Two open letters, issued from opposite ends of the IBM organizational chart, are getting equal attention this week.
The first one came a week after the election. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote an open letter to President-Elect Donald Trump, which clearly spoke to the more optimistic version of his presidential persona.
“Last Tuesday night you spoke about bringing the country together to build a better future, and the opportunity to harness the creative talent of people for the benefit of all,” she began. “I am writing to offer ideas that I believe will help achieve the aspiration you articulated and that can advance a national agenda in a time of profound change.”
Her ideas involved the creation of “new” collar jobs IT jobs, filled by vocational training instead of traditional college; the need to include cybersecurity in any infrastructure plans; using IT to drive better health outcomes and eliminate government waste; tax reform and better health care for veterans.
Her tone was neutral, reasonable and clearly established IBM’s stake in key debates going forward, as both a tech innovator and employer.
But the letter did not sit right with one employee, a senior content strategist named Elizabeth Wood. After much thought, Wood wrote her own open letter, addressed directly to IBM's chief executive, and announced she was resigning.
“Your letter offered the backing of IBM’s global workforce in support of his agenda that preys on marginalized people and threatens my well-being as a woman, a Latina and a concerned citizen.” That Rometty's letter came so quickly after the election told Wood that the company had chosen to legitimize threats to our country for financial gain. “The president-elect has demonstrated contempt for immigrants, veterans, people with disabilities, Black, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities,” she wrote. “These groups comprise a growing portion of the company you lead, Ms. Rometty. They work every day for IBM’s success and have been silenced by your words.”
These two letters highlight the painful balancing act that chief executives and other leaders now face: How to work productively with a deeply divisive new government while reaffirming their commitment to the difficult work of maintaining an inclusive culture within their own ecosystems. Their businesses depend on mastering both.
“I was really offended — really deeply crushed,” Wood later told Slate. Wood had liked her job of two years and felt she had a future at IBM. But she just couldn’t stay. “This was such a welcoming letter that it was just really distressing.”
And as the news gets worse, the work will only get more difficult.
How should diversity experts feel about their career these days?
After the election of Donald Trump, the growing diversity and inclusion field has suffered – but is it a setback? Something more? It's hard to know. The professionals who help companies build more inclusive cultures are understandably nervous. Some are hopeful that the tough talk about race will lead to openness. But many are reporting a new set of challenges. Now, they say, they have to work harder to tamp down heightened feelings of' us versus them', and public conflicts are popping up at the mere mention of a hot button term.
A new list aims to document cases of left-leaning professors for “targeting” conservative students
A nonprofit called Turning Point USA has launched Professor Watchlist, a website that publishes the name, school, and alleged misdeeds of some 200 professors who are “advanc[ing] leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The site lets visitors submit their own entries; academics are worried about the chilling effect such lists may have on speech in the classroom.
Four engineering students. 36 hours. One working fake news detector. Game on, Facebook
After becoming increasingly alarmed by the fake news found on her feed, grad student Nabanita De encouraged three friends, Anant Goel, Qinglin Chen, and Mark Craft to try to build an algorithm that authenticates what’s real and what's fake on Facebook during a hackathon hosted by Princeton. The only goal: Create a technology product in 36 hours. Their hack? A chrome browser extension that tags links in Facebook feeds as "verified" after checking the source’s credibility and cross-referencing the information with other sources. It’s called FiB.
Silicon Valley has an empathy vacuum
It goes beyond trolls and fake news, says technology writer Om Malik; it’s about what's missing from the heart of technology today. Malik has written an important piece about the soul searching the tech community needs to do to better understand life in a post-Trump world. “Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry."
Only one person went to jail for a spate of corporate pollution scandals
Kerr-McGhee, among many other things, was alleged to have poisoned some 15,000 people in mostly black communities near the company’s chemical plants. The company has since been forced to reorganize; but remarkably, the only person held accountable is an independent lab owner turned activist and whistleblower, who appears to have embarrassed the EPA and Justice Department with her claims of negligence and corporate malfeasance. Tennie White was ultimately prosecuted for falsifying test records when she was unable to produce three wastewater tests. The Intercept’s Sharon Lerner is not so sure.
Donald Trump is “an imperfect vessel” for the revolutionary vision of Steve Bannon
Scott Shane has reported a must-read profile on the new White House strategist, a man who has mastered the art of propaganda in the digital age to the delight of racists and dismay of political elites. He is a mass of contradictions, a manipulative “screamer” with a rabid love for Reagan, honed by Harvard Business School and Goldman Sachs, who occasionally muses about limiting voting rights to property owners, which would disproportionately impact citizens of color. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” he said.
The Woke Leader
On race, President Trump and hopelessness
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, researcher and prolific blogger. Her most recent post is a difficult and emotional look at race in America, and the truly fine line so many Americans walk when we try to parse our difficult history of racial hierarchy. Can you believe Donald Trump’s populist money talk and not get entangled by racism? It's complicated, but she remains hopeful. “[W]hen black people say that they are plenty hopeful we tend to mean that our hope is tempered by a deep awareness of how thin is the veneer of white civility.”
An unexpected Cuba
“If you really want to get to know a country, become a perp in it,” begins this intriguing short film that is part of The New Yorker Presents documentary series. Author and filmmaker Eugene Jarecki was invited to Cuba two years ago to take part in the country’s first-ever TED event. As he was touring the country doing research, his taxi hit a guy on a bike. He learned more about Cuba than he ever imagined, all of it beautiful. (The guy survived.) Sure, it's a "white guy visits foreign land" trope, but he does an excellent job.
A Twitter conversation about being an indigenous person
An emotional and revealing conversation erupted on Twitter under the hashtag #DefineAboriginal, after Australian senator Pauline Hanson said there is “no definition of aboriginal.” In public remarks, Hanson implied that Australians were declaring themselves as aboriginal for financial gain. An outpouring of true stories of racism, bigotry and violence followed.