DEI: Speaking Up About Our Values

Christopher Kuttruff, Mina Slater & Sally Hall
This article is also available in: Português and français

At thoughtbot, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are core to our values. This is not a checkbox; it’s not a hindrance; it is foundational to our ethos and success as a company. As attacks against marginalized groups rage across courthouses, social media, state legislatures, and through unconscionable acts of mass violence, it is more important than ever to broadcast our values and to fiercely defend them. thoughtbot will continue to center DEI throughout our work; it has been vital to our resilience and relationships with coworkers, clients, and the wider tech community. We started our DEI journey a few years ago and continue to reflect on our process. We know there’s always opportunity for us to improve so we continually look at: how it is working, how we can do better, and why the wider tech industry should be grappling with these topics.

It is stunning to see recent news of CEOs acting unilaterally to make huge decisions that have far-reaching impacts without any consultation or consensus. At thoughtbot, such detached, hierarchical moves would be unthinkable. Every thoughtbotter has a say in how we do things. As an example, we maintain an internal git repository for our employee handbook where everyone is encouraged to propose, discuss, review, and ultimately adopt changes to our company policies. Through this, we build mutual trust, shared responsibility, and all help shape our shared workplace.

Recent mass layoffs, resignations, and subsequent frantic rehiring at high-profile tech companies have reaffirmed why thoughtbot does things very differently. Our hiring process is thorough and can take a long time. Before interviews even begin, hiring teams ensure we achieve a demographically representative candidate pool. Our pairing interviews are longer (and compensated) - to allow team members to spend sufficient time getting to know the prospective candidate (and vice versa). We focus on finding folks who align with our values. As a result of the care taken throughout, we have colleagues who remain here for years (or more than a decade in some cases) because the essence, quality, and joy of our work stem from an intentional commitment to a diverse and inclusive environment.

We focus on DEI practices for a great many reasons, one being that a variety of viewpoints yield better products. We assemble diverse teams of product managers, designers, and developers with differing experiences and backgrounds in order to help our clients create software with a broader audience in mind. The assumption that hiring or promoting underrepresented folks somehow lowers the quality of the team is inherently flawed and deeply rooted in prejudice. The tech industry has bought into this and has shunned practices like equitable hiring processes in the name of “meritocracy” - a myth that has contributed to exponential income inequality, consolidated power amongst a small homogenous group, and has rationalized racist, sexist, and bigoted behavior. thoughtbot’s DEI work has led us to double down on shaping our hiring process to remove as much bias as possible.

There is a well-known saying: “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. When an individual believes they are entitled to something, they feel cheated even though that something was not theirs to begin with. There is significant toxicity within the tech industry; the examples are innumerable and discouraging. It is exhausting - particularly to those most marginalized. We have a responsibility to do better. So much better. But while some of the most bigoted and obnoxious voices might be the loudest at the moment, they by no means speak for all of us. thoughtbotters are vocal about our values. We know that DEI isn’t a problem; it is central to our praxis. It is part of what makes us unique, part of how we build great software, part of why our clients adore us and why we love working here.

DEI at thoughtbot is an ongoing process of learning and evolving. We mess up; we reflect; we make adjustments; we share our experiences. Our commitment to the practice makes us fundamentally stronger and will make thoughtbot a reflection of the industry we want to build.