Diversity Is Not an Accident
If you want your work force
to reflect the rest of the
world (and your customers),
change your behavior
Our customer service group was the first in
the company to take this on. As their team evolved,
it felt better to work among people of di;erent
ethnicities and backgrounds, and who had had
di;erent life experiences. It became infectious.
So, last year, we got serious about it. It’s some-
thing that doesn’t happen accidentally; you have
to make it happen.
First, as we’ve learned with other major internal
initiatives, someone has to be in charge. Ann Goliak
from our quality-assurance team volunteered to
run the hiring show. She stepped up, declared it her
responsibility, and ran with it.
One of the first things we concluded was that we
needed to write our job ads di;erently. In the past,
the team leader of the group that was hiring wrote
the ad. We still do that, but now the ad is reviewed
by Ann and a few others who can adjust language
that might turn o; particular groups of people.
We realized there are certain terms that skew
male, and we now tell people who see themselves
in these terms not to apply: “This is a position for
an experienced Rails programmer, but you don’t
have to be a rock star, a ninja, or a superhero to
apply. In fact, if you self-identify in any of those
categories, we’d rather you don’t!”
We also needed to be explicit about our goals.
We let people know we were on the lookout for a
broader spectrum of candidates. One of our recent
job ads reads: “We’re not afraid of putting extra
weight on candidates from underrepresented groups at Basecamp. We want strong, diverse teams
built from di;erent backgrounds, experiences, and identities. We’re ready for the ongoing work
that goes into building an inclusive, supportive place for you to do the best work of your career.”
In the past, we’d post jobs on our blog and our job board. But since that audience was mostly
like us, we’d get people like us. So Ann placed them on sites like Tech Ladies, People of Color
in Tech, and Women in Technology International.
And, so far, we’ve come a long way. We’re now 35 percent female, and more minority groups
are represented. The company feels friendlier, more inclusive, more welcoming.
However, we’re still not where we want to be, especially on our programming and design
teams, which remain primarily male. What’s tricky for us and other small businesses is
that we don’t hire often. Maybe a couple of people a year. Sometimes five. But rarely more
than that. So it’ll take some time to get to the point when we can look around and feel
like we’re comfortable with the overall makeup of every team. But for now, we’re trending
in the right direction.
BASECAMP IS APPROACHING its 18th year in business, and for most of those years we’ve been mostly male and mostly white. We’re not proud of that. We weren’t almost entirely male and white because we wanted to be. We simply kept doing what we’d always been doing: hiring people just like us. So we ended up with a lot of white guys. I have nothing against white guys, but
white guys don’t reflect the world at large or our customer base. I
believe a company is at its best when it reflects those it serves. If you
fill a room with 20 random employees and 20 random customers,
an outside observer should have trouble telling them apart.
A few years ago, some of our employees brought up their concerns
about our general lack of diversity. It wasn’t prompted by reading
a study or trying to hit some arbitrary diversity number. It was more
of a gut feeling. It just didn’t feel right. We had to change.
Jason Fried is a co-founder
of Basecamp (formerly
37signals), a Chicago-based
INC.500 ; INNOVATE 142 - INC. - SEP TEMBER 2017