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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
A recent column by the author and journalist Mustafa Akyol caught the attention of our CSO for its interesting take on a key sociological issue since the nineteenth century: secularisation. In The curious future of religion (Hurriyet Daily News, 17th April 2013), Akyol – writing his dispatches from Kansas City, where he appears to have researched his article – concludes that the widely-predicted secularisation of the world has not manifested itself; instead, in a world which will be more or less coloured by one belief system or other, religions or movements within religions which adapt to changing circumstances will survive, while those that don’t, won’t.
This is a seductive thesis. But on closer inspection (and after some contemplation), it is questionable whether it bears much resemblance to the facts on the ground:
1. Western Secularism Marches On. The late twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen secularism in the West – particularly, though by no means exclusively in Europe – intensify and broaden. The excellent Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper has pointed out that the recent trend towards legislating for gay marriage in some Western jurisdictions is profoundly consequential in this regard, representing as it does the categorical refutation of the primacy of the teaching of the various Christian churches. Both state and society agree in their rejection of what until the 2000s was an elemental religious principle which even most self-declared atheists did not think of contesting.
2. Eastern Secularism Marches On. It is true that on one level, statist secularism of the kind that dominated the Soviet Union (and to a lesser extent, France and Turkey) seems to be on the wane. Extreme laicism is no longer de rigeur in Ankara, and even the Communist Party of China is having to more or less accomodate a surge of new religious believers in its coastal engines of growth. But look a little bit deeper, and it becomes apparent that it is the secular modernist notions of the economy and society that have embedded themselves in religious or religion-flavoured institutions. The irony that historic Istanbul has been disfigured the most (possibly to the point of losing its UNESCO status) under skyscraper-happy governments that have been keen to stress their ‘religious’ credentials will doubtless be recognised by Akyol.