Power, Justice, and Professionalism in the Tech Workplace

This account is based on interviews with six Basecamp employees who were present at the meeting, along with a partial transcript created by employees. Collectively, they describe a company whose attempt to tamp down on difficult conversations blew up in its face as employees rejected the notion that discussions of power and justice should remain off limits in the workplace. And they suggest that efforts to eliminate disruptions in the workplace by regulating internal speech may cause even more turmoil for a company in the long run.

Source: 🚨 How Basecamp blew up – Platformer

Right-wing narratives of woke capitalism are so off. Tech leaders aren’t remotely woke, as evidenced here, yet again. Over and over, tech leaders fail to rise to the 101 level of analyzing power and confronting injustice. The “disruptions” eliminated by suppressing internal speech are marginalized people. The silence is suffocating.

“Racism [and] white supremacy are not things that are so convenient that they only happen when full intention is present, or true malice is present,” the employee said. “Evil is not required. We’re not so lucky as for this to come down to good and evil. It’s as simple as creating a space where people do not feel welcome.”

The employee continued: “The silence in the background is what racism and white supremacy does. It creates that atmosphere that feels suffocating to people. It doesn’t require active malice. It’s not that convenient.”

Source: 🚨 How Basecamp blew up – Platformer

Marginalized groups are tired from the exhausting work of coaching white men to understand their world. The leadership at Basecamp, and pretty much every tech company, are so far behind at understanding worlds outside their own that their professionalism is in question.

For this reason, I would suggest a renewed focus on MESH education,which stands for Media Literacy, Ethics, Sociology, and History. Because if these are not given equal attention, we could end up with incredibly bright and technically proficient people who lack all capacity for democratic citizenship.

Source: Forget STEM, We Need MESH. The importance of media literacy… | by Tim Wise | Our Human Family | Medium

The price of relevance is fluency,” and these leaders are not fluent.

Worse, that visibility of critique means that powerful people now have to do work that they didn’t want to do. They can’t stand it.

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Similarly, CEOs keep fussing about how it’s hard to not offend people these days. (Being a CEO myself, this one ends up on my radar a lot.) Now, every person in marketing knows they have to try to stay culturally relevant, and certainly every ordinary worker knows they constantly have to be learning new skills and developing professionally. But if a CEO has been in his seat long enough, he’ll often get deeply resentful of being told that he has to learn new ways of being respectful to the people who were systematically obstructed from reaching his awareness in the past.

Source: The price of relevance is fluency

Previously,

DEI at Work: The Familiar Life Cycle

Employees responded mostly positively to the first part of this note. But Hansson went further, taking exception to the use of the pyramid of hate in a workplace discussion. He told me today that attempting to link the list of customer names to potential genocide represented a case of “catastrophizing” — one that made it impossible for any good-faith discussions to follow.

Source: 🚨 What really happened at Basecamp – Platformer

If you do any amount of DEI advocacy, you’ll run smack into claims you are “catastrophizing” at some point, usually from a straight, abled, neurotypical, white man living life at the lowest difficulty setting. Sad to see such claims coming from people I thought knew better. This attitude is the true bad-faith and makes discussion and advocacy a trudge for marginalized people.

But the idea of worker-led efforts on diversity issues got a frosty reception from the founders last year, employees told me. They were allowed to work on the project, but did not feel as if the founders were particularly invested in the outcome.

I know that feeling. Every DEI worker does.

“At the end of the day, they are not interested in seeing things in their work timeline that make them uncomfortable, or distracts them from what they’re interested in. And this is the culmination of that.”

That too is familiar.

  • Employees rally to create ERGs and do the work of DEI
  • Little to no investment from the powers that be
  • Accusations of catastrophizing from the powers that be
  • Shutting down uncomfortable but necessary discussion
  • DEI workers thoroughly demoralized

There we have it, the DEI life cycle at many companies.

Previously,

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Blogging

I haven’t had the anxiety or pain budget to do much in-the-trenches advocacy and DEI work with y’all, but I manage to publish some neurodiversity and DEI related posts as I go about my reading. Here are a few months of highlights.


I particularly recommend the study I quote in “Neurominorities, Spiky Profiles, and the Biopsychosocial Model at Work” to all DEI and HR workers.

Neurominorities, Spiky Profiles, and the Biopsychosocial Model at Work

Selected quote:

The aim of occupational accommodations for neurominorities is to access the strengths of the spiky profile and palliate the struggles.


A “design for equity, inclusion, and pluralism” cheatsheet, of sorts, that I use to remind myself:

Just Sayin’

Selected quote:

There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity.

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy


Cognitive diversity exists for a reason. Selections on neurodiversity evolutionary history with dollops of positive niche construction, collaborative morality, and cultural evolution:

Cognitive diversity exists for a reason.

Selected quote:

Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.

Source: A Thousand Rivers – Carol Black


The fidgets that got me through 2020:

Favorite Fidgets 2020


Image work diversity fails our realities.

Image Work Diversity vs. The Reality of Me

Selected quote:

“They wanted to have my presence, but not me exactly. They wanted to have the idea of me being at Google, but not the reality of me being at Google,” Gebru said.

Source: Researcher Timnit Gebru Says Google Wanted ‘My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’ : NPR


Are we using the right amount of strategic essentialism with our Employee Resource Groups?

Strategic Essentialism and Employee Resource Groups


We all need some digital sociology if we’re gonna be in the platform business.

The need for digital sociology is now.


“Nothing about us without us” is an ethical prime directive.

Dr. Gebru, NAUWU, and DEI

Selected quote:

I first heard the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” in South Africa in 1993. Michael Masutha and William Rowland, two leaders ofDisabled People South Africa, separately invoked the slo- gan, which they had heard used by someone from Eastern Europe at an international disability rights conference. The slogan’s power derives from its location of the source of many types of (disability) oppression and its simultaneous opposition to such oppression in the context of control and voice.

Source: NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US: Disability Oppression and Empowerment


“Do not be the oppressor” is another guiding star. Check this talk for how to do more than image work diversity.

Do Not Be the Oppressor: Unlocking the Power of Employee Resource Groups

Selected quotes:

“Show me the money, and I’ll show you the outcome.”

“How are you gonna drive a DEI strategy with absolutely nobody in place to maintain continuity and accountability?”

“If you don’t have a dedicated person, how do you further this work?”

Obviously and exactly, yet so many companies lack a DEI head, including my own.


None of us should be in the behaviorism business.

The Problem with Behaviorism

Selected quote:

Skinner won; Papert lost. Thorndike won; Dewey lost. Behaviorism won.

https://rnbn.blog/2020/10/10/2121/


A reflection on past iterations of me:

Tech Ethics, Roaming Autodidacts, and the White-Male Effect

Selected quote:

I very much resemble the roaming autodidact. Tech and open source are full of us. It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to recognize the white-male effect in my own thinking. “A form of cognition that protects status” is an apt summary, especially for roaming autodidacts who’ve lived and believe the meritocracy myth.


So much whelm.

Titrating the Whelm: Perceptual Capacity and Autistic Burnout

Selected quote:

The divergent ways in which we process the world around us can also leave us fatigued and sapped of energy, as autistic people have “higher perceptual capacity” than our neurotypical counterparts, meaning that we process greater volumes of information from our environment. Autistic people commonly use the concept of ‘spoon theory‘ to conceptualize this experience of having limited energy resources.

Source: Doing More by Doing Less: Reducing Autistic Burnout | Psychology Today


So much stress.

Autism, Trauma, and Stress

Selected quote:

Recently it has been suggested that individuals with ASD are at an increased risk of experiencing potentially traumatic events and being significantly affected by them (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2018; Kerns et al., 2015).

Source: Autism Spectrum Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: An unexplored co-occurrence of conditions – Nirit Haruvi-Lamdan, Danny Horesh, Shani Zohar, Meital Kraus, Ofer Golan, 2020


Hannah Gadsby on social anxiety, social exhaustion, routine, masking, autism and gender norms, being perceived as angry, getting feedback, observing patterns, competition, autistic stereotypes, processing time, autistic appreciation of comedy, diagnosis and misdiagnosis, functioning labels, toxic masculinity, thinking in terms of neurobiology instead of gender, eugenics, patriarchal devices, storytelling, comedy and trauma, neurodivergence in comedy, cruelty in comedy, fitting in, shame, failure and success, and religion:

https://rnbn.blog/2020/12/19/2165/

Selected quote:

What is yourself? It’s a way of being in the world that doesn’t feel exhausting.


I discovered “Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman” through the Queer ERG at work. Here’s a selection on internet socialization:

https://rnbn.blog/2020/12/19/2169/

I added that to my “Written communication is the great social equalizer” post:

https://rnbn.blog/2020/12/21/2173/

And another relatable quote, this one on isolation and sensory overwhelm:

Overwhelm and Isolation: It’s pretty hard to feel alone in a world this constantly loud.

The whole book is full of relatable moments.


Currently reading:

Selected quotes.


What DEI stuff are y’all reading and blogging?