OPINION: Basecamp's decision to ban politics at work is a big step backwards

Thursday, 29 April 2021 16:49 GMT

A man looks out a window from an office space during partial lockdown measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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Tech company Basecamp’s ban on political discussion on company platforms is a choice to perpetuate the status quo, and overlooks how politics and societal issues shape the world of work

Sheree Atcheson (@nirushika) is an award-winning global diversity, equity & inclusion executive and published author of ‘Demanding More’

Basecamp, a software company, this week said it was banning employees from ‘societal and political discussions’ on internal workplace tools due it being a distraction and leading to difficult conversations.

The move follows a similar no-politics-at-work policy introduced by crypto start-up Coinbase in October which was met with criticism online.

Basecamp’s founders David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried are well-known in the tech industry for their outspoken nature and advocacy for reworking ways of working, avoiding burnout and sharing how to run a remote-first business.

Personally, I have been fans of their work, watched their live Q&As and actively tweeted in early April that I’d love to work at Basecamp. That didn’t age well, did it?

The new workplace policies at Basecamp focus on six areas, with the banning of societal and political discussions in work unsurprisingly causing widespread discussion online - and rightly so.

In a statement, Fried states that “today's social and political waters are especially choppy.” Yes, correct. Police brutality against Black people is a continuous and systemic issue. Anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise. Politics continue to shape everyday lives. No lies detected.

He goes on to say: “Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant.”

Life isn’t sunshine and rainbows, and neither is politics. Politics can be contentious because they define what you care about and what you deem important. Do you actively consider other people’s needs when voting, even if those needs do not directly affect yourself?

Politics and inclusion are directly connected - what areas get funding, how white supremacy is addressed, and what policies and bills are passed ensuring equal human rights for women, transgender folks and other marginalised folks.

After the murder of George Floyd, we have seen a heightened awareness of these injustices. People have protested and signed petitions using their voices for the greater good. Many brands and companies have worked to do similar.

There is an awareness in a follow-up statement from Basecamp that discussing politics at work is difficult but this is viewed as a distraction.

Hansson doubles down, stating that “it's become ever more stressful, unnerving, and counterproductive” and suggests that employees of all backgrounds and beliefs should be able to disconnect from politics and get along.

What a lovely idea, if only it didn’t require so much privilege to disconnect from the things that affect you everyday. The very notion of suggesting this showcases a distinct level of privilege from both white men founders that many will or could never attain.

To assume people can disconnect and be apolitical means politics, as they currently stand, work for them and they’re able to do this.  For marginalised folks, this isn’t possible.

By introducing this new rule, which an employee will likely be gently reminded of if they break etiquette, Basecamp are inferring that a homogenous privileged group of employees is what they want, where politics has a small to zero affect directly, therefore, no need to discuss it, right?

What a privilege to state a discussion “saps our energy and redirects our dialog towards dark places” without acknowledging those very “dark places” that many marginalised folks deal with every day, and working to support those people, considering they are your employees.

All in all, many of us are disappointed. Perhaps that’s a naivety on our part to have expected better. But given Basecamp’s regular advocacy on better workplaces, it’s fair for us to have thought maybe this time was different.

Being complacent is being complicit. Being silent is standing in line with the oppressor. To create a more equitable and inclusive society, we must challenge the inequities that exist right now. It’s disappointing that Bascamp has decided to do the latter, unless of course, it “directly relates” to their business or products.