Today Mozilla announced a number of leadership changes, including the appointment of Brendan Eich as CEO. Amid the analysis of the change, there is a lengthy post on Hacker News specifically discussing Brendan’s support of anti-LGBT Prop. 8 in 2008 and whether or not it affects his suitability as CEO.
As a single employee of Mozilla, I am not sure I can definitively determine Brendan’s suitability. I can, however, give insight as to what I experience at Mozilla as a queer woman and how I feel about the appointment.
Mozilla is a very unique organization in that it operates in a strange hybrid space between tech company and non-profit. There simply aren’t a lot of models for what we do. Wikimedia Foundation is always the one that comes closest to mind for me, but remains a very different thing. As such, people with experience relevant Mozilla, relevant enough to lead Mozilla well, are in very short supply. An organization can always choose to make an external hire and hope the person comes to understand the culture, but that is a risky bet. Internal candidates who have demonstrated they get the culture, the big picture of where we need to go and have demonstrated they can effectively lead large business units, on the other hand, present as very strong options.
And, from my limited vantage point, that’s what I see in Brendan.
Like a lot of people, I was disappointed when I found out that Brendan had donated to the anti-marriage equality Prop. 8 campaign in California. It’s hard for me to think of a scenario where someone could donate to that campaign without feeling that queer folks are less deserving of basic rights. It frustrates me when people use their economic power to further enshrine and institutionalize discrimination. (If you haven’t seen it, here’s Brendan’s response to the issue.)
However, during the intervening years, I’ve spent a lot of time navigating communities like Mozilla and figuring out how to get things done. I’ve learned that it’s hard working with people but that you have to do it anyway. I’ve learned that it can be even harder to work with someone when you think you don’t share your fundamental beliefs, or when you think they hold opposing or contradictory beliefs, but you have to do that sometimes, too.
The key is to figure out when it’s important to walk away from interacting with a person or community because of a mis-alignment in beliefs and when you need to set aside the disagreement and commit to working together in service of the shared goal. Context is really important here. What is the purpose or mission of the community? Who is its audience? What are its guiding principles?
Mozilla’s mission is “to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web.” Our audience is the global community of people connecting to the internet. Our guiding principles are numerous, but include protecting the internet as a public resource and upholding user privacy, security and choice.
At the same time, many Mozillians are themselves advocates for human rights, animal rights, prison abolition, marriage equality, racial equality, etc. As much as some of those causes might overlap with the cause of a free and open internet, they are separate causes and none of them are the focus of Mozilla the organization. Focus is important because we live in a world of limited resources. Mozilla needs to stay focused on the mission we have all come together to support and move forward.
Another factor to consider: What is their behavior within the community, where we have agreed to come together and work towards a specific mission? How much does a person’s behavior outside the scope of community affect the community itself? Does the external behavior conflict directly with the core mission of the organization?
To be clear, I’m personally disappointed about Brendan’s donation. However, aside from how it affected me emotionally, I have nothing to indicate that it’s materially hurt my work within the Mozilla community or as a Mozilla employee. Mozilla offers the best benefits I have ever had and goes out of its way to offer benefits to its employees in same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships on par with those in heterosexual marriages. Last year we finally got trans-inclusive healthcare. We didn’t have an explicit code of conduct when I started, but adopted the guidelines for participation within my first year. Progress might be slow, but it’s being made. And I don’t see Brendan standing in the way of that.
Certainly it would be problematic if Brendan’s behavior within Mozilla was explicitly discriminatory, or implicitly so in the form of repeated microagressions. I haven’t personally seen this (although to be clear, I was not part of Brendan’s reporting structure until today). To the contrary, over the years I have watched Brendan be an ally in many areas and bring clarity and leadership when needed. Furthermore, I trust the oversight Mozilla has in place in the form of our chairperson, Mitchell Baker, and our board of directors.
It’s true there might be a kind of collateral damage from Brendan’s actions in the form of some people withdrawing from participation in Mozilla or never joining in the first place. There’s a lot I could say about people’s responses to things that happen at Mozilla, but I’ll save those for another time.
For now, I’ll just say that if you’re queer and don’t feel comfortable at Mozilla, that saddens me and I’m sorry. I understand where you’re coming from, at least in part, because I had a rocky start at Mozilla and often questioned my fit in the community. That’s why I’m putting considerable effort into changing how we interact with and support contributors from marginal groups. If you want to join me, look at what we’re doing with the Education Working Group and then get in touch.
To conclude, what I offer to my fellow Mozillians, including Brendan, is this:
- I respect that you have a private life, including interactions in other communities, that may not match my beliefs or may even conflict with them.
- I recognize that despite possible differences in our personal beliefs, you are just as committed as I am to Mozilla’s mission and have a lot to offer the community.
- I agree, and ask you to do the same, to set aside those differences to create a shared space in which we can work together on the Mozilla mission.
- In that space, we’ll treat each other as human beings, following the participation guidelines, even if doing so will stretch our skills and make us slightly uncomfortable.
- We agree to communicate with honesty and empathy and to find ways to support each other’s work in the project.
Update 28 March 2014 8:30 PDT:
Since Monday, Brendan and Mitchell have both published responses, which I’ve included below. I’ve also included posts from some colleagues.
- Inclusiveness at Mozilla, response from Brendan
- Building a Global, Diverse, Inclusive Mozilla Project: Addressing Controversy, response from Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker
- On Including the Uninclusive, response from tofumatt
- qualifications for leadership, response from Myk Melez
Update 30 March 2014 15:45 PT:
Some additional posts from colleagues: