54062) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:23PM (#12454418) Homepage
      Nope, they are just less evil.

      No one is all evil, not even John Travolta.
      • Even Paris Hilton ?.
      • by Tibor the Hun (143056) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:38PM (#12454647)
        John Travolta is likeable, and is the only white man who learned to dance.

        How about Tom Cruise? Isn't he all evil?
        Examples:
        -dances in underwear
        -even at 40 still looks as cute as he was at 20
        -dumped Kidman
        -shagged Cruse
        -about to shag Holmes

        I'm sorry it's offtopic, but I think the question does have some merrits for discussion. (Even Tripmaster Monkey would agree to that!)
    • You want bizarre? Wait 'til the fundamentalists who pressured Microsoft decide to publicly endorse OSS as retaliation.

      As Jascha Heifetz said, "No matter what side of an argument you're on, you always find some people on your side that wish you were on the other side."
      • Hey, I'm a fundamentalist (according to the popular definition at least) and I strongly support OSS. (Not because of this issue either, mostly because I just disapprove of Microsoft's business practices and because I genuinely like open source products.)

        For every combination of opinions you can think of, there's probably someone who holds it. Even the bizarre ones --- I've heard of atheistic Episcopal priests before. How that one works I've no idea.

    • Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! Bizarro! ... um, yeah. Guess you had to see that horrible Sealab.
  • by Saige (53303) <evil...angela@@@gmail...com> on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:17PM (#12454312) Journal
    In case anyone wants full confirmation, the email is also located on Microsoft's web site [microsoft.com].

    It's a good day for some of us Microsofties that were really upset at what happened.
  • by ewhac (5844) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:19PM (#12454341) Homepage Journal

    He also says that he doesn't think Microsoft should be involved in most public policy issues.

    "...Unless the public policy in question is copyright or anti-trust law. Then we're all over it."

    Schwab

    • Uh, that is exactly what he says. It's not "convenience" it's "good for their shareholders":
      First and foremost, we will continue to focus our public policy activities on issues that most directly affect our business, such as Internet safety, intellectual property rights, free trade, digital inclusion and a healthy business climate.
      You might disagree with them, but there was nothing unclear about their position.
  • Uh... y'know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:19PM (#12454342)
    I'm bisexual, and I hate Microsoft.

    But... frankly I just can't get myself to care about this particular issue. At all. We don't exactly *need* Microsoft's support. As long as they're not actually holding a stance *against* the discrimination bill, and they are using nondiscriminatory hiring practices themselves, I think that's just fine. Those that are not against us are for us (in this case more than many others). Honestly my response when Microsoft dropped their support of the bill was "well, it was awfully nice of them to support it up until the point where they stopped". Now, well, I'm not expecting Microsoft to take any action one way or the other on this bill, but it's nice of them that they will anyway.

    There's plenty of companies who aren't taking a stand on this discrimination bill without anyone noticing; there's plenty of reasons to dislike Microsoft and their business practices without having to drag in minutiae of the actions of their lobbyists. Let it go.
    • Re:Uh... y'know (Score:3, Insightful)

      by flyingsquid (813711)
      I'm bisexual, and I hate Microsoft.

      Makes me wonder- which would be easier to admit on this forum: loving someone of the same sex, or loving Microsoft?

    • I like your comment. It's to the point, which I believe is the same as mine:

      Companies, businesses etc. should not be involved in any political arena unless it's directly or indirectly involving of their business products, laws regarding their products (IP, etc.) and such.

      Businesses that get involved in moral/controvercial issues with the general public, whether local or nationwide, in my opinion, is just wrong and innappropriate.

      =) Businesses are in the market to make money, build products and support th
      • Companies, businesses etc. should not be involved in any political arena unless it's directly or indirectly involving of their business products, laws regarding their products (IP, etc.) and such.

        This issue can be argued to affect Microsoft's bottom line in a number of ways. The most important one is that when people are discriminated against for reasons which have nothing to do with how well they can do their job, it prevents them from getting experience in their chosen technical field. This applies to
    • Re:Uh... y'know (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mdielmann (514750) on Friday May 06, 2005 @03:26PM (#12455392) Homepage Journal
      Moreover, it's not exactly like their support is wholehearted. "We supported the bill until some people complained, then we stopped. And we support it now because even more people complained when we stopped supporting it. And damned if we're going to get in this mess anywhere else" So, no matter where you stand on this issue, MS is just trying to please the most vocal group. Kudos to those who swayed MS, you've done well at your task. But increase my respect for MS? Not likely.
      • I'm sorry, but you obviously have no clue about MS and it's hiring policies. It is already against corporate policy to discriminate against people because of sexual orientation. MS was one of the first large companies to adopts such a policy. Yes, the support for the bill is to appease those very loud liberals who believe that corporations should be meddling in public policy. I actually gained more respect when MS stood up and said, "it's not our place, but we're still standing behind our hiring policys re
    • I'm bisexual, and I hate Microsoft.

      If you're a chick, I really want to meet you.

      LK
    • Re:Uh... y'know (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gmcgath (829636)
      Supporting the bill has no effect on Microsoft's hiring policies; they can (and perhaps do) comply with it without its being passed. By supporting the bill, they're saying that they want to compel other companies to act in a particular way. In other words, Microsoft wants to dominate them through legislation.

      Funny how such activity is considered evil -- until it's for a popular cause.
    • "There's plenty of companies who aren't taking a stand on this discrimination bill without anyone noticing; there's plenty of reasons to dislike Microsoft and their business practices without having to drag in minutiae of the actions of their lobbyists. Let it go."

      There is a difference between not getting involved in the first place and supporting something and then pulling out when the big black preacher declares war on your ass.
  • by hyfe (641811) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:22PM (#12454389)
    that sounds like a reasonable stance..

    .. although I must admit I find the notion of allowing discrimination in the first place abhorrent, and it goes to show how different the different meanings of 'freedom' are

    Freedom to oppress, or freedom from oppression?

    • Everyone is equal. It's just that some are more equal than others.
  • by forsythe450 (571527) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:22PM (#12454391)
    if (num_windows_users(gay_activists) > num_windows_users(christian_right)) {

    retract_statement = true;

    }

  • "He also says that he doesn't think Microsoft should be involved in most public policy issues"

    Microsoft (or any other corporation) shouldn't be involved in ANY public policy issues, that's what elected representatives are for.
    • In principal the above comment is accurate and should be modded up.
      • In practice, though, corporations' stances on social issues are of importance to consumers. Disney's theme parks are being actively boycotted over partner benefits. Proctor and Gamble's products are being boycotted over perceived animal testing policies. Apple Computers efforts in the area of computer education in public school are worthy.

        Saying that no coproration should have any influence or opinion on any matters of public policy is just ludicrous.
  • wtf, can anybody explain. Is this considered 'normal' in the US?
    • It's not usually the policy of a company, but now they've gone and gotten involved, so it's too late, they can't withdraw support without looking like they support the other side, because people are dumb as rocks.

      -Jesse
    • wtf, can anybody explain. Is this considered 'normal' in the US?

      In the US, a company that takes a political position risks a boycott that will continue on for years and years.

      Such a decision would use a company to further the political ends of the corporate leadership at the expense of squandering the investment of the shareholders.

      Therefore it is considered unethical for a publicly traded company to make political statements unless there is a clear benefit to the company.

      In this case, Microsoft has a
  • by DaveM753 (844913) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:24PM (#12454425) Homepage
    The State's legislative session is over for the year. Now that it no longer makes a difference, Microsoft switches back the high road as a P.R. move. Terrific. And all the press will praise Microsoft for their generosity, and the sheeple will love them again.

    Blah.
  • by SuperBigGulp (177180) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:25PM (#12454448)
    He also says that he doesn't think Microsoft should be involved in most public policy issues.

    Sorry Steve, but social responsibility is part of running a business. This is especially true for monopolies. Also interesting that they are willing to stake out the moral ground when it comes to intellectual property and freedom to innovate, but lack courage/conviction when it comes to other issues.

    • Corporations are good at one thing: providing goods and services in exchange for money as profitably as they can. They should be held responsible to operate according to the law - ie not to screw people over, but trying to make them responsible for any thing else is foolish and doomed to fail. I don't want the corporations to be responsible for creating/lobbing for labor laws as you suggest - they have a vested interest that may very likely not be in the interest of the workers.

      The same goes for about ever
  • So, if you have a country where "the different value system" endorses stuff like cutting off a girl's clitoris and sewing her vagina shut to ensure her virginity at marriage, Microsoft won't have a problem with that, because, well, it's a "different value system" and Microsoft doesn't want to get involved, and it might cost them some money.

    China has a "different value system" that endorses the use of slave labor and politcal gulags. For that matter, Buchenwald was the result of a "different value system".
  • by Little Pink Bunny (881651) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:27PM (#12454482)
    It was good when they originally supported the legislation. Although I disliked it for various reasons, I congratulated them for taking a seemingly well defended stance on a human interest issue.

    It was also OK when they changed their minds. Reassessing your position and deciding that a given battle isn't your place is commendable, and I could appreciate that.

    Now, though, they just plain suck. "Really, folks, even though it's too late to get this one bill passed, we'll sure lobby for the next one that comes along! Unless we don't! But never mind that; for now we can say that you have our full support without facing any of the consequences of doing so!"

    What a horridly cynical, insulting position to take. Were I gay, I think I'd be far more furious at this latest flip-flop than at their earlier decision not to support it. At worst, that move just looked cowardly. This one appears flat-out manipulative.

  • by Vainglorious Coward (267452) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:28PM (#12454496) Journal

    [Ballmer] adds that they'll be supporting it in the US only as they don't want to involve the company in debates in countries with different cultures and value systems.

    What about countries whose culture and value systems don't give any consideration to "intellectual" "property"? Will MS refrain from involvement in that debate too?

  • Should the article be entitled:

    Microsoft is reverseing the reversal of their pro-gay rights policy.

  • Offtopic but

    I am wondering who typed this up, I mean how many words can you type together without noticing any typos?
  • They supported it.

    Then we got an article about how they reversed their stand and were ... they weren't OPPOSING it, but they were no longer supporting it.

    Now they've reversed again.

    Who cares? I thought the goal was to divorce corporate sponsorship from legislation? Or do we only want that when we find the legislation in question to be deplorable.

  • by DavyByrne (30170) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:37PM (#12454629) Homepage

    One point really stood out in all the e-mails you sent me. Regardless of where people came down on the issues, everyone expressed strong support for the company's commitment to diversity. To me, that's so critical. Our success depends on having a workforce that is as diverse as our customers - and on working together in a way that taps all of that diversity.

    How does sexual-orientational diversity help a software company to produce better software? How exactly does Microsoft's success depend on such diversity? If any sort of diversity is relevant, wouldn't it be techincal diversity, or diversity of technical experience among its developers?

    I mean this as a serious inquiry. For many years people have fought long and hard to show that someone should not be discriminated against because of his sexual orientation (or race, or other criteria irrelevant to a particular job). The country has made great strides against such discrimination. It seems that many of the same people who fought against discrimination are now saying that such criteria are not only relevant but are actually important to a company's success.

    I don't get it. Someone please explain.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:48PM (#12454783) Homepage Journal
      The short version is, if you discriminate against members of group X, you cut yourself off from the contributions which potentially valuable members of group X can make. It doesn't matter, particularly, what group X is -- if you discriminate against blacks, or Jews, or homosexuals, or any other large identifiable group of people, you can be damn sure that there are at least some people in that group who would otherwise be happy to work for you and would do a very, very good job. You're limiting the talent pool.

      At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, I invite you to consider how differently WW2 might have turned out if Germany hadn't forced all of its Jewish scientists into exile (those who were perceptive enough to see which way the wind was blowing and get out while they still could, I mean.) An awful lot of them ended up working for the US government on a little project in New Mexico.
      • The short version is, if you discriminate against members of group X, you cut yourself off from the contributions which potentially valuable members of group X can make.

        Well, right; that much is fairly self-evident. I think what he's asking, though, is what the advantage is to creating an artificially diverse workplace.

        For example, I live in an overwhelmingly (greater than 98%) white city. Would there be any reason my boss should go out of his way to find and hire an unrepresentatively diverse workfo

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Well, right; that much is fairly self-evident. I think what he's asking, though, is what the advantage is to creating an artificially diverse workplace.

          For example, I live in an overwhelmingly (greater than 98%) white city. Would there be any reason my boss should go out of his way to find and hire an unrepresentatively diverse workforce?


          No, that's not what anyone is trying to say. It would be nice, though, if the right person for the job does turn out to be a little off-kilter, if we as a society hadn'
      • At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, I invite you to consider how differently WW2 might have turned out if Germany hadn't forced all of its Jewish scientists into exile (those who were perceptive enough to see which way the wind was blowing and get out while they still could, I mean.) An awful lot of them ended up working for the US government on a little project in New Mexico.

        Or consider the benefits to computer science if the UK hadn't prosecuted Alan Turing for his homosexuality, with the result that h

    • You're exactly right--sexual orientation shouldn't be an issue at all. The problem is that some in our society are bent on denying benefits to same-sex couples that "traditional" couples already enjoy, and this has the effect of discouraging talented (and, yes, technically diverse!) people from working where they're needed. That's why it's an issue.
    • How does sexual-orientational diversity help a software company to produce better software?

      Gee, I don't know. Do you think maybe we'd have seen some more interesting work from Alan Turing [wikipedia.org] if he hadn't been driven to suicide by a homophobic government?

      A healthy society cannot afford to waste its intellectual resources in this manner. Turing's case is a good example of how discrimination harms everybody, even those of us who aren't members of the targeted community or subculture.
  • by ianscot (591483) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:38PM (#12454656)
    He also says that he doesn't think Microsoft should be involved in most public policy issues.

    When did our enormous corporations decide they shouldn't be the only voice at the table in our government? I must've missed the memo. (Maybe that one got sent during the formulation of our energy policy, so Cheney thought it was a protected secret of the Executive Branch? Oops, that memo can't have come from those meetings...)

  • by gatkinso (15975) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:40PM (#12454671)
    ...should turn off any gay man (or straight woman for that matter).
  • by fsck! (98098) <jacob.elder@nospAm.gmail.com> on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:48PM (#12454781) Homepage
    Take a look at their political donatations:

    http://buyblue.org/detail.php?corpId=143 [buyblue.org]

    They give a lot, to both parties, but mostly to the Republicans.

    And anyway, aren't the bigots exactly the people you WANT to discriminate against? From what I've heard, it's a hell of a lot easier to stop being an asshole than to stop being gay.

    On the other hand, I'm not gay but I am an asshole. Haven't been able to stop yet.
  • And, based on the principles I've just outlined, the company should not and will not take a position on most other public policy issues, either in the US or internationally.

    So... uh... I gotta ask Steve, why such a big interest in *this* issue? Just cause it's a feel-good policy to support?

    If anything, people should be judged on merit alone, not skin color, not race, not religion. I'd expect a Christian like myself to work on Sunday (10 commandments are Jewish law, in case you forgot) if I needed them to
  • What always makes me laugh is the ignorance of the general population when it comes to politics. Let's look at the most logical set of events that occurred.

    More than likely Microsoft supported the initial bill because it fit within their social agenda and contained provisions that Microsoft either found beneficial for business or found to be "the right thing." In the process of going through the legislature, the bill changed. Perhaps addditional clauses were appended to it, removed from it, or the docu

  • Other Issues

    Now that we have that gay issue out of the way I know there are some other public statements we have made recently that need our attention is this crazy new blog world we live in. With more than half the company now spending their days taking pot-shots at their employer (me) either openly or anonymously there is almost no "right" way for us to come down on any issue. Take for example Bill's recently statements on immigration, public education and so on. We are setting Bill up with his ow
  • they'll be supporting it in the US only as they don't want to involve the company in debates in countries with different cultures and value systems.

    If it's the right thing, then its the right thing everywhere at every time. If it's not the right thing everywhere, then it's never the right thing. This is a single planet we all are standing on, and we're all one people.

    (Note to Senate Republicans: Read the above and realize that, if Judicial Filibusters are wrong, then they're always wrong and you sho

  • It's about time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Electric Eye (5518) on Friday May 06, 2005 @04:06PM (#12456070)
    Reading about this radical conservative preacher putting pressure on M$ was making me sick. In fact, I'm sick of ALL these religious nut jobs in our country trying to steamroll their fucking agenda everywhere we look. Last time I checked, we weren't living in a theocracy.
    Gates and Co. should have told this idiot to take his Bible and shove it up is arse. If religious zealots don't like gay people, then don't engage in homosexual activities and leave everyone else alone.
  • In the last story I had made a crack about the good M$ news not being newsworthy, but here it is.

    Congrats to Microsoft! Fighting for equal rights is always cool by me.

    I'm also liking the discussion of whether this is the proper role of companies. I argue that it is, but that such a bill being passed is actually *counter* to Microsoft's (or any other company that does *not* discriminate) best interests.

    If I run Software company X, and I don't want to hire gay people, I'm artificially limiting my supply

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