Brendan Eich had been CEO of Mozilla only two weeks when he resigned under pressure last Thursday because he’d financially supported California’s Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, in 2008. Whether you view his resignation as a form of mob rule that stifles free speech or as a necessary outcome for a mission-driven open-source organization that must maintain the goodwill of employees, one thing is clear: we are going to be seeing a lot more of this.
Two things stand out about the Mozilla case. First, the most critical voices came from within the organization. And second, employees’ protests zeroed in on the political activities of the CEO, not those of the organization. In a sense, it was like a recall election.
But what brought us to this point? Information and communication technologies such as social media have reduced the cost and increased the speed of collective action, from flash mobs to Tahrir Square. Consider the unbidden “Starbucks Appreciation Day” rallies by gun-toting supporters of open carry last August, for example, or apps that make it easier to boycott target companies such as Koch Industries.
The history of activism toward corporations shows a remarkable increase in agility. In 1991, the HR department of Tennessee-based restaurant chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores sent out a memo stating that the company would not employ those individuals “whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values,” and the company fired more than a dozen gay employees. The policy was later rescinded, but the New York City Employee Retirement System filed a shareholder proposal to explicitly adopt a policy against gay discrimination, which the company was unwilling to do. (It is still legal in 29 states for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.) The SEC allowed the company to leave the proposal off its proxy ballot until May 1998, and in October of that year it finally appeared for a shareholder vote, where it lost by a substantial margin.
Contrast this several-year shareholder campaign with the recent experience of the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Foundation. When the Foundation announced on January 31, 2012 that it would no longer provide funds to Planned Parenthood to support breast cancer screenings for low-income women, it immediately generated a firestorm of opposition on social media, with over a million tweets sent within two days. By the end of that week it had reversed course and restored the funding, which in turn generated opposition among detractors of Planned Parenthood. The controversy continues to dog the foundation and its employees.
Employees are perhaps the most important constituents in these brouhahas, because they are the ones who have the most intense day-to-day engagement with the company and its values. (Look at how fervently they reacted when Eich assumed the top job at Mozilla.) And that engagement with values makes sense: Our employers are linked to our identities, after all. We’re often called on to be company representatives, expected to speak on behalf of our organizations, whether it’s our official job or not. When someone I meet learns that I teach at the University of Michigan, for example, I might be asked to explain the school’s stance on affirmative action. Corporate recruiters who visit business schools are asked not only about job opportunities but also about the company’s approach to carbon reduction, domestic partner benefits, human rights codes for suppliers, and policies around community engagement. Recruiters bring news back to their company about what the new talent is looking for, where it informs changes in practice.
Now combine this intense focus on social issues with the ease of obtaining information about things like CEO political contributions. A recent article in Administrative Science Quarterly (the journal I edit) reports that new CEOs who had a prior history of donating to Democrats tended to increase the firm’s corporate social responsibility efforts more than Republican CEOs did. Firms that appointed Democrats to the top job increased their contributions to Democratic PACs; those that appointed Republicans increased contributions to Republican PACs.
How did the researchers know about CEOs’ political proclivities? By compiling 10 years’ worth of data on their campaign contributions, which are public record. (If you want to find out your CEO’s political donation history, go here.) In short, political contributions, like Eich’s donation to the Prop 8 campaign, are an open book — very easy to find online and aggregate.
Of course, it’s not just political contributions that are so readily available. As Facebook activity, tweets, blog posts, and other online traces of one’s orientation become a true permanent record, we might expect to see prospective CEOs thoroughly vetted on their politics before being offered the job. As with politicians, one errant tweet many years back might turn out to be disqualifying.
Boycotts against organizations are nothing new. But thanks to technology, it’s easier for employees, investors, donors, and customers to engage in social movements aimed at companies and nonprofits. Those organizations, in turn, are finding themselves dragged into political debates they might prefer to avoid.
source: What Matters About Mozilla: Employees Led the Coup April 08, 2014 at 05:11PM