April 29, 2021•880 words
After the Basecamp founders came out with a shocking update on their (famous and NYT Bestseller) company culture, I felt compelled to write them a letter on how these changes were making myself and others feel. This was before the article came out at The Verge that went in depth into the internal struggles the company was facing, and before the Basecamp co-founders revealed they had provided the option to any and all employees a generous severance package to those that don't agree with the company changes in question, while going even more in depth into the internal issues.
This is what I wrote.
I just wanted to voice my concern, like many others probably have, on the recent change in Basecamp company culture. I come with feedback, rather than simply yelling, because, first, I believe that is the right thing to do, and second, I personally work for a company that empowers its employees to dissent when they think a wrong decision has made, and, in my opinion, every single person, from the smallest IC to the CEO themselves, can benefit from receiving feedback.
It is my dearest hope that this does not simply find its way into the discard pile. Basecamp (and before that: 37signals) has been a company I have always looked up to my entire career. I read Rework as a new grad in the web development field, and aspired to some day work for a company with such ideals. I have used Basecamp (the product) multiple times throughout my career now. I have learned Ruby and Ruby on Rails partially because of my passion for Basecamp as a company, and I am now writing (and sending) this very email using HEY.com.
It is extremely disheartening to hear and see a small company, one who prides itself on fighting for the little guy when it comes to standing up to companies like Apple and Google, look internally and come to the conclusion that to be "political" has no room in the workplace. What is political anyway? Is standing up for racial equity political? Are LGBTQIA rights political? What if an individual contributor on a lower rung of Basecamp is an LGBTQIA individual, can they not look for allies internally at the company they spend their lives at?
I believe these are oversights that Jason Fried and DHH may not even be aware of. It is hard to see what one's true privilege is when you have it every day. Personally, I am a straight white male who has a well paying job and isn't struggling financially. I know I have to work hard to recognize what benefits of life I might have that others might not, and how that might affect others differently than it affects myself. I am giving the heads of Basecamp the benefit of the doubt that they simply hadn't thought from this angle, but some people's very existence is seen as political by a certain population. It isn't as simple as "leaving the politics at the door" when someone's standard state of existence is offensive to others.
Taking a stance on racism, on sexual orientation, and on numerous other facets of our modern life is not a political move, it is an ethical move. It is standing up for individuals both inside and outside one's company because not everybody has an equal voice, and this is especially true when the CEO of a company speaks for the rest of the entire team. Even without an official stance on being apolitical, it is extremely difficult for anyone to speak up to their superiors, and especially to the owner of their employer.
Adding on top of the apolitical directive, for it to take effect at the same moment it would appear that the only official feedback workers will receive is from direct superiors, and not their fellow individual contributors heightens the barrier that would need to be breached for anyone to speak up to dissent, or even to defend a fellow coworker.
I want to be very clear. I am not some angry person on Twitter, and I am not someone who is simply going to boycott a product just because I believe the head of that company made a mistake. What I really would like is for the heads of that company to not mock the nearly universal negative reaction they have been getting, and instead look inward and at least, for a moment, reflect on if the right moves were made.
I want to thank you, personally, for reading this message, I am quite sure the person reading this had nothing to do with the decisions made. Thank you for not just skimming this and moving forward, and I hope this feedback can make it to channels that can actually act, or at least further explain the reasoning behind why they choose not to act in light of how many times this same company has been a bastion of making the hard decisions for the betterment of the many, rather than the few.