About one-third of employees at software company Basecamp quit days after bosses told them to keep ideology out of the workplace and focus on the company’s actual business.
“We make project management, team communication, and email software,” CEO Jason Fried wrote April 26. We don’t have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they’re not our topics at work.”
Tech journalist Casey Newton said about one-third of the company’s roughly 60 employees took buyouts shortly after, with one fuming: “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.”
Newton reported at Platformer that woke tensions boiled over after, in December, a new hire “volunteered to help the company work on diversity issues.”
This included criticizing the fact that for years, many employees had contributed to a list called “Best Names Ever” in which they placed funny customer names — of “the sorts of names Bart Simpson used to use when prank calling Moe the Bartender: Amanda Hugginkiss, Seymour Butz, Mike Rotch.”
A third of the company joined a diversity initiative behind the volunteer, and two employees who had contributed to the list of funny names asked why there had never been an “internal reckoning” over it. They apologized for their involvement and included a link to something called the “pyramid of hate” from the Anti-Defamation League.
The pyramid lists “non-inclusive language, microaggressions” at the bottom and “genocide” at the top, saying, “If people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or ‘normal,’ it results in the behaviors at the next level becoming more accepted.”
Basecamp chief technology officer and co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, the father of the popular web development framework Ruby on Rails, condemned the list of funny names but found the invocation of genocide to be an example of “catastrophizing” that had the effect of shutting down rational conversation.
When one employee continued to push this line of logic, Hansson pointed out that that employee, himself, had participated in discussions making fun of customers’ names. “You are the person you are complaining about,” he thought, Newton reported.
Soon after, Fried, who along with Hansson has long been recognized as an expert on cultivating productive workplace culture, said the company was making changes to make sure there was “no forgetting what we do here.”
There would be “no more societal and political discussions” on official company channels, he said, calling it “a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places.”
On Twitter, John Breen, whose bio describes him as “He/Him. ADHD. Software developer. Queer. High Maintenance,” tallied the exodus in a thread that began, “Let’s keep track of the folks who are leaving @Basecamp and do what we can to find them a new home where they’re allowed to exist without being told they’re divisive:”
Let's keep track of the folks who are leaving @Basecamp and do what we can to find them a new home where they're allowed to exist without being told they're divisive:
— John Breen (@_breeeeen_) April 30, 2021
“Ex-basecampers: we need people like you at Mozilla!” one Mozilla employee responded.
Mozilla has experienced the dark places and distractions Fried warned about. In 2014, Mozilla’s co-founder and CEO was forced to step down when activists made an issue of political speech outside of work six years prior. In 2008, Brendan Eich donated $1,000 to a ballot initiative that banned gay marriage, an initiative that passed, meaning his position was not only mainstream but the majority position at the time.
The right to opinions inside or outside of work, it seems, only extends to the right opinions.