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by Derek Loosvelt | January 30, 2017


we are better than this sign

This past Friday, while many of us were finishing up our workweeks, composing our last emails, sending our last Slacks, a small group of people that included President Trump were working behind closed doors in Washington, D.C., to get out and then sign an extremely confusing and controversial so-called executive order on immigration. The order, which, among other things, bans citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria from entering the U.S., came as a surprise to many people on both sides of the political divide. It also came as a shock to many of the country's most prestigious employers, several of which employ numerous people that could be affected by it. Almost immediately, some of these employers publicly responded to the order, asserting their opinions on it and, more important, assuring their employees who might be affected that they'd receive help.

The Big Tech Firms

Among the first group of responders to the order were leading tech firms. These firms responded quickly since it appeared that many of their employees would be affected by the order. That is, many of their employees were citizens of the countries listed on the ban, and some employees were out of the country when the ban was signed, meaning they could have trouble getting back into the U.S.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was one of the first big tech chiefs to criticize the order. He posted an essay on Friday condemning it, while noting that he and his wife come from immigrant families. Here's an excerpt:

“The United States is a nation of immigrants, and we should be proud of that ... We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat. Expanding the focus of law enforcement beyond people who are real threats would make all Americans less safe by diverting resources, while millions of undocumented folks who don't pose a threat will live in fear of deportation.”

Google, which noted that nearly 200 of its employees could be affected by the order, also chimed in on Friday.

“We’re upset about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US,” [Google CEO Sundar Pichai] emailed staff late on Jan. 27. “It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues.”
The next day, Google co-founder and Alphabet president Sergey Brin joined protesters at San Francisco International Airport. “I’m here because I’m a refugee,” he told a reporter. Former Google hiring guru Laszlo Bock tweeted that he also came to the US as a refugee.

Other tech firms that posted similar messages (many calling the ban "un-American") include Airbnb, Apple, Box, Dropbox, Foursquare, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Salesforce (one Salesforce executive tweeted a list of "US tech companies founded by 1st/2nd generation immigrants" that included Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Oracle, IBM, Uber, Yahoo, EMC, eBay, AT&T, Tesla, and Reddit).

There were other tech firms that chimed in, too, but that didn't, according to some consumers, chime in strongly enough on the side of the opposition.

Amazon, for one, while it released a very long and detailed message about what its employees who might be affected by the ban could do and whom they should reach out to, didn't come down on the order right way, which angered some consumers and prompted articles such as "Amazon had the weakest response to Trump's immigration ban yet." However, later, on Monday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos publicly opposed the ban, saying he'd fight against it.

Perhaps the most unfortunate corporate incident in the wake of the order involved ride-share king Uber. While a protest against the order was happening at New York's JFK airport and while yellow-cab drivers had joined in the protest, Uber seemed to take business advantage of the situation and tweeted out that the company's "surge" pricing would be temporary halted, in effect lowering its prices. What resulted was a large #DeleteUber movement in which users were kissing their Uber apps and accounts good-bye while welcoming into their lives other ride-sharing services like Lyft. In Uber's defense, the company did try to correct its insensitive tweet.

On Jan. 29, as blowback against Uber continued, Kalanick called Trump’s ban “wrong and unjust.” He said the company’s lawyers would be on call to offer drivers legal support. He recommitted to compensating drivers for lost earnings and said Uber was creating a $3 million fund “to help drivers with immigration and translation services.”

While so many tech firm CEOs and tech employees (through social media posts or physical signs or walkouts) made their opinions on the order publicly known, there were just as many who remained silent.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Trump advisors IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz, and Google cofounder Larry Page were notably absent from those speaking out. While Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was quick to denounce Trump for an executive order that threatens women’s health care, she has remained silent on the immigration ban.

The Big Banks

You might not think that the world's largest and most influential financial firms would be among those to speak out so vehemently against the current administration, but that's exactly what happened when Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and other big banking chiefs made strong statements against Trump's order. 

In a voicemail sent to Goldman Sachs employees on Sunday night, Blankfein said, “This is not a policy we support, and I would note that it has already been challenged in federal court, and some of the order has been enjoined at least temporarily ... For us to be successful, our men and women must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate. We must attract, retain and motivate people from many backgrounds and perspectives.”

Incidentally, Blankfein came down on the order not long after his former COO, Gary Cohn, stood with his head bowed a few feet away from Trump as the order was signed.

Other big investment banks to speak out against the ban were Morgan Stanley (via a message from CEO James Gorman), JPMorgan Chase (via a memo from CEO Jamie Dimon), and Citi, which said it was "concerned about the message the executive order sends, as well as the impact immigration policies could have on our ability to serve our clients and contribute to growth." Wells Fargo, which was mired in a fake-account scandal year, said little about the order other than it was "reviewing" it.

The Big Consumer Brands

Slightly different than the responses made by tech and banking firms, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote a long message explaining, among other things, the firm's plans to hire thousands of refugees. Here's an excerpt:

“We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question ... There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations, and we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business.”

Nike also condemned the order. Here's what the firm's CEO Mark Parker wrote this past weekend:

“This is a policy we don’t support ... Nike stands together against bigotry and any form of discrimination ... Now, more than ever, let’s stand up for our values and remain open and inclusive as a brand and as a company. We are at our best when we recognize the value of our diverse community.”

Ford was another big consumer brand that spoke out against the order. The automaker told Reuters, "We do not support this policy or any other that goes against our values as a company." GM and FiatChrysler, however, had no comment on it.

The Big Deal

For these employers (and others) to publicly speak out in opposition of Trump's order sent incredibly strong messages of support to their employees, especially those that might be directly affected by it.

These employees, like so many others throughout the U.S., often make their employment decisions based on firm culture, firm values, and diversity hiring practices. Meanwhile, these employers are among those that continually profess to being among the most progressive when it comes to culture and most inclusive when it comes to hiring. And so, it was extremely reassuring for employees potentially affected by the ban to see that their employers were putting their words into action, helping them navigate the order as well as vehemently opposing it on their behalf.

In addition, the statements by top employers sent strong messages to their customers and future employees. They showcased, albeit inadvertently, the values that these companies stand for and will fight for—values that many, if not a majority, of their customers and employment candidates share.

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