Emerging technologies and corporate culture at Microsoft: a methodological note.
ABSTRACT This article explores factors important in the study and examination of corporate culture and change. The particular focus is on the technological methods used to conduct a study of accessible technology and corporate culture at Microsoft Corporation. Reasons for particular approaches are explained. Advantages and challenges of emerging technologies that store and retrieve information in the study of corporate culture are reviewed.
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ABSTRACT: To investigate the inclusion of people with disabilities in the diversity policies of the most successful businesses in the United States, we examined the publicly available workforce and supplier diversity policies of the top 100 companies on Fortune Magazine's 2003 list of the 500 most profitable companies in the nation. The majority of these companies have extensive information about their diversity policies and practices available on their corporate website. The information was used to categorize the policies into those that include people with disabilities, do not define diversity, and enumerate what is meant by diversity (e.g. in terms of race or gender) but do not expressly mention disability. In addition, we looked beyond the diversity policies to information available on corporate websites relating to a variety of diversity initiatives. Findings suggest that the majority of the companies that top the Fortune 500 list have developed and implemented diversity policies. Of these, 42% have diversity policies that include people with disabilities in the definition of a diverse workforce. Furthermore, 47% of companies with workplace diversity policies discuss diversity in a way that neither expressly includes nor excludes people with disabilities. Far fewer (15%) supplier diversity policies include disability in the definition of diversity, but a significant number of companies use criteria that allow a business owner with a disability to benefit from the company's supplier diversity program.Behavioral Sciences & the Law 02/2005; 23(1):97-121. · 0.96 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: This case study examines efforts by Microsoft Corporation to enhance the diversity of its workforce and improve the accessibility and usability of its products and services for persons with disabilities. The research explores the relation among the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, corporate leadership, attitudes and behaviors towards individuals with disabilities, and dynamics that shape organizational culture at Microsoft. Implications for Microsoft, other employers, researchers, and the disability community are discussed.Behavioral Sciences & the Law 02/2005; 23(1):39-64. · 0.96 Impact Factor
Behavioral Sciences and the Law
Behav. Sci. Law 23: 65–96 (2005)
Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/bsl.627
Emerging Technologies and
Corporate Culture at Microsoft:
A Methodological Note
David Kleiny, James Schmelingzand
This article explores factors important in the study and
examination of corporate culture and change. The parti-
cular focus is on the technological methods used to conduct
a study of accessible technology and corporate culture at
Microsoft Corporation. Reasons for particular approaches
are explained. Advantages and challenges of emerging
technologies that store and retrieve information in the
study of corporate culture are reviewed. Copyright #
2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center (LHPDC) undertook a study of the
corporate culture of a large corporation, Microsoft (MS), to understand better how
persons with disabilities are included in the workforce and how accessible software
and hardware products evolve in the information technology (IT) industry (see
Sandler & Blanck, 2005). Implications for the study of corporate culture as well as
for the conduct of research and methods for studying IT or IT-using companies are
discussed herein. The study of IT and IT-using organizations presents challenges
that require development of new approaches in data collection and analysis. Data
are available in new and evolving electronic formats and media, which require
Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
*Correspondence to: Peter Blanck, Law, Health Policy and Disability Center, University of Iowa College
of Law, Iowa City, IA 52242, U.S.A. E-mail: email@example.com
yDirector of Technology, Law, Health Policy and Disability Center (LHPDC), University of Iowa
College of Law; Ph.D., University of Iowa.
zAssociate Director, LHPDC, University of Iowa College of Law; J.D., University of Iowa.
§Charles M. and Marion Kierscht Professor of Law, and Professor of Public Health and of Psychology at
the University of Iowa; Director LHPDC; Ph.D., Harvard University; J.D., Stanford Law School.
The program of research described herein is supported, in part, by grantsfrom the National Institute on
Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education, Microsoft Corporation, The
University of Iowa College of Law Foundation, and the Great Plains ADA and IT Center. The views
herein reflect only those of the authors and not of any funding agency or any other entity.
Contract/grant sponsors: National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; U.S. Department
of Education; Microsoft Corporation; The University of Iowa College of Law Foundation; Great Plains
ADA and IT Center.
understanding of why organizational cultures adopt these technologies and how
technologies interact with these cultures. Further, these formats and media require
new and evolving research skills and methods as well as tools to collect, manage, and
examine such data.
LHPDC examined Microsoft Corporation’s efforts to enhance diversity, speci-
fically toward inclusion of persons with disabilities in its workforce and efforts to
improve product and service accessibility for persons with disabilities for both its
workforce and its customers. The focus of this case study of Microsoft is the
corporate culture, leadership, and dynamics that drive MS. Law, regulatory
compliance, and social policy are also important factors to be examined. The public
at large and disability advocates influence corporate behavior and culture related to
persons with disabilities. Technology—both at MS and that of other IT companies,
whose technologies compete against and interact with MS products—plays a role.
The process of collecting, managing, and analyzing data collected during the
study, using relatively new workplace technologies, such as e-mail, presentation
software, publishing software, and the World Wide Web browsers, revealed issues
related to emerging technologies and their effect on research of corporate culture.
This article outlines some of the issues encountered during this research, how they
relate to research on corporate culture and people with disabilities, and how they
may affect future studies.
In this introduction we discuss some of the reasons to study organizations and
culture. Then, we discuss the study of IT organizations. Finally, we explain the
reasons for the selection of Microsoft as a target of study. In the second section, we
discuss methods of studying an IT organization’s corporate culture. In the third
section, we illustrate methods of data collection, management, and analysis as
applied to the study of corporate culture at Microsoft. In the final section, we
highlight issues and discuss likely future technologies related to the study of
corporate culture, disability, and use of information technology in such studies.
Much literature on corporate culture bases its conceptions of corporate or organiza-
tional culture on Schein’s seminal writings (e.g. Schein, 1985). Corporate culture is
usually defined as the system of assumptions generally agreed upon in the organiza-
tion. This system of assumptions is ingrained in an established organization and has
become invisible and inarticulable by members of the organization. Further, these
assumptions are generally viewed as having evolved from the philosophies of the
founding leaders and an interaction with the needs of the organization for survival in
its environment. A major reason for having a corporate culture is that it motivates
people to change their behavior in line with corporate necessity without a direct tie
to financial compensation. Although culture itself may be difficult to research
directly, the artifacts of the culture may be studied to provide clues to the
assumptions and belief system in place. These artifacts include corporate rules,
philosophies, shared values, norms, and patterns in the physical manifestations of
the organization as well as in the behavior of its members (Lazear, 1995; Schein,
66D. Klein et al.
Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.Behav. Sci. Law 23: 65–96 (2005)
Why Study Organizations and Corporate Culture?
The study of corporate culture has been conducted as a means to explore the forces
that determine how an organization and its personnel think about, understand,
interpret, and act on their methods of operation, strategies, and goals (Schein,
1999). Organizations are ‘‘fundamental building blocks of modern society and the
basic vehicles through which collective action occurs’’ (Aldrich, 1999, p. 5). With
organizations as vehicles for social action, it is critical to understand how they act,
and perhaps more importantly why they act. Until understanding is achieved of how
and why people and organizations act, change will be difficult. Perhaps it is not
possible to direct change or test hypotheses in corporate culture through traditional
research, but as Schein notes, ‘‘Good description and analysis is a stage of science
that is much needed’’ (p. xvi).
Good description and analysis is required of the methods of examination of
corporate culture and the particular findings of study related to the employment of
people with disabilities. Improvement in employment status of persons with
disabilities is necessary, as demonstrated by the high unemployment rate of persons
with disabilities (Blanck, Schur, Kruse, Schwochau, & Song, 2003; National
Organization on Disability, 2000). What role corporate culture plays currently or
will play in the future in that change has yet to be determined.
Little has been studied in the area of corporate culture around disability issues.
Some diversity research includes disability as a category of interest, but the focus
remains on gender, race, and sexual orientation (Knowling, 2003; ITAA, 2003).1
Most existing research on disability has focused on supervisor and coworker
attitudes and their effects on employees with disabilities (Blanck & Marti, 1997).
Research has been performed on factors that influence attitudes, which include
stereotypes, discomfort with being around people with disabilities, communication
difficulties, personality, and prior experience with people with disabilities. Effects of
supervisor and coworker attitudes include research on performance expectations,
performance evaluations, desire to have coworkers with disabilities, and hiring into
positions of responsibility (Schur, Kruse, & Blanck, 2005). However, these studies
focus on what may be artifacts of corporate culture, or of the culture at large.
Although their importance should not be underestimated, especially since artifacts
help create an atmosphere that reinforces or changes the culture, the information
derived from such research may not provide reliable insight into the assumptions
that make up the cultures that support these behaviors. A better understanding of
such cultures may help expose ways to improve the employment status and the lives
of people with disabilities in a way supported within the cultures.
Research has been undertaken by the U.S. General Accounting Office (2002a) on
the effects of economic incentives on corporate behavior and employment of
persons with disabilities, including tax incentives. Other economic incentives and
policy, particularly social security income guidelines and work incentives that apply
to individuals, have been examined in GAO research reports (U.S. General
Accounting Office, 1996, 1997, 1998a, 1998b, 2001, 2002b).
1For examples of how disability has not been addressed in diversity literature, see Cross and White
(1996), where only pages 227 and 241 mention disability; Hayles and Russell (1997), especially Figure 6–
2 (p. 87), which omits disability entirely; and Prasad, Mills, Elmes, and Prasad (1997).
Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.Behav. Sci. Law 23: 65–96 (2005)
Other research has studied corporate efforts towards regulatory compliance in the
area of civil rights. Civil rights laws pertaining to people with disabilities include the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab
Act) as amended. As in diversity research, emphasis on civil rights compliance
generally has not focused on disability but on race, gender, or sexual orientation and
the state and federal laws pertaining to such protected status, including the Civil
Rights Act of 1963 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (Aldrich, 1999;
Edelman, 1992). Employee response to corporate implementation of law and
regulation has also been examined recently, and does include the ADA (Fuller,
Edelman, & Matusik, 2000). Both economic incentives and regulatory compliance
have implications for corporate culture as well as, directly and indirectly, the
employment rates of people with disabilities.
Knowling (2003) suggests that change relies not on law or external incentives,
but rather on actions in the boardroom, regardless of external influences, which
mandate increased diversity. At-risk compensation—for example, pay tied to
performance and specific goals—may be tied to diversity by looking at position
and pay to ensure that diversity and equity are achieved. Determining who has
responsibility to implement diversity and then understanding the systems of
rewarding or penalizing the responsible parties may be of interest in future study.
It is possible to reward individual performance on the basis of the ability to create
teams (Schein, 2000). The diversity of such teams, which include people with
disabilities, might be one variable in evaluating a leader’s ability to drive change.
Measuring the creation of diverse environments by such leadership has relevance to
drivingchange (Gilbert& Ivancevich,2000;Kochan et al.,2003;Schur et al.,2005).
Why Study Large Organizations?
Large, publicly traded corporations constitute less than one percent of organizations
(Aldrich, 1999). Only 484 firms employed more than 10,000 employees in 1994
(Aldrich, 1999). Yet, although only two percent of firms in the United State have
more than 100 employees, more than 60% of all employees are employed by such
firms (Aldrich, 1999). Large employers then are the minority of organizations, but
employ a majority of employees. Employers with from 20 to 99 employees constitute
nine percent of employers, while small companies and organizations employing
from 1 to 19 employees constitute 89% of employers (Aldrich, 1999). Data from
1998 indicate that 72.1% of employees worked in firms with 25 or more employees
(Headd, 2000). In sum, organizations with more than 19 employees constituted
12% of organizations, but employed well over 72% of employees. These organiza-
tions are above the 15-employee threshold for coverage by the non-discrimination
provisions of the ADA and other civil rights laws. Focused study of large corpora-
tions has the potential to affect the largest portion of the workforce.
Another reason to study large corporations is that the largest nine percent of
corporations control 97% of corporate assets (Aldrich, 1999). With greater re-
sources, these employers may be more likely to bear needed initial costs and then
derive likely benefits from accommodating workers with disabilities. Much has been
discussed on the positive economic impact to firms when they hire persons with
disabilities (Blanck et al., 2003b).
68D. Klein et al.
Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 23: 65–96 (2005)
Finally, because many large corporations are publicly traded, more information is
available about such firms, for instance, in the form of reports filed with various
regulatory agencies and in extensive news or analyst coverage (Aldrich, 1999). With
more data, understanding such firms becomes easier, though as Silverstein and
others caution, analysts should understand the limitations of data collected for a
single purpose (to examine public policy in other areas) to understand the implica-
tions of using the data for another purpose (Silverstein, Julnes, & Nolan, 2005).
Fewer data are available about small firms, but sources include the Small Business
Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the
Census Bureau (Aldrich, 1999). Although study of corporate culture through
limited collected data on small firms may be problematic, when aggregated across
firms or industries these data may be useful.
Large employers also are likely to be cognizant of and responsive to relevant
federal anti-discrimination law (Edelman, 1990, as cited by Aldrich, 1999). They
often establish offices for anti-discrimination activities, including ADA compliance,
and use human resource systems to manage employees (Edelman, 1999). Data may
be available to researchers from either regulatory reporting (individually from the
company, or aggregated from the federal agency), or from internal data sources used
for compliance or for human resource management. Responses to regulation are
both internal to an organization and important to the persona the organization
presents externally (Edelman, 1990, 1992; Edelman, Uggen, & Erlanger, 1999;
Fuller et al., 2000).
Why Study Information Technology Organizations?
Information technology companies such as Microsoft provide opportunities for
people with disabilities either as employees or contractors, or through products and
services they generate. Such companies and technologies are the focus of demon-
stration projects and studies researching barriers to or facilitators of employment
(Blanck, Ritchie, Schmeling, & Klein, 2003; Schartz, Schartz, & Blanck, 2002).
Because many positions in IT companies, such as software programmers, writers,
and graphic designers, not to mention white-collar management positions common
to most other industries, do not require significant physical effort, and instead
require intellectual skills, people with physical disabilities may have a more level
playing field for employment.
Besides IT companies, large, non-IT companies are significant users of IT, and
IT-based jobs, as well as accessible products and services, and provide significant
employment opportunities. IT may enable new forms of work, including telework,
which previously were unknown, or contingent work and temporary work, often
relying on interchangeable IT work skills (Kruse, 2001; Kruse & Hyland, unpub-
lished manuscript; Schur, 2002, 2003). Such work arrangements are beneficial to
workers with disabilities when transportation barriers exist or when flexible work is a
desirable option. In the future, these kinds of generalized IT skills may be needed in
greater numbers as IT becomes integrated into corporate infrastructures more as a
utility (Carr, 2003).
A key to these technologies, however, is that the IT systems must be accessible to
persons with disabilities if they are to be used by them. The National Institute on
Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 23: 65–96 (2005)