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,

Enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.

Enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.

Source: Joe Biden’s inauguration speech – Washington Post

That line from President Biden’s inauguration speech stood out to me. It offers a concisely tempered hope that excites momentum. There are so many professionals itching to do the work of civilization after a four year assault on it by unprofessionals. Carry forward. There are enough of us.

Neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy are necessary professional development.

As my neurodivergent and disabled family navigates healthcare, school, and life, I wish over and over that the professionals we interact with knew something about neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy. We spend so much time educating folks in hopes they’ll gain the framing needed to see our family.

These are essential frameworks that every professional should be conversant in. In my experience, corporate harassment and discrimination training doesn’t really go into any of these. Wishing it did. Let’s bake them into our annual training and our company cultures. Let’s bake them into the curriculum for everyone. Those wanting to do ethical, inclusive, and informed work need to do the work of obtaining these tools.

Here’s my attempt at an introductory primer that got some good feedback on Twitter this week:

Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life

Further, we need MESH in our schools, our companies, and our professional development:

View at Medium.com

We all need these lenses and tools. Start baking them in so that the most marginalized and vulnerable people don’t have to provide free emotional labor and education over and over and over. It’s exhausting.

For “All means all” to actually apply to neurodivergent and disabled and marginalized kids, public educators need these tools.

To avoid building behaviorism and bias into our systems, tech workers need these tools.

Everyone working with other people need these tools.