I’ve been the CEO of Appirio since the company was founded in 2006, and this is my first blog on a political topic. My parents told me growing up that nothing good comes from mixing politics and business. This week they were proven wrong.
Late last week the Indiana state legislature and Governor Pence put into place the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which essentially made it legal and defensible to discriminate against individuals if doing so was consistent with a person or organization’s religious beliefs. There has been much commentary and analysis on the legislation, but many believe it was in response to court cases involving same-sex marriage.
As anyone who has seen my Facebook and Twitter posts can attest, I was both personally and professionally horrified when I saw this come through. Did this mean my brother, an openly gay man, could be turned away from a hotel or restaurant when visiting me in the state? What did this mean for the 125 employees in our Indianapolis office, or for our ability to grow and expand in the state?
Indianapolis, due in part to its great business policies and wealth of talent, had become one of our fastest growing offices and a hub of global employee training, customer events and recruiting efforts. As a company that prides itself on living its values, celebrating diversity, and supporting all employees and customers, how could we continue to invest in a state that clearly did not share our same values?
As we reevaluated our multi-year expansion plans in the region and worked behind the scenes with city and state contacts to push for change, the entire nation watched something amazing happen.
Thousands of organizations and executives from companies of every size took to Twitter, blogs and other social sites to express their distaste for the new law and to communicate plans to withdraw from or boycott the state. From the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, to Fortune 100 companies like Apple and Walmart, to the NCAA to Indiana universities, the message was clear – #fixthisnow!
Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com and one of our closest partners, said it well in a recent interview:
“I think everyone has learned a big lesson here, which is that companies matter…and in the world of social media, things can happen quickly. I don’t think people realized how much could happen in a week.”
Whether it was the volume, tone or economic reality of the responses, the politicians took notice. Other states looking to pass similarly worded bills suddenly paused. Within a week, the part-time Indiana legislature had revised the RFRA language to ensure that nothing in the act will provide legal protection or in any way promote or permit discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, race, color, religion, ancestry, age, origin, disability, sex, gender identity or military service. It was quickly signed into law.
While this does not go as far as we’d like to make sexual orientation a protected class, it’s a major step in the right direction and provides a warning to other government leaders who look to court businesses like us and those much bigger than us into their state.
I am not writing this blog to simply restate history. I’m doing so because I am so incredibly proud of the people inside and outside this company who made a stand to do the right thing. Proud that corporations can stand by their values and use their collective economic pressure not for the good of their own companies but the good of society. And proud that change could happen so quickly.