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

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.