Pando

“Inside out pressure matters more to tech companies than outside in. Employees have the power.”

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 30, 2017

From The From the Trenches Desk

As Paul’s Come to Satan side project has been dutifully tracking, tech CEOs have fallen in love with two words since Nov. 8: Fiduciary duty.

It’s what they say every time they have to explain why they are meeting with Donald Trump, serving as advisors to him, and posing for embarrassing photo opps that give him legitimacy.

We’ve seen some of the public explanations for why CEOs “have” to give Trump a chance or work with him. I’ve had many more private conversations. So many that I could probably list the specific regulatory fear of each person sitting in that big tech meeting behind their Trump waters. I have debated what these CEOs “have to” and “should” do with people who think I’m being too easy on them and people who think I’m being too hard on them.

I’ve had this conversation so many times from so many angles with people inside and outside the Silicon Valley echochamber.

Two things are crystal clear to me.

The first is that some of the most powerful people in the universe are scared shitless right now and feeling a lack of control they aren’t accustomed to. Which is sort of amazing. Men like Travis Kalanick, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk have so much wealth, following, and genuine political power, you would have felt above pandering to a President that even the Wall Street Journal referred to as “amateur hour.”

Particularly those like Kalanick who pride themselves on not being beholden to governments or regulation. DISRUPT! Now, these same people are saying they simply have to cooperate. As Jason Hirschhorn shrewdly advised on Twitter: “Travis said not one word about morality. Only business.”

Plenty of folks inside these companies have felt bait-and-switched as regimes have changed in America and once bold DISRUPTERS! (Kalanick), proud feminists (Sheryl Sandberg), those who’ve devoted careers to the science of climate change (Musk) and staunch immigration reformers (Zuckerberg) have mostly stayed quiet… until this past weekend.

What changed? Employees lost their shit. And that's the second thing I'm crystal clear on: Right now employees have tremendous power. Employees getting angry this past weekend changed all the risk/reward calculus going on in these CEOs heads. When you are silent: Meeting with Trump to ensure some favorable regulation or avoid retaliation is the clear no brainer. When employees insist founders live up to their stated values, suddenly there is something on the other side of the scales.

The employee pressure lead to a ton of ACLU donations and some additional benefits for refugees donated by tech companies this past weekend. But most CEOs were only talking, and some not nearly emphatically enough. Musk, for one: “The blanket entry ban on citizens from certain primarily Muslim countries is not the best way to address the country’s challenges.”

Not the best way.

Several of these tech leaders are poised to meet with Trump in coming days. This may be their last chance to pretend they are trying to “do the right thing” by reasoning with a man who has proven to be unreasonable.

Meantime, I asked several folks on Twitter what exactly employees should be doing this week to turn the heat up on CEOs. You are basically the one force that can make companies like Google, Facebook, and Uber come together and condemn these actions. And that matters, when Trump is using these platforms for political gain and getting political mileage from these photo opps.

If employees at just one of these companies force major change, the rest will follow. What’s protected them so far is how many of them are playing Trump’s game. They are on defense. They are scared. If you turn up the heat internally, it will have an impact.  

So here’s some advice going into Monday morning if you work at these companies.

From VC Manu Kumar via Tweetstorm (reformatted for ease of reading):

"Employees of the tech companies need to start pressuring their CEOs to stop being silent puppets and speak out. I’d start by having employees email their CEOs and tell them to make a public statement. Flood their inbox. Then also devise ways in which their companies can do something to help and make an impact. Twitter can. Facebook can. Google can…. And if their CEOs don’t make a public statement, then employees should consider staging a half day walk out to show their resolve. It has to be half day so that people come to work in the morning and then actively tell their bosses/peers/subordinates why they are walking out in the middle of the day."

Said VC Hunter Walk:

“Inside out pressure matters more to tech companies than outside in. Employees have the power. [Senior white males] must commit to not letting other underrepresented peers carry.”

Said Nicole Sanchez:

“Go to the highest-ranking *yet* must-trusted person you know. Ask them to gather their allies...build a coalition and follow the lead of people above you who have/can get more protection. Rememberg that there are good people inside “every one” of these companies who want the right thing to happen.

Said Matthew Lewis:

“Start an internal email thread and be sure to include HR. It’s their job to handle. Make clear the deep discomfort they feel that their colleagues are now at risk. Ask what the company intends to do to ensure ALL employees are protected. As the thread gets big enough, demand response from C suite on specific, measureable actions. Trump has just put every large company in the US in an impossible position. Good. Consequence of tech industry’s refusal to make tough but important choices earlier.”

Via Pando.com and social media, hundreds of thousands of tech workers follow and read us. If you agree that the tech world has some of the most concentrated power in terms of wealth, lobbying, and communication and influence of any industry right now, and you agree that actions like the Muslim Ban are bad for America, than this should excite you. Because right now, you are the industry’s best hope at standing up to Trump.