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
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.