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Conflicting beliefs: When personal impacts professional

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Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, was announced as Mozilla’s CEO on March 24, but less than two weeks later he has stepped down after some employees, users and even other companies got angry about a $1,000 donation Eich gave in 2008.

What was the donation? It was in support of Proposition 8, California’s proposition aimed at banning gay marriage.

The public backlash was so intense that Eich couldn’t even last 14 days in the role.

Initially, Mozilla issued a statement on diversity within the company, but eventually the pressure got too much, and executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker posted a statement on the company blog stating Eich had “chosen to step down”.

READ MORE: Mozilla’s CEO resigns after two weeks

The whole controversy, which gathered momentum and exploded in what must have been record time, has caused a bit of a divide on social media. Some believe Eich was right to step down, while others posted comments like:

“Shameful display of intolerance by everyone against this guy, in my opinion.”

“I’m no fan of Prop 8, but I don’t see why his donation meant he couldn’t be a good CEO. Did he do other things?”

The outcry, both before and after his resignation, raises a good question and highlights the dangers of not being aware of how personal information, data, opinions and actions can be used against you in the future.

Because here’s the problem – even today, even when you think people understand, most are still not prepared for how this information could be used.

Employees, as much as CEOs, need to be aware of the consequences of throwing their weight behind a political cause, a protest, or even a petition.

Take what happened last week in Taiwan as another example. A bunch of creative heads from agencies like Ogilvy and DDB in Taiwan were forced to make statements and apologise after they were outed by a local newspaper as supposedly having signed a petition in support of an anti-government protest.

The paper named various people individually as supporting the cause and it was made to appear as though the employees had the support of the companies as well.

The agencies have since come forward to distance themselves from employees’ individual beliefs, but it raises a red flag for all managers and leaders to be aware of the business consequences of employees supporting powerful political movements.

When you’re the CEO, your job is absolutely not confined to the four walls of your office – it’s linked to every aspect of your life, which is part of parcel of the high profile role.

But similarly for employees lower down the food chain, personal political beliefs can also land the company they work for in hot water.

This is where a broad and clear social media policy comes in handy, and where HR professionals can help business leaders communicate the dangers and risks to employees.

It’s not a matter of dampening freedom of speech, it’s simply a matter of basic awareness.

Having beliefs about various causes, religions, sexual orientations – whatever it may be – is and should always be accepted, but in these hyper-connected times it’s wise not to underestimate what could come back to bite you, or how simply filling out an online petition might place you, and potentially the company you work for, in the public domain as an advocate.

If it’s possible to strike the balance right, then we won’t need to ask questions about whether a CEOs individual beliefs and political actions should keep him from doing a job for which he is professionally qualified.

What do you think? Email me at rebeccal@humanresourcesonline.net



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Rebecca Lewis
Editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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