It’s always political. Lessons from the Basecamp fiasco.

I’m not gonna lie… I went down a Basecamp rabbit hole. I’ve read all the things and in many ways it’s the story we’re all used to –leaders enabled and/or ignored terrible behavior and refused to acknowledge their complicity when asked about it. The twist is that on Tuesday their CEO told staff that, “societal and political discussions” are now banned on the company’s internal forums.

I want us all to be honest about what we know to be true –discussions on identity (race, gender, ability, etc), power and money are ALWAYS political.

When have they not been?

Guess what else is political? Decisions and policies made about:

  • Compensation
  • Health benefits
  • Parental leave policies
  • Hiring practices
  • Firing practices
  • Who gets sponsorship/mentorship
  • Whether to classify someone as an employee or contractor
  • Whistleblower hotlines
  • Who serves on the board of directors …

No policy is separate from its moral implications.

If your company shies away from or outright refuses to have discussions around racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, power and dominance because they are “political” then y’all are saying “no” to deep and meaningful discussions about decency, respect, dignity and human rights.

Not talking about a problem doesn’t make it go away.

When we pretend they are separate you deny my humanity and my right to exist.

My Blackness is political.
My gender expression is political.
The neighborhood I live in is political.
Where and how I use my resources is political.
Where my kids attend school is political.
The air I breathe and the water I drink are all political.

No organization should expect me to leave my Blackness (or any part of me) at the door. I will not. My lived experience is as valuable as my education, certifications and professional skill-set.

Hear me on this:

It is NOT a failure when an organization has difficult conversations and they are messy, complicated and emotional.

What is a failure:

It’s a failure of leadership when they don’t create a culture that allows this type of conversation to happen, when they deny folks the growth and skill building that these conversations engender.

Here are some lessons I think we all can take from what happened at Basecamp:

  • Apologizing and repair are core leadership competencies
    • When we fall short as leaders it’s ok to acknowledge that. Be honest about ways you’ve failed to support marginalized staff or speak up when you saw harm being caused. Once you know better you do better…
  • Staying in right relationships is more important than being right
    • Commit to staying in difficult conversations to work through the messiness, this is what helps us to build deeper connections and community. It shows people that they are worthy and valued… that y’all will dig in and do hard work together –we can hold folks accountable AND hold them with care.
  • Get ready to double down on your values and commitment to DEI and racial equity work
    • Moments of racial progress are always followed by blowback. You’re going to be tested, questioned, pushed so get rooted in your personal and organizational values. A CEO we work with was recently asked in front of thousands of employees, “why are you talking about race, it’s divisive and has nothing to do with our work” his response, “you can vote with your feet.” We need to be clear with folks, this work is non-negotiable.

Let’s go get free!

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