A year ago, at Articulate’s annual company retreat, we clarified our goals as an organization for employees. For the first time, we said Articulate aims to be “a model human-centered organization.” But while the term “human-centered organization” was new language for most of our employees, the tenets at its core were not. They were nascent at the company when I joined in 2011, and we’ve been coaxing them into fuller bloom ever since.
Our human-centered organization (HCO) framework outlines these core tenets and how they impact the way we approach people, teams, and our world. While this framework is our touchstone, demonstrating how it plays out in concrete ways over time will help sharpen it as a tool for decision-making and action.
Recently, while reading Brian Armstrong’s Medium post, Coinbase is a mission focused company, I realized that contrasting our organization to his might prove to be such a sharpening moment.
At the center of Armstrong’s piece is his belief that social issues do not belong in the workplace. He argues that they are a divisive distraction. He also says Coinbase wants to “enable belonging for everyone” and that his company works to “create an environment where everyone is welcome and can do their best work, regardless of background, sexual orientation, race, gender, age, etc.”
Here’s how Armstrong and I see the world differently:
He believes it’s possible for people to keep social issues out of the workplace. I do not. People don’t shed the social forces that have shaped them when they clock in at work. For instance, as a woman, it’s crystal clear to me that sexist men don’t check their male chauvinism at the door before entering the office. On the contrary, work dynamics sometimes magnify their offensive behavior.
The same is true for every other social issue that impacts us all. And it’s pernicious to think otherwise. It perpetuates inequity when we fail to recognize that we’re all immersed in systems of oppression the moment we’re born. Wherever you fall on the ladder of privilege, you’re shaped by these forces.
Ibram X. Kendi said, “To grow up in America is for racist ideas to constantly be rained on your head and you have no idea. … And you don’t even know you’re wet because the racist ideas themselves cause you to imagine that you’re dry.”
I wish there were a humongous blow-dryer we could walk through as we enter work every day. But there isn’t.
Unless every one of us acknowledges that each of us is wet — inculcated with racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, xenophobia, ableism, you name it — by simply living in society, we can’t actively work on drying ourselves off. And until we grab umbrellas and pass them out collectively, we will stay wet.
Armstrong wants his employees to pretend they aren’t wet.
At Articulate, we want to acknowledge that we’re all wet — and work together to figure out how we, at the company, start to dry off.
My second point of departure from Armstrong is this: He believes Coinbase can ignore social issues and still create a welcoming environment for people of every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Yes, it may be a welcoming environment, but only to those who aren’t suffering the impacts of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, in the world — and at work — every day. It’s welcoming to those who have the privilege of pretending that these systems of oppression don’t exist inside and outside the workplace.
Finally, Armstrong sincerely believes that by sidelining social issues at Coinbase, the company will be better equipped to achieve its mission “to create an open financial system for the world.”
I believe people are most productive when they’re empowered to bring their whole selves to work, and they can engage in healthy relationship dynamics with coworkers.
I know I’m unable to do my best and highest level of work if I’m talked over, invalidated, disrespected, disregarded, silenced, and sexually harassed. I can’t stay focused if I’m called “aggressive” or a “cold bitch.” In fact, when these things have happened to me throughout my career, it’s been incredibly heartrending, disempowering, and deflating.
What makes all the difference is being in an organization that doesn’t look away from these kinds of behaviors, but rather engages them with an invitation for growth.
For example, White women need to stop presuming that addressing “women’s issues” means we are, by default, taking the issues Black women experience seriously. Black women face the dual crucible of being Black and female, a double erasure that (able-bodied, heterosexual, neurotypical) White women have the privilege to ignore.
But we must not — because we are all wet. Whatever social location we inhabit, whatever our unique histories, we are all works-in-progress. We all have places where we’re either more or less privileged and where we have something to learn.
While engaging social issues with one another at work isn’t nearly the totality of what it means for Articulate to be a human-centered organization, it’s foundational to it.
We must not look away but rather keep our gaze toward each other. We need to repeatedly name and recognize how the social issues raining down on us all impact how we manage teams, communicate with coworkers, and collaborate on projects. And we need to intentionally disrupt those patterns with one another’s help so we can all dry off.