Redmond Not Immune From Culture War

There’s a bit of a tempest brewing over at Scoble’s blog. It seems The Scobleizer is upset that his employer, Microsoft, is not backing a controversial state house bill on anti-discrimination. Apparently, there’s a conservative pastor in the middle of the brouhaha, and that is what has Scoble’s ire up. He addresses Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO directly and publicly with his complaint.

Steve: this comes down to leadership. What kind of society do we want to live in? One where religious folks decide the society we live in? Hint: my wife left Iran for a reason. My mom left Germany for a reason. There are bloggers in jail as we speak because religious people are so powerful in their societies. I guess we (Microsoft) have to now pass every decision to our religious leaders to make sure it’s OK with them.
Steve, I’m sad. Very sad. This is leadership? What if we were a company in Germany in the 1930s? Would we have taken the same position you just did? After all, most of the churches back then were on the wrong side too. It took the Catholic church about 60 years, for instance, to issue an apology for their part in the Holocaust.

Scoble also publishes Ballmer’s memo to Microsoft employees on this topic, with permission from PR.

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.

Ballmer goes on to explain that the two employees in question were not fired and that Microsoft “remains strongly committed to its internal policies supporting anti-discrimination and industry-leading benefits for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.”
Having worked at several firms considerably less progressive than Microsoft, I find Ballmer’s take on the issue honorable. The fact that Microsoft is willing to tolerate this type of publicly aired dissent from Scoble strikes me as unusual and inspiring. What I do not understand is why Ballmer would concern himself with a hot-button issue that has nothing to do with Microsoft’s core business, especially at a time when Gates & Co. are sweating Google’s every move.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Art Director With No Job says:

    What I really cannot understand is why Microsoft, who dominates the world with Windows feels that they have to bow to the Christian Right. What are these fools going to switch to linux or Mac? The Christian Right has an even bigger problem with Apple. I cannot remember the exact article from a few years ago, but someone did come out with some crazy comment about Apple being satanic or some other drivel. And the idea that they have any alternative is preposterous. These folks are not firing on all pistons. Microsoft in no way would have lost this battle.

  2. I don’t see it as bowing to the Christian Right, when the CEO of Microsoft comes out strongly in favor of gay rights. No, they did not lobby in favor of the bill, and maybe some consider that a concession. But they don’t need to concern themselves with this. All they need to do is what they’re doing now–living their truth day-to-day.
    p.s. I find it odd that I’m defending Microsoft, a company who makes products I generally do not like, nor use.

  3. Art Director With No Job says:

    I would say that I do consider it bowing to the Christian Right. Microsoft had been a big supporter of the bill and is known as a “gay friendly” employer, even to the point of winning awards from Gay organizations. The grovelling came after the a threatened boycott. The neutrality was the compromise. This point is well documented, but hotly disputed.
    I do agree with you that they don’t have a mandate to be involved with social issues, but a good corporate citizen is one that looks out for the good of all.