The Basecamp debacle — Reflection time

(Read this first if you need context)

When they first published the memo, I was surprised not by the fact that two dudes thought this was a good workplace policy (and a good way to roll it out) but by the fact that some of my friends and colleagues’ first instinct was to question the trigger instead of questioning the outcome. To me, it never really mattered why. It mattered what it would mean.

So this morning I took a reflective look at my job. I have both a middle management job and a leadership position within my craft. I’m doing what I want to do. Not what I’ve always dreamed of doing, but the thing that I discovered I loved while I was in the job. Nothing guarantees it’s going to last, no job is perfect. There are always things that frustrate me or make me feel held back. But I don’t think my job satisfaction have been this high since… ever.

It’s with that in mind that I started this reflection. If this was happening in my workplace today, when I’m feeling at the height of my career… would I make the same decision Basecamp employees are making today and leave?

I like to think I would. I can’t be sure of course, I’m not there. But to reflect on it, I started listing in my head (and now on paper) all the things I consider part of my role expectations (in the culture of an industry that encourages giving it all to your job) and part of who I am as a leader, and more importantly, as a person.

And guess what, I think most of it would be potentially considered “political”.

Let’s start with myself. From the top of my head without putting too much weight on the labels themselves, I consider myself a woman, immigrant, queer, South American, White (and white passing), non-native English speaker, atheist, independent, etc.

So when I think about it that way, it’s not so hard to imagine how impossible it would feel to work in an environment in which who I am can be considered “political”.

And that’s just the starting point. What happens when I look at it as a Design Leader within a big organisation?

You probably think discussions about “politics, advocacy, or society at large” are about conservatives vs liberals (and US politics), racism, BLM, #meToo, civil rights, immigration, etc. Which, of course they are and they are hard to deal with in any environment. It’s complex, it should be complex. I almost understand the gut reaction to think we would be better if we didn’t discuss these things at work.

But what about all the things that are less obvious or not a big part of the public discourse and the media? Things that we do or talk about today that would potentially be considered “societal or political discussions” at work but that also are either literally written in my job description or I consider an important part of my job as a Design Leader?

Here are some examples:

Advocating for Women in Tech/Leadership

  • raising awareness about the lack of women in leadership positions (a couple of months ago I posted a version of this in our internal workplace channels)
  • asking why there are no women in this room/panel/discussion
  • discussing ways to improve the gender balance in the leadership of my department with my department leader (a man)
  • building an interviewing team considering the women/men ratio (and other diversity factors, but more on that below)
  • being someone my team can talk to about this

Ethics and transparency in design work

  • challenging product/design ideas that blur or cross ethical lines
  • advocating for good handling of PII or any other personal data
  • questioning business practices or product decisions when the fail to meet transparency standards

Safe Environment and Culture

  • developing a sense of belonging and community
  • calling out toxic behaviour or inappropriate “joking” patterns (which ironically, seems to be the trigger that inspired such policy at Basecamp)
  • finding ways of empowering introverted folks so they have the same opportunities to grow and develop their careers in a sometimes loud environment
  • advocating for the well-being of my team members, identifying burnout symptoms and addressing them (You did live through 2020 right? You think you can separate politics from this? Good luck)

Diversity and Inclusion

  • challenging the compositions of teams
  • proactively identifying concrete opportunities based on people’s background and aspirations
  • aiming to build teams that represent our user base

(There are probably more examples. Might add later.)

The ironic part is, I tend to stay off political discussion at work. I’m a quiet and introverted person, I don’t do public speaking, I don’t post or comment on big social issues, I’m not what you would consider an activist. But I do proactively advocate for the issues I listed above, and I do it with conviction, because I believe it necessary to complete the task at hand: help my teams do their best at designing a great product that serves user needs.

My job is also political.

So, would talking about all of this in order to do my job break Basecamp’s new policy? Maybe you want to think that no, they didn’t mean it like that.

But would I feel empowered to go to them and ask them if they did mean it like that? No. And that’s enough of a reason to get the hell out of there.

Senior Design Manager @ — Music addict — Sci-fi fan — You may say that I’m a dreamer (but I’m not the only one).