Six years ago, when Eich donated to an anti-marriage equality initiative, less than 40% of Americans favored marriage for same-sex couples. Today 54% do, including nearly 70% of people ages 18-29. That latter number is particularly important to Mozilla because 1) no group goes online more than millennials, 2) no group supports marriage equality more than millennials, and 3) millennials are a significant portion of current and future employees. The Eich fallout is less about the First Amendment and more about a business not understanding its business…
Mozilla is an activist organization more than a money-making corporation. The Apples and Googles of the world can lure top young talent with money and perks. Mozilla’s recruiting success depends on its ability to sell its mission. Thus the effectiveness of the CEO rests heavily on his or her ability to foster a community, not just make a buck.
And generally speaking, discrimination is a community buzzkill.
At this point, a tech company having a C.E.O. who opposes gay marriage is not all that different from a company in 1973 having a C.E.O. who donated money to fight interracial marriage: even if there were plenty of Americans who felt the same way at the time, the C.E.O. would still have been on the wrong side of history. And since the role of a C.E.O. as a public face of an organization is more important than ever these days, Eich’s personal views were inevitably going to shape his ability to run the company.
That’s especially true because of the unusual nature of Mozilla. Mozilla is not like most companies. It’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, and is just one part of the broader Mozilla community, which includes thousands of open-source software developers and other volunteers around the world. These people still do much of the work behind Mozilla’s products—contributing code, technical support, design improvements, and so on. This means that Mozilla depends on the goodwill of its supporters more than most corporations do; it relies on their willingness to donate their services in pursuit of the broader Mozilla project, which is all about keeping the Web transparent and accessible. If it alienates them, Mozilla’s entire mission will be at risk…
The real mystery here, then, is not why Eich stepped down but why he ever got hired in the first place.
At Mozilla, the leadership’s main job isn’t to set a strategy that makes the firm a lot of money. The chief executive’s primary purpose is to hold a community together, and then to motivate it to do great things in the absence of a lot of money — all while competing for talent with firms like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, which shower workers with dollars and perks. Mozilla offers no stock options, no lavish perks, no hope of a billion-dollar acquisition. Instead, it offers its prospective employees a single overarching advantage: the chance to work on a mission.
In such an environment, it isn’t out of bounds to consider how a certain leader’s political views might affect employees’ passion for their mission. If the community’s cohesiveness is Mozilla’s primary advantage over its rivals, the fact that Mr. Eich’s views on gay marriage might have posed some danger to that community was almost by definition disqualifying. If his job was to motivate people, and he was instead causing people to question the community’s ethic—well, at the least, you can say he wasn’t doing a good job.
The main accusation against Eich rests on his donation to Prop 8, a California law that prohibited gay marriage, five years ago. The argument goes that this is a reflection of his personal beliefs and this belief system runs contrary to the Foundation’s values of openness and tolerance.
Incidentally, as the Recode story mentions, Brendan Eich is a co-founder of the Mozilla Foundation. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Eich had a hand in establishing the value framework there. Given the absence of demarcation between personal and professional lives, one can argue the openness and collaboration are also reflective of his personal beliefs.
The second problem with this approach are the ramifications of this ethic to workplace diversity. Research after research has shown the benefits of workplace diversity; an organization made up of employees with identical personal and professional beliefs is an organization in stasis. Great ideas are born out of diversity and exchange of opinions, howsoever uncomfortable and complicated they may be.
I would never defend a homophobe—but does “pure hate” homophobia include dedicating oneself to outreach to “marginalized” LGBT developers, as Eich did almost immediately? Does Mozilla further its cause — privacy uber alles and the free flow of information — by making its pioneers into pariahs in social media, while issuing blatantly hypocritical statements which claim to treasure “religious diversity” at Mozilla? (And did anyone flinch when Mark Zuckerberg held GOP fundraisers?) Is what we want ”politically correct web browsing” where the Twittersphere and “socially conscious corporations” determine whose ideas are disseminated? Is this the open internet, or shall the open-source web be verboten to those “on the wrong side of history”?
It is undeniable that public opinion is rapidly shifting toward LGBT equality, marriage included. But it should be equally undeniable that the organization dedicated to the internet as “global public resource” should understand that the “global public” also contains people who—on their own time—espouse, advocate, and sometimes monetarily support foreign, even ugly, views. Brendan Eich, who “kept his views” (which he called irrelevant to his mission) on LGBT marriage “out of Mozilla for 15 years,” should not have his life’s work invalidated by bygone donations.
It’s no surprise that this publicity stunt by OKCupid comes on the heels of Eich being promoted to CEO – apparently they were fine with his actions while he was just the CTO of Mozilla. While it’s a helpful thing to do to highlight homophobia and let the public know the kind of people they’re supporting, let’s not pretend that this was in the public’s best interests; Eich donated in 2008 and it’s been widely known for a long time. They could have dropped this ‘bombshell’ at any time but instead waited for maximum impact…
Building awareness of LGBTQ issues is always great but, so far, all that’s happened from this is that one man lost his job and OKCupid got worldwide attention again. But their publicity came at the price of one man’s personal and political choices. It isn’t right that Brendan Eich lost his job because of his personal beliefs, anymore than I should lose my job because I’m a lesbian.
In addition to being evidence, redundant evidence, that progressives are for diversity in everything but thought, it’s an illustration of a new phenomenon. No one likes sore losers, but now we have sore winners. The gay rights movement is winning, particularly with regard to same-sex marriage, with a speed and breadth that simply takes your breath away. In Oklahoma and Utah and elsewhere. Yet unsatisfied with victory, they want to stamp out and punish people for their previous views.
This is relevant to an issue that is live in this town, that is campaign finance reform. And People who want to reform our finances and increase government control over political speech and spending say, ‘Well, everyone can surely be in favor of full disclosure of campaign contributions.’ This case is an example of why some of us who used to be for full disclosure no longer are. The people advocating full disclosure in campaign contributions say we just want voters to be able to make an informed choice. That’s not what they’re doing at all. They really want to enable themselves to mount punitive campaigns and to tear people and chill political speech.
Both writers seem concerned that Eich’s resignation is a defeat for freedom of expression. If anything, it is a victory – the ouster of a founder and CEO by his own people, at a foundation based on open and equal expression, should be the new textbook example of the system working exactly as it should…
The end of Eich need not be a defeat for free expression, or an open culture. He was absolutely free to make his donation, to have his own beliefs, even to decline to discuss them. Mozilla’s supporters, advocates and, unusually, even its own employees were equally free to express their concerns, support or dismay at the choice. Mozilla was absolutely free to appoint anyone – whether nudist, buddhist, activist, or biblist – as CEO. It still is.
Yes, it’s messy. But that’s freedom for you.
While 59 percent of Americans now support marriage equality, the same percentage opposed it just 10 years ago. In other words, today’s society is no longer a comfortable place for homophobes. And that’s a good thing.
But it won’t—and shouldn’t—necessarily end careers. Take the late Sen. Robert Byrd, who joined the Ku Klux Klan at a time when it had significant political clout across the American South. After years of publicly promoting virulently racist ideologies, Byrd came to see the harm he had caused, eventually noting in his memoir, “It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation.” But he didn’t stop there. In fact, he never stopped apologizing, once saying in 2005: “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.” By acknowledging his past racism so candidly and emphatically, Byrd salvaged not just his career but also his dignity.
None of this means that the LGBTQ community shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions. There is no congratulations owed for sharing past homophobia. We’ve come to expect the scripted apology after a famous athlete or celebrity lets slip a gay slur. So how do we measure actual sincerity in the aftermath of such an occurrence? By making room for reconciliation. The same patience and understanding that LGBTQ individuals have shown to homophobic family members, friends, congregations, and co-workers should extend to the public at large, even to CEOs who actively helped to overturn marriage equality—provided they want to make things right again.
Even people who favor same-sex marriage and accept the civil-rights analogy, however, should think twice about the precedent being set by the Eich case. The civil-rights movement did not, in fact, conduct itself in this fashion. It did not seek to marginalize those who opposed it, or had reservations about it, when those holdouts made up more than a third of the population. It did not insist on public recantations by all of them.
The anti-racist consensus is today enforced through intense social pressure, but it wasn’t achieved that way. And it’s hard to see how the civil-rights movement would have succeeded had it adopted the purge as a tactic in, say, 1966.
Maybe today’s effort will be more successful. But it sure seems like an odd way to advance a healthy sense of “community.”
Via the Corner.