Sassafras Tech Collective

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= an example of Worker-Owned Tech Collectives


By Brian Van Slyke:

"Sassafras Tech Collective is a young worker co-op, launched only six months ago, that focuses on web and app design and development for social justice orgs, non-profits, academics, artists, and others. The two founding members, Jill Dimond and Tom Smyth, began Sassafras after completing their PhDs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Both of their studies focused around issues of social change and technology. Dimond and Smyth, wanting to continue this work outside of academia, decided to launch a business that would make a difference in the world.

“In having a democratic workplace where everyone is a worker and an owner, we thought that we could help bring about social change by starting with ourselves,” Dimond says. “As a woman in technology, I have long been concerned about diversity issues in computing. By creating a more egalitarian workplace, we hope to also create a safe space for those who are underrepresented in tech such as women and people of color.”

This is an important point. The democratic nature of worker-owned businesses means they must be responsive to the needs of their membership, thus making them better suited to address issues of diversity. Historically, the tech world has not been a friendly space for women, and Dimond has firsthand experience with that issue.

“I still deal with stereotypes and issues as a woman when I go to various tech events and talk to prospective clients,” she says. “In a former job, I experienced sexual harassment from a client but I was not in a situation where I could do much about it. Being a worker-owner gives me agency about what kind of clients we take on and ensures that my voice will be heard.”

While both Dimond and Smyth have worked for major corporations--Dimond for Google and Smyth for Microsoft Research--they’re happy to be in a small co-op.

“We have more agency to determine what types of projects and work we want to do,” says Dimond." (