IBM—Whose CEO Advises Trump—Calls for ‘Openness’ After Immigration Ban
The business world continues to assess the impact of Trump’s immigration ban two days after he signed the order prohibiting refugees and other immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
IBM, one of the biggest employers in the Fortune 500, has joined the ranks of corporations reaching out to employees about the ban. In a memo to workers that IBM sent to Fortune, Diane Gherson, IBM Senior Vice President of Human Resources, said the company’s “first priority has been to identify and engage IBMers who may be affected, in order to provide any assistance they need.” She said the company had so far pinpointed three IBMers “directly affected by the executive order, and none have concerns at this time.”
The company is working to ensure that IBM employees with affected families are supported and receive necessary assistance, Gherson wrote. It established a phone number for employees with border entry emergencies.
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IBM has long sought to balance the “flow of people, ideas, commerce and information with the needs of security, everywhere in the world,” according to Gherson’s memo. Gherson said CEO Ginni Rometty “often remind[s]” employees of that philosophy. Not mentioned in the memo is Rometty’s participation in the CEO advisory group that Trump assembled in December.
Gherson’s memo continued:
As IBMers, we have learned, through era after era, that the path forward—for innovation, for prosperity, and for civil society—is the path of engagement and openness to the world. Our company will continue to work and advocate for this.
The backlash from the tech industry signals the deterioration of the uneasy detente Trump and some Silicon Valley leaders had settled into following his election win in November.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, “It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues.” The travel ban ensnared some 187 Googlers who hail from the countries it targets. Apple CEO Tim Cook weighed in as well, writing in his own memo to his workforce that the company—founded by Steve Jobs, the son of an immigrant from Syria, one of the impacted countries—“would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, said the U.S. should focus its security measures on “people who actually pose a threat.”
Rometty was especially vocal following Trump’s victory, penning an open letter to him on November 15 that outlined several bi-partisan steps she thought the new administration could take to help create jobs. Her message to Trump irked at least one employee. A senior content strategist wrote her own open letter to Rometty and announced she was resigning.
A spokesman for IBM said the company had “nothing to add” when Fortune asked whether Trump’s immigration ban would alter Rometty’s role on the president’s advisory board.
The ban has prompted protests across the United States, but Trump defended it on Sunday. “America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” Trump said in a statement. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion—this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”