Firing the Dalai Lama? Three Lessons for Organisations from Mozilla’s Gay Marriage Soap Opera

One of the more perplexing stories of recent weeks – and truly a story of our times – is that of a certain Brendan Eich. Eich is an alumnus of both the University of Santa Clara and the University of Illinois; the inventor of Javascript, a programming language utilised across the Internet; and until recently, the CEO of Mozilla, the company behind the popular Web browser Firefox. Eich actually co-founded in 1998, and was also on the board of the Mozilla Foundation, that company’s associated non-profit organisation – a position he also vacated only a short while ago.

The reason that Eich is no longer neither the CEO of a company that he incepted nor a key player in the Mozilla Foundation is that he has quit both positions as a result of the reaction to his personal stance on gay marriage: in 2008, Eich made a US$1,000 donation to a campaign that supported Proposition 8 (‘Prop 8’), a California ballot measure which banned same-sex marriage within that jurisdiction. (At the time of Eich’s donation, Barack Obama was also against same-sex marriage; both Apple and Google’s founders pledged sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to the opposite camp.)

The response to Eich’s resignation – and the official Mozilla blog post on this topic, authored by the company’s Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker – appears to have considerably exacerbated the situation at the Mountain View-based corporation. Social media channels have exploded with consternation and disgust that someone could effectively be forced to resign because of their beliefs, while even ardent campaigners for same-sex marriage have expressed their profound disagreement with what they perceive as the extraordinary intolerance of Mozilla for different perspectives. Angry Internet users are publicly declaring that they will or have uninstalled the Firefox browser, while the litigation-happy nature of corporate life in the United States means that this is probably only the beginning of the saga for all involved.

What lessons can companies learn from this debacle? After some contemplation, three in particular appear to be of particular salience.

  1. Transcend the bubbles. In recent years, it has become clear that certain cultural and geographical zones are continually making the error of presuming that everyone else in the world thinks like them and that they are always right. As a company which is a fully paid-up member of the London-NYC media bubble, we see this tendency manifest itself every day. (Sometimes, several times a day.) However, no matter what we or those like us may passionately believe, we all have to recognise that there is a world out there filled with different opinions. The tech community is in a particularly precarious position in this regard: as an industry which is attracting phenomenal amounts of wealth and publicity, the temptation to embark on what ultimately amounts to nothing more than a sector-wide ego trip is real – and may blind its constituents as to the reality of much experienced existence.
  2. Decide what your values are. Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Baker’s blog post containing confirmation of her ex-CEO’s departure has rightly been questioned on several levels, not least for its flagrant inconsistency on the matter of her company’s organisational culture. Baker contends that ‘diversity and inclusiveness’ are reflected in said culture, including ‘welcoming contributions’ from everyone, regardless of their ‘religious views’. But Eich’s case directly contradicts this claim: in fact, from the precedent it has set it seems that Mozilla would be happy letting go of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the grounds that his eminence’s opinion on same-sex marriage for individuals following spiritual paths such as Buddhism – he is against, despite significant pressures from parts of his laity in the West – do not chime with those of the organisation. This kind of transparent hypocrisy is damaging Mozilla far beyond this specific crisis: it threatens to corrode the organisation’s entire internal value system.
  3. Accept diversity. Truly accepting diversity – including those people who hold opinions which are anathema to one’s own deeply-held perspectives – is both necessary and pragmatic in today’s world of deep globalisation. It is necessary because the nature of information diffusion in the contemporary world – instant, cross-border and with few if any parameters – means that views of all kinds will flourish regardless of geographical or other limitations. It is pragmatic because not accepting diversity on one or more contentious issues risks alienating vast swathes of the talent pool – and engendering identikit organisation members with the same monochrome Weltanschauung. Accepting diversity does not at all mean that a person has to agree with every opinion one is presented with – but mutual respect and sincere dialogue are essential qualities to nurture and practice.


Filed under Business, Technology

4 responses to “Firing the Dalai Lama? Three Lessons for Organisations from Mozilla’s Gay Marriage Soap Opera

  1. Interesting example of what can happen when people believe they are right. As you’ve written this is a ‘diversity’ issue, but at a more human level it’s about how we treat people we don’t agree with or don’t like. The world is filled with people who follow the herd. Why? Lack of confidence. Lack of spirit. We all lose when we make it hard for people to be different. We live in a world where philosophers have accepted post-structuralism, i.e. that in human sciences there is constant change and a certain level of uncertainty and even unknowability. If we all understood that we would impose what we think much less forcefully on others.

  2. Very interesting piece and follow-up comments by Holly IP.
    As has been commented, the very same parts of the world which were so virulently anti-gay barely a few years ago now have lynch-mobs out for anybody who expresses the opinions their parents – and everyone else around them – held until very recently.
    It’s unfortunate that the West is moving in a direction where, if anybody even dares to express a comment which is contrary to what the Thought Police deem “acceptable” at that particular moment in time, they will be hounded and harangued.
    // Nadeem

    • When societies adopt extreme perspectives of any kind it’s usually a concerning sign. Interestingly, the reaction to the Eich affair has been much-criticised on the American Left – but seems to have been broadly endorsed in the UK.

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