Robert Scoble was already something of a hero of mine even before he showed such moral courage and leadership this week. Now i say make him pope when Benedict is done. Last week i asked what would happen now that Scoble’s boss had moved on. Well, this week i had the most emphatic response possible.
For those that have not followed the story, it seems Microsoft may be scaling back on its commitments to equal opportunities for gay men and women. There is plenty of commentary already out there, much of it based on moral arguments. That is, that appreciation of diversity is a good in itself. I feel we need to take the fight back to the bigots though, those that make economic and political threats in pursuit of their opinions. So what about the economics of diversity, and why is Microsoft’s management possibly making a major blunder?
Its a question of the Talent. Great companies must attract, retain and encourage the Talent. Microsoft is in the intellectual property business, which means people are its most important asset. Microsoft last week was a company with a decent record of fostering diversity. Today, though, if you were going for an interview at the Redmond campus and you happened to be gay, how would you be feeling about the firm? Would you want to sign up?
I recently posted on a perceived brain drain at Microsoft and recieved some indignant responses. There is no exodus of talent, apparently. But some say its not such a happy campus.
Attracting and retaining the Talent requires a good quality of life in the local area. There is a great deal of evidence to show that metropolitan areas with significant gay communities are more economically successful. Places like Austin, London, New York and San Francisco. As Richard Florida, author of The Rise Of The Creative Class puts it in somewhat rhetorical fashion: Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race. Seattle’s Creativity Index just started falling…
I think it’s important for a place to have low entry barriers for people—that is, to be a place where newcomers are accepted quickly into all sorts of social and economic arrangements. All else being equal, they are likely to attract greater numbers of talented and creative people—the sort of people who power innovation and growth. Places that thrive in today’s world tend to be plug-and-play communities where anyone can fit in quickly. These are places where people can find opportunity, build support structures, be themselves, and not get stuck in any one identity. The plug-and-play community is one that somebody can move into and put together a life—or at least a facsimile of a life—in a week.
There is no one-size-fits-all model for a successful people climate. The members of the creative class are diverse across the dimensions of age, ethnicity and race, marital status, and sexual preference. An effective people climate needs to emphasize openness and diversity, and to help reinforce low barriers to entry. Thus, it cannot be restrictive or monolithic.
I would like to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt on these issues. There are some offnotes though; such as the firms alleged links with the wonderfully moral Ralph Reed.
I am not going to take Steve Ballmer or Vic Gundotra to task. I think i understand the desire to “rise above politics”. I just don’t agree with it. Everything is interconnected. And unless MS does the right thing, it will find bringing in Talent harder than ever. That would be a shame because the firm still has a lot of great work to do and needs great people to deliver on its promise. People like Alan Turing (via Scoble)…
And there was me saying i wouldn’t be doing any more diversity posts… One final note – perhaps the single most important factor in fostering diversity is tolerating dissent. By its continued willingness to engage with the Scoble agenda, especially on such a tough issue, Microsoft is showing, rather than telling, why so many people still find it such an inspiring place to work.