Given the company’s relatively small size, the decision might have gone by with little notice, but its founders have made a name for themselves over the years as progressive thought leaders.
But diversity and inclusion experts say the move isn’t courageous. Instead, it seems motivated by fear of change as the world has fundamentally shifted in the past year in response to the pandemic and a broader reckoning around racial and social justice in the United States. According to Y-Vonne Hutchinson, the founder of inclusion consultancy firm ReadySet, the notion of banning politics and societal discussions at work comes across as an attempt to “bottle the genie on woke politics so people can just get away with what they’ve gotten away with before.”
Hutchinson told CNN Business that what the people who are making these decisions are “not realizing, or maybe what they don’t want to realize, is that in an environment where there is literally no separation between your work and your home and your very existence is political, you can’t really separate the two.”
During these discussions some employees also zeroed in on a list of “funny” customer names workers had collected over more than a decade, finding it to be a problematic practice. After Basecamp cofounder David Heinemeier Hansson acknowledged to employees the list was wrong, he attempted to shut down further internal discussion about the reasons why, Newton reported.
Tech companies have long tried to stay neutral on political issues while simultaneously positioning their products and services as having the potential to change the world. But today’s increasingly divided political environment has led many tech workers to push their companies to embrace more causes, making corporate neutrality more difficult to maintain.
That such a large percentage of Basecamp’s workforce left in short order suggests that the new policy does not reflect the values of a number of employees.
As Jeffrey Hirsch, a labor law professor at the University of North Carolina, pointed out, Basecamp’s language describing what is considered social and political speech could violate US labor law. “I would say [what was described] was really broad, and that increases the likelihood that a reasonable employee would view it as chilling protected speech,” he said. “It could backfire, for sure.”
It could also have repercussions among its customers. In an open letter to Basecamp this week, a customer and fan of the company, Kris Smith, wrote that the announced changes “felt like a slap in the face.”
The post originally concluded by leaving room for a reversal (“And the best thing about decisions? You can always make another”).
That sentence has since been deleted.