Days after banning politics from the workplace to keep employees focused on their mission rather than distracted by wokeness, software firm Basecamp appears to have reversed course, suspending its chief strategist after he said he does not believe the company is white supremacist and after employees reportedly cried and screamed.
For a few glittering moments, it looked like Basecamp could be a new model for companies.
After the Chicago-based software company became subsumed by drama from employees talking about racial oppression and other unrelated political issues at work, its founders — long acknowledged as experts in cultivating productive work environments — said “No more societal and political discussions” in the workplace. “It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places,” CEO Jason Fried wrote.
Fried was determined to cultivate a “calm” workplace, and he was firm about the new policy, even allowing employees to take buyouts if they didn’t like it. When employees likened a list of funny names to “genocide,” another co-founder said they were “catastrophizing,” and that such hyperbole made rational conversation impossible.
But on a Friday videoconference, Fried apologized to employees for not informing them of the changes before posting them to a public blog, and activist employees appeared to smell blood in the water. They unleashed a torrent of criticism against the company and its purported oppression.
After ninety minutes, one senior employee, chief strategist Ryan Singer, expressed a different opinion, saying “I strongly disagree we live in a white supremacist culture,” Casey Newton reported at the Verge.
“If you express a dissenting view, you get called a Nazi,” Singer said on the call, according to the version other employees told Newton. “I have not felt this is open territory for discussion. If we were to try to get into it as a group discussion it would be very painful and divisive.”
Fried moved on to the next speaker, saying, “Thank you, Ryan.”
Then a black employee demanded to return to Singer’s comments. “The fact that you can be a white male, and come to this meeting and call people racist and say ‘white supremacy doesn’t exist’ when it’s blatant at this company is white privilege,” the employee said. “The fact that he wasn’t corrected and was in fact thanked — it makes me sick.” Basecamp employees mostly work their white-collar jobs from home.
“I stand by it … I am very sure I don’t treat people in a racist way,” Singer replied. “If you want to debate whether [white supremacy] exists anywhere, then yeah. But not here at this company, not with the people I associate with.”
“This is f***ing bulls***t. You are being ridiculous,” an employee said, and demanded that Fried “denounce white supremacy.”
The Verge continued:
“I’m not here to share my personal views on anything,” Fried said. “I’m horrified when one group dominates another.” Fried, who is Jewish, added that he had lost relatives during the Holocaust. “I think it’s absolutely the most disgusting thing in the world … I can’t say that’s happening here.”
Two employees told me that they had found themselves crying and screaming at the screen.
The employee continued: “The silence in the background is what racism and white supremacy does.”
A half hour after the meeting ended, Fried posted an internal note saying that Singer has been suspended pending an investigation. He added that the company was bringing in unspecified outside “help” to address the situation.
On Monday morning, in an interview, Fried told me that Singer had resigned.
I asked Fried to clarify his remarks during the Friday meeting, which had clearly caught him off guard.
“I denounce white supremacy unconditionally,” he told me.
One-third of employees quit, with one telling Newton, “Basically the company has said, ‘well, your opinions don’t really matter — unless it’s directly related to business…’ A lot of people are gonna have a tough time living with that.”
But as important as it was for Basecamp employees to be able to express their political views at work, the same apparently did not hold true for Singer.
Singer told The Daily Wire “I imagine the suspension was a necessary legal action on their part just because of the very nature of the accusations against me. I don’t take it personally or interpret it as a political statement and continue to respect Jason and David.”
Fried did not return a request for comment from The Daily Wire on whether the action against Singer means he believes his own company is white supremacist and whether this signals the end of his no-politics-in-the-workplace stance.
But so far, he appears to have been right about one thing: That political discussions in the workplace sap energy, cause distractions and lead to dark places. The Verge reported that Fried was “bleary-eyed” and co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson was sick in bed.