Brendan Eich wasn’t “Punished”
Can we step back a moment?
Let me sketch out a scenario.
There is a company who is closely involved in the lives of a minority group (let’s say Asian-Americans to avoid common tropes). The organization also employs a relatively large number of Asian-Americans and depends upon their input for continued involvement. There’s a talented individual working as a senior executive, say COO of the organization who was once linked to giving large monetary donations to political candidates who ranted about “slant-eyed devils” and “yellow peril”-esque statements on immigration. Now, the man is pretty good at his job, and he’s been well regarded, but there’s some unease about these political donations, especially because he say, threw some fundraisers for said politician. While he has declined to take a public stance on his own views of Asian-Americans, but he famously made a blog post where he defended his right to have supported the politician.
Now, the organization requires a new CEO, and the board of directors spends a year looking at candidates. The current-COO is chosen because he might have the expertise, despite concerns about the fact that his expertise is perhaps 10-15 years behind the curve. When this is announced, of course, all hell breaks loose. Major clients of the organization choose to stop doing business with it, while several employees go public with their concerns, and a couple of board members resign in protest at the choice. After some additional bad publicity after the appointment, the guy eventually resigns.
Do we really call this punishment? Or is this a case of having to balance the potential abilities of an employee with the level of exposure and representation they show on their community? Moreover, is it really simply vengeance that’s driving the people’s concerns or is there something more basic going on there?
Now consider Brendan Eich, other than the minority group chosen here, his actions were basically the same as in the above scenario.
1) No one asked for Eich’s head or faulted Mozilla for keeping him prior to March 2014. He was a high-level executive within the Mozilla Corporation, serving as CTO.
2) Employees expressed concern that this would impact his decisions, even if not consciously, as the representative head of the company.
3) Eventually this led to a widespread boycott that ended in Eich’s resignation. (And let’s note, he wasn’t “fired”, he resigned. It might be a semantic note, but this is important to bear in mind)
It’s very simplistic to simply call this intolerance or a call for vengeance or even a punishment. Further, it’s showing a significant lack of empathy toward people who had valid concerns about what Eich’s beliefs might mean toward his attitude (both conscious and unconscious) toward LGBTQ people. Would you feel comfortable working under someone who expressed a dislike of your particular religion, or ethnicity and publicly gave money to that cause? Further, wouldn’t it create a niggle of doubt of whether or not you were being fairly treated? People who bring up the “It’s my personal views” canard about bigoted actions rarely have things so well compartmentalized to code-switch appropriately. Why? Because those people rarely have the social experience to have internalized completely separating personal views with actions. This is doubly true for someone who remains unrepentant about their views and does not apologize for them. (Let’s make this clear, Eich did NOT apologize in any shape or form)
The position of CEO is rather unique in American corporate culture. This goes double for tech companies. Remember how rumors of health problems for Steve Jobs would impact Apple stock prices? Or the fact that they made a movie about the founder/CEO of Facebook? There’s a quasi-celebrity status to tech CEOs and like it or not they serve as the public faces of their companies. Internally they also serve to set the tone for the company. For a community based tech organization like Mozilla, it’s important to have both the confidence of internal personnel AND community members. It was clear from the reaction that Eich didn’t have that. It’s not punishing him for having the “wrong” views, it’s simply noting that having those views didn’t qualify him for the position which he sought.
This would, I think, be different had he had a track record as CEO beforehand. The problem was that he was promoted to this new job and it seemed quite clear that some of the board members had simply decided the issue wasn’t important, which was a miscalculation on their part. The boycotts showed that CSR angle. In a market where inclusion was important and the buy-in of the community vital, Brendan Eich didn’t have that. One may as well talk about how Mitt Romney was “Punished” by not being elected president or that Justine Sacco was punished for her views on race.