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.
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 different ethnicities and backgrounds, and who had had different life experiences. It became infectious.
So, last year, we got serious about it. It's something 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 differently. 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 off 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 different 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.