IBM employee quits to protest company's overture to Donald Trump

Marketing strategist Elizabeth Wood says she felt "deeply crushed" at IBM chief's overtures to Donald Trump

By Ben Norton

Published November 23, 2016 7:55PM (EST)

 (AP/Mark Lennihan)
(AP/Mark Lennihan)

An employee at IBM has publicly resigned to protest the tech giant's embrace of President-elect Donald Trump.

Elizabeth Wood, a senior content strategist in IBM's corporate marketing department, announced this week that she is stepping down, after CEO Ginni Rometty offered to help the far-right leader "advance a national agenda in a time of profound change."

Rometty published an open letter to Trump on Nov. 15, in which she expressed hope that they could "work together to achieve prosperity."

"I am writing to offer ideas that I believe will help achieve the aspiration you articulated," the IBM chief wrote. She proposed ways in which the company could help the impending Trump administration create new jobs, build advanced infrastructure, reduce government inefficiency and make national investments.

In reply to her boss, Wood published her own open letter this week, expressing concern that her company would embrace a politician who ran an overtly racist, xenophobic and misogynist campaign.

"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," she wrote.

Salon spoke with Elizabeth Wood about her experience. Over the phone, the former IBM employee sounded concerned, yet brave and committed to doing what is right.

"I was really offended — really deeply crushed," Wood explained. "This was such a welcoming letter that it was just really distressing."

"It felt like such a clear message to IBMers," she added. That message: profit trumps people.

Wood nevertheless spoke positively of her experience at IBM. "I did see a future in the company," she said, noting she had not previously thought about leaving. She liked her job, and had worked there for roughly two years.

"It took a while to get there," Wood said. "But now, it doesn't seem worth it to contribute that energy or give them that time, because it's just, why — they don't care about what, for so much of their own workforce, the real challenges and threats are."

Wood emphasized that, as a Latina woman, she feels especially threatened by the Trump administration her former employer has pledged to help.

"The battle cry of Trump's whole campaign has been this whole 'build a wall' nonsense," she told Salon, noting that the billionaire has already surrounded himself with figures with extreme right-wing, bigoted ideologies.

"A lot of people are scared. You can see it; you can feel it," she added. "A lot of my peers are feeling powerless, saying, 'I don't know what to do.' They are feeling threatened and unheard by this upcoming regime."

In her letter to President-elect Trump, Ginni Rometty conceded that "there will be issues on which we agree, and issues on which we do not." Yet she also detailed ways in which IBM — which she points out is "the nation’s largest technology employer" — could help Trump accomplish some of his administration's economic goals. And the CEO highlighted that her company works in more than 175 countries around the world.

Wood expressed concerns about what such collaboration could mean. "IBM specifically has capabilities that will really aid in some of Trump's more nefarious initiatives," she said, citing the far-right administration's pledge to carry out mass deportations and create a registry for Muslims.

IBM does in fact have a precedent of working with ghastly regimes. In his book "IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation," journalist Edwin Black detailed the past links between the powerful technology company and Adolf Hitler's genocidal regime.

Wood told Salon that she did not know about this history of Nazi collaboration, but commented, "It should serve as a warning to really consider when supporting political administrations like this."

The former IBM employee said she does not know what exactly she will do now; she did not have another job offer before resigning. But she feels confident that it was the right choice.

Wood also made it clear that, although her open letter is addressed to Rometty, it is by no means only meant for her.

"I know it wasn't just her writing it; I'm sure there were many hands involved," she said of the IBM CEO. Wood stressed that her warnings also apply to other corporations that plan to work with what will likely be an extreme and repressive Trump administration.

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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