One-third of Basecamp’s employees have publicly expressed they intend to resign from the Chicago-based software company as of last week after co-founder and CEO Jason Fried barred employees from discussing politics at work. Basecamp’s move was originally rooted in the company taking accountability for an increasingly racist alienating practice that had developed from an internal messaging board.
Customer service representatives at the company began keeping a running list of names that “sounded funny,” and names with Asian, African and other non-white origins were discussed with a racist and culturally insensitive tone. Once a quorum of employees had complained about the list, Fried over-corrected by banning speaking about politics over work-issued communications channels. The move harkens back to a similar strategy taken by crypto trading platform Coinbase.
Leading up to the 2020 election and on the heels of the murder of George Floyd, Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong instructed employees not to talk about politics at work. This drew criticism from other tech founders like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and employees who said that barring political talk revoked psychological safety and employee’s sense of belonging. Armstrong stood in opposition to Black employees at the company who felt tokenized.
Black employees in tech and across other industries work in environments with stark underrepresentation while confronting seemingly weekly tragedies either wrought from another unarmed citizen being killed by police or the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on their communities. To effectively tell employees to keep politics out of it disregards their lived experience and the psychological strain of being Black in America today and having to put aside warranted feelings of angst, hope and fear to carry on working.
Fried’s provenly failed strategy is blatantly tone-deaf as politics and the need for systemic policy reform are at the root of issues that impact and govern employee’s lives. As Basecamp navigates severance packages for fleeing employees, many of whom are high ranking, the company is standing by its choice and is counting on living this down.
“We’ve committed to a deeply controversial stance, some employees are relieved, others are infuriated, and that pretty well describes much of the public debate around this too,” David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp CTO said in a company blog post. “This too shall pass.”
For the many employees that have now been alienated by leadership at the company, they don’t have the luxury of conducting business as usual or keeping politics out of it.