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Mozilla sheds controversial CEO Brendan Eich

Eich coulda been a contender
Fri Apr 04 2014, 09:41


MOZILLA HAS ANNOUNCED that controversial CEO Brendan Eich has stepped down.

The firm revealed the personnel change in a blog post where it explained Eich's appointment and its views on inclusivity. The statement from executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker said that Eich has stepped down and that Mozilla believes it should have acted faster.

"Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn't live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it's because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves," she wrote.

"We didn’t act like you'd expect Mozilla to act. We didn't move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better. Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He's made this decision for Mozilla and our community."

The post addressed equality and freedom of speech, the two things that were most at issue. Baker said that balancing these two principles can be difficult.

"We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community," she added.

"While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better. We need to put our focus back on protecting that Web. And doing so in a way that will make you proud to support Mozilla."

Mozilla's choice of next CEO is open and Baker said that the role is still being discussed. She did say that Mozilla will be more open with the community about where it takes the organisation.

"We want to be open about where we are in deciding the future of the organisation and will have more information next week," she added. "However, our mission will always be to make the web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just: that's what it means to protect the open Web."

Mozilla faced a lot of opposition to Eich's appointment, but that seemed to be cooling off. Dating website OK Cupid stopped trying to tempt its loveseeking users away from the Mozilla Firefox web browser and its CEO's politics earlier this week, and many of the rumblings of discontent had been joined by shouts of support.

OK Cupid had posted a note that took issue with Eich's politics and encouraged people to vote with their fingers and select a browser from a firm other than his.

"Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your Okcupid experience. Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access Okcupid," it said.

"Politics is normally not the business of a website, and we all know there's a lot more wrong with the world than misguided CEOs. So you might wonder why we're asserting ourselves today. This is why: we've devoted the last ten years to bringing people - all people - together."

That message was removed and the standard login or signup page is what greets Firefox users.

The OK Cupid note did get some criticisms, notably from homosexuals in the IT industry, but the firm has not said that it had a change of heart because of the feedback. In fact so far it has not commented further. In the world of relationships we call his 'the silent treatment'.

While OK Cupid is not speaking, the man at the heart of the controversy finally responded. During an interview with The Guardian, Eich spoke about his 2008 donation in support of California's gay marriage ban for the first time. He did not say much, however, and told the newspaper that he thinks his beliefs should be kept private, given a lack of relevance to Mozilla.

Eich said, "I don't want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we've been going. I don't believe they're relevant."

"I have operated by, that is formalised in our code of conduct at Mozilla, is it's really about keeping anything that's not central to our mission out of our office."

Eich also addressed the backlash from website OK Cupid, which has asked its users to consider using a browser from a company with less homophobic associations than Firefox.

He said, "I don't think they were aware of the statement [Mozilla foundation chair] Mitchell Baker made at the weekend [that] Mozilla as an organisation believes in LGBT equality, and I've heard from a lot of people that OK Cupid had actually not been aware of that. So I think we can actually turn that around."

Eich's contriversial appointment has also seen the launch of a petition that asks the firm to remove him from office, and it is very close to its 75,000 target.

The petition, hosted on the Credoaction website, is aimed at Mozilla's board of directors and tells it in no uncertain terms to remove Eich from office unless he announces support for gay marriage, and replace him with someone with different views.

"The people at Mozilla and their massive community of users deserve better than a leader that advocates for inequality and hate," it says.

"CEO Brendan Eich should make an unequivocal statement of support for marriage equality. If he cannot, he should resign. And if he will not, the board should fire him immediately."

The petition has a target goal of 75,000. It is presently at 92 percent of that figure.

Eich has already responded to his critics, but hasn't explicitly said that he is cool with same sex marriages and relationships. Mozilla has also responded.

The firm posted a new statement at the weekend claiming it is a fan and supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and basks in inclusivity.

"Over the past few days we have been asked a number of questions about Brendan Eich's appointment as CEO. This post is to clarify Mozilla's official support of equality and inclusion for LGBT people," it said.

"Mozilla's mission is to make the Web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just. This is why Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples. No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally."

It may all be too late though, as the public perception, and internal perception, is apparently that Eich is bad form.

Mozilla has lost three board members in the wake of the appointment of Brendan Eich as its new chief executive, but the organisation said the two events are not related.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, three Mozilla board members "resigned over the choice" of Eich as the new CEO. The three are Gary Kovacs, a former Mozilla CEO who runs security firm AVG Technologies, John Lilly, another former Mozilla CEO and now a partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners, and Ellen Siminoff, CEO of online education startup Shmoop.

However, Mozilla has said that these resignations were always on the cards.

"The three board members ended their terms last week for a variety of reasons. Two had been planning to leave for some time, one since January and one explicitly at the end of the CEO search, regardless of the person selected," the firm said in a statement emailed to The INQUIRER.

According to the WSJ, the resignations were due to those board members wanting a CEO with mobile experience, rather than a Firefox software engineer. There was no indication that their departures were a response to Eich's former support for Proposition 8, which Mozilla and its new CEO have been dealing with since his appointment a week ago.

Eich responded to the recent backlash over his earlier support for California Proposition 8, posting a detailed outline of his support for the LGBT community last Wednesday.

In a blog post headed "Inclusiveness at Mozilla" that could just as well have been titled 'Some of my best friends are gay', Eich laid out all the ways in which he's a fan of the LGBT community and how he's going to see that they're well looked after at Mozilla under his leadership.

"I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla. I hope to lay those concerns to rest, first by making a set of commitments to you. More important, I want to lay them to rest by actions and results," he revealed.

Eich went on to promise active commitment to equality in everything the firm does, from employment to events, working with LGBT communities and allies to learn what does and doesn't make Mozilla supportive, and a personal commitment to work on initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded. However, he didn't directly address the Proposition 8 issue or his donation to the campaign.

"I know some will be sceptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything," he remarked. "I can only ask for your support to have the time to 'show, not tell'; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain."

One day on from announcing Eich as its next CEO on 24 March, Mozilla was forced to post a statement on diversity to dampen accusations of homophobia in light of its appointment of a man who previously donated to California Proposition 8.

"Mozilla has always been deeply committed to honouring diversity in sexual orientation and beliefs within our staff and community, across all the project's activities," the statement read.

"One concrete example of this is in our health benefit policies. Mozilla provides the same level of benefits and advantages to domestic partners as we do to married couples across the United States, even in states where it is not mandated. For those who choose life insurance, voluntary spouse coverage extends to domestic partners, including same-sex couples."

Eich, formerly CTO at Mozilla, has a credible reputation in the technology world as the creator of Javascript and a co-founder of the Firefox and Thunderbird developer. However, his reputation outside of the firm is less glowing as a supporter of Proposition 8, which aimed to ban same-sex marriage in California.

Eich donated $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign in 2008, a revelation that first came to light in 2012. At the time, Eich defended his action, saying, "I'm left with charges that I hate and I'm a bigot, based solely on the donation. Now 'hate' and 'bigot' are well-defined words. I say these charges are false and unjust... the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. Those asserting this are not providing a reasoned argument, rather they are labeling dissenters to cast them out of polite society."

As news of Eich's promotion circulated, some developers reacted to the news by withdrawing support for Mozilla.

"As a married gay couple who are co-founders of this venture, we have chosen to boycott all Mozilla projects. We will not develop apps or test styles on Firefox anymore," Hampton Catlin, CEO of Rarebit and creator of Wikipedia mobile, wrote in a letter to Eich.

Catlin said that the firm was withdrawing Color Puzzle from the Firefox Marketplace and was stopping work on its about-to-launch Firefox version of the Dictionary! app for iPhone and Android.

"We will continue our boycott until Brendan Eich is completely removed from any day to day activities at Mozilla, which we believe is extremely unlikely after all he's survived and the continued support he has received from Mozilla," Catlin added.

"This makes us very sad, as we love the little guy fighting to make things better. But it's because of our status as a minority that we simply can't ignore this slap in the face of giving him a promotion to lead your organisation."

However, Eich has been given support from some in the LGBT community working at Mozilla.

"To be clear, I'm personally disappointed about Brendan's donation," noted Christie Koehler, Mozilla's education lead on the Community Building team.

"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.

"Certainly it would be problematic if Brendan's behaviour within Mozilla was explicitly discriminatory, or implicitly so in the form of repeated micro-aggressions. 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." µ


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