Things US Tech Companies Can Do About Trump

Oliver Keyes bio photo By Oliver Keyes Comment

So the election happened, and the reaction from tech has shifted between telling him to take a quick drop and a sudden stop, licking his boots, and offering to go full fascist if he maybe sets up some vocational schools.1

To call this disappointing is an understatement, although it’s not surprising given the politics and demographics of tech, which ensure that a big part of the community simply doesn’t suffer in a substantive way if Trump gets to do whatever he wants to do this week. Why worry about police brutality or misogyny or decrepit public schooling when you’re a white guy sending his kids to Drew?

But there are fantastic people in tech doing a lot of thinking and writing on what tech companies can do about Trump. Maciej Ceglowski’s advocacy of data scrubbing sets an A+ example, and I know that my previous employer is holding internal conversations about how to protect users in an era where the full powers of the NSA are controlled by a man who thinks foreign policy doctrines can fit into 140 characters. Saying “no, and furthmore, fuck you” to tenders for registries (Muslim or otherwise) is an obvious one, as is not doing the very Twitter, very Google thing of playing pally-pally with Trump because maybe if we’re nice to him we can fix him, because evidently sociopathy is fixable, now.

Resistance, though, has to start at home. Protecting users is a necessary component, because organisations have a moral duty to those who use their service - but organisations also have a duty to their employees, and potential employees. I decided to put together a short list of things companies can be doing internally.

Obvious caveats apply: it’s non-exhaustive, it’s only the things I can see or think of off the top of my head with my very limited worldview and set of lived experiences, and it’s made entirely in my personal capacity. These do not replace the need for externally-facing work: lawsuits, refusals, active, explicit rebuttals. Some of the proposals will not apply to your company, even if you’re in tech: some of them will apply even if you’re not. It might be utter shite all the way through.

With that in mind..

Make some space

Speaking just for myself, I’ve been looping through the seven stages of grief, and it’s been deeply exhausting and deeply distracting. I haven’t slept properly, I’ve found myself overcome with deep-seated rage at the oddest moments, and the worst bit is: I don’t want it to stop. Because I don’t want this to feel normal.

I know I’m not the only one. I’m sure as shit not the only one. Half my social circle is looking to punch a wall and some of them are looking to flee the country entirely. Many of the employees you have are no doubt reeling, too. You need to create some space for this.

Creating space isn’t just about booking a conference room for an all-hands and having everyone open-mic what they’re scared of and vent. It’s about understanding if people are, for very good reasons, not at their best for the foreseeable future, and factoring that into how you evaluate performance. It’s about letting people take a day when they need it, without negative consequences. It’s about recognising that employees are human beings, not black boxes that accept caffeine as input and produce code as output, and that the state of the world impacts them.

You should be doing this because you’re a decent human being, but there’s also a company benefit too: namely, giving people space to process reduces the amount of time they have to spend running at 30%. It doesn’t mean people are gonna be at 100, given the prospect of the next four years, but it’ll help.

Double down on diversity

Tech companies have got a vast amount of flak for the homogeneity of their workforces - for the way in which women, disabled people, queer people and people of colour are excluded from engineering spaces. You should have been working on this anyway, but now is a good time to double down on it because with steady employment and a tech salary comes economic freedom: a really, really helpful prerequisite for being able to hire lawyers or get the hell out of town on short notice.

Trump’s proposals - amongst them immigration restrictions, ACA repeal, a decimation of the tax base and state support for the poor and disabled - are going to hit marginalised people first. Fixing what should never have been a problem in the first place, and in doing so giving health coverage, a measure of economic security and increased career prospects to members of marginalised groups, is a small but important way of helping, here.

Think about relocations

So you’ve hired some marginalised people - good job, why the hell did it take you so long - and you’re setting them up with a nice office space.

Question: where is that office space?

If it’s in LA, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, New York - alright. You’ve plonked someone in a state and city where the legislature and governor are likely to do only a mildly crappy job in pushing back against Trump, creating a safe(r) and more supportive environment, and avoiding some, although not all, of the hideous hate crimes we’ve seen since Trump’s election.

If not: get your shit together. If employees want to relocate, help them relocate. Make office space available, make a relocation allowance available, and expand the size of that allowance if you can. For you, $10,000 is a relatively small amount of money: for a new employee, particularly junior employees or people from less family wealth, it’s a big fucking deal that’ll let them avoid living in a vulnerable spot and, if they lose their job, at least leave them in a somewhat less-crappy environment. And if this is the direction you are going in, just give them the money and ask for the receipts; treating it as an expenses kinda thing assumes the person has $10,000 to spend to start with.

Obviously all of this is relative. The idea of “blue state safe, red state not safe” is nonsense.2 But there are places where the governors and mayors came right out the day after the election to reaffirm their desire for an inclusive and free citizenship, and then there are places where everyone was notably silent. If you can afford to drop someone off in the former rather than the latter, and they’re down for that, do so.

Think about international relocations

While we’re talking about relocations: California may not be safe. Washington may not be safe. I know a lot of marginalised people lucky enough to be in a solid economic position, and quite a few of them are talking about leaving the country entirely or actively making plans to do so.

If you’ve got international branches and a bunch of money lying around (looking at you, Google): make this easier, make this happen, make it so that employees needing to leave the country does not strip you of their talents. Get them an intra-company transfer visa to somewhere you have an office. Here’s the one for Canada. Here’s the one for Germany. Australia has a buttload of different ones, although they’re deeply ableist in immigration prioritisation.

People are going to need to get out of the country anyway. If you help them do it, you get to keep them around. If you don’t, they either stay put out of necessity, and exist at risk and more than a little bit distracted from running your backend or whatever they’re doing, or leave the country and leave your company with it.

Think about citizenship

Tech wouldn’t be tech without a buttload of people on H1Bs or green cards.3 The problem there is that Trump hates foreigners. The Republican Party as a whole, in fact, hates foreigners, but Trump made a key campaign plank “getting all of the immigrants out”. People on visas are vulnerable to legislative fuckery; people with citizenship are not. Stripping citizenship is extremely difficult and has been mostly applied to people who commit heinous, violent crimes: the green card process still involves asking if you’re a communist and boots you out if you say “yes”.

The day after an employee becomes eligible for a green card, you should be filing. The day after an employee becomes eligible for citizenship, you should be filing. Not making them pay for their own lawyers: taking advantage of the large amount of money tech companies tend to have, on a per-employee basis, to hire some decent lawyers out of your own pocket and putting them on the case. On an individual, personal basis, citizenship or permanent residency provides some security otherwise lacking - on an organisational basis, it’s nice to know you won’t walk into work on Monday and find the site is down because half the Operations team got deported. Literally everyone wins out of this, so put the money in.

  1. It’s cool, it’s not like IBM is a company that actually worked for the actual Nazis on actual genocide or anything.

  2. I invite anyone who thinks it’s as simple as blue/red to visit WA and wander over the mountains for a few days.

  3. I’m one of em. Hi!

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