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Steve Ballmer's email: Microsoft's principles for public policy engagement

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    This was sent at 9:01 a.m. on Friday, 5/6/2005. I have permission to put it into public view.


    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 how well we are living our values. I’m deeply encouraged by how many employees have sent me passionate emails about the broad respect for diversity they experience every day at Microsoft. I also heard from some employees who underscored the importance of feeling that their personal values or religious beliefs are respected by others. I’m adamant that we must do an even better job of pursuing diversity and mutual respect within Microsoft. I expect everyone at this company – particularly managers – to take a hard look at their personal commitment to diversity, and redouble that commitment.

    The questions raised by these issues are important. At the same time, we have a lot of other important work to do. Over the next 18 months we’ll release a broader, more advanced and more exciting set of products than at any time in the company’s history. Let’s all recommit to the job ahead, using our diversity as a strength to work together creatively and with respect for each other.



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    Andre Da Costa

    Wow, what a read! Anyway, its good to see that everyone has reached resolution. The point remains, it should not have been a problem in the first place. You don't go to Microsoft to develop sex, you work there to develop software and get LONGHORN finished!

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       if an organization can reach above their personal differences,such as cultural,religious or political differences,every one in this kinda organization will be pretty much proud of being a part of it.
       that's just the biggest problem for most Chinese companies.

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    Excellent news.  Microsoft has always taken a progressive stance on these matters, and it's very encouraging to see a CEO who's big enough to reverse his position and admit mistakes.

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    Corporations are undoubtably influential in capitalist societies, more so a corporation the size of Microsoft.

    I'm glad that Microsoft will take a stand with what it believes is right, especially when it doesn't direcly translate into more profits. I only hope more corporations do this, rather than only serve themselves.

    Some might argue that Microsoft is only doing this to <Crap> cater to the liberal homosexual agenda in an attempt to get more sales </Crap>, but I'm glad Steve and company (literally) are so appreciative of diversity.

    Can't wait to hear what Rush Slimeball has to say about this..

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    Andre Da Costa wrote:
    Wow, what a read! Anyway, its good to see that everyone has reached resolution. The point remains, it should not have been a problem in the first place. You don't go to Microsoft to develop sex, you work there to develop software and get LONGHORN finished!


    Microsoft is not a faceless entity. It's made up of people. Contrary to what popular management theory of 1955 states, you don't cease to be a human when you walk into your office.

    This HAD to be done before the leadership vacuum that Ballmer initially created caused critical problems on the Longhorn team.

    In the long run, that email has helped productivity more than you know.

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    Stitch 2.0

    coccyx wrote:
    Excellent news.  Microsoft has always taken a progressive stance on these matters, and it's very encouraging to see a CEO who's big enough to reverse his position and admit mistakes.

    I can only second this. It shows great leadership that Steve is able to admit the mistakes that were made on his behalf. Although I gotta say, I find it kind of sad, they changed their view after this bill has gone through. Sad

    But hopefully we'll see MS act differently in the future.

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    I’ll bet that Microsoft has the most diverse work force of any major corporation on the planet.

    I read the original story in Seattle and it was just gossip and got-Ya, but became the source for a page 1 story in the New York Times.

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    /me does the happy dance

    This is a good thing.

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    Congratulations to!

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    Yeah, wow, great. They changed their  mind AFTER the vote. Too bad they aren't as ballsey as Boeing, WaMu and others.

    We'll see what happens next year.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they changed their mind. But for this year it's too little, too late.

    Eagle wrote:

    I’ll bet that Microsoft has the most diverse work force of any major corporation on the planet.

    Hmmmm, I don't know about that. A lot of white folk and some asians (Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc...) whenever I'm out there. But it does represent the population of this area pretty well. What is a diverse workforce anyway?

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    Good to see the ability to look back and realized that you might have made a mistake and then make changes going forward.

    Of course, it still is not going to get the MSN Direct site fixed (telling me to drop the account, get a [possible] refund, and setup a new and different PASSPORT/email account, reset the watch over and over and over again for 3 to 5 minutes and sign up and pay again is not a fix!)

    At least the MSN Direct group is full of diversity... the longer I deal with them, diverse it gets.


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    Excellent change of heart. Kudos to Microsoft on this one. Diversity is something that every person on earth should support.

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    Michael Griffiths

    Nice move by Steve Ballmer.

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    Great move.  I'm proud again!

  • User profile image

    I must say, I'm impressed. Nice move Steve.


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    I have to say that the most impressive part of this whole story isn't the memo by Steve Ballmer here - it's basically an cake having/eating memo that appease the outraged Microsoft employees without actually doing anything. The true test of that memo will come the next time Microsoft has a chance to prove itself outside its walls.

    No, the really impressive aspect of this is the employee reaction in Microsoft. Not every workplace allows that sort of freedom - having thousand of employees who feel secure enough to criticize their companies policies - on blogs, internal mailing lists and open letters. Too many people in too many companies would keep quiet - either fearing reprecussions or accepting the quiet herd mentality of "it's just a workplace, it's not my life". Seems like a great workplace atmosphere that allows this sort of talkback and internal criticism.

    I've followed this in some Microsoft blogs (notably Dare Obasanjo and Cyrus Najmabadi. Worth a read.)

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    To tell the truth, I'm not so sure I like Microsoft getting involved in politics... next thing you know it's about the environment and WHAM! you've turned into Apple.

    / 50/50 contributions to both parties

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