The big topic of discussion today is the fallout from the PyCon conference. At the conference, former Adria Richards, who, at the time, worked in developer relations for SendGrid, heard two conference attendees behind her making jokes about “forking” and “dongles” in the sort of juvenile way that often happens in the tech industry.
Richards took a photo of the jokers and tweeted it: “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and “big” dongles. Right behind me
The results of this act were both serious and unexpected.
1) One of the developers pictured was fired by his company, PlayHaven. He went on to explain his side of the story on Hacker News. You can read Richards’ side of the story on her blog. (UPDATE: In an interview PlayHaven’s CEO implied that the firing was for multiple reasons. This could be true; for legal reasons, you’d certainly want to avoid commenting on the reasons for an employee’s termination. Sadly, even that article includes commenters calling for a DDoS attack on PlayHaven.)
2) Richards’ then-employer, SendGrid, was heavily criticized for employing Richards, and came under a DDOS attack. Note that PlayHaven was not attacked (more on this later).
3) SendGrid fired Richards, explaining its rationale in a Facebook post that has since been removed by the company, followed by a blog post that is still accessible:
A SendGrid developer evangelist’s responsibility is to
build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe. In light
of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her
actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to
unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at
SendGrid.In the end, the consequences that resulted
from how she reported the conduct put our business in danger. Our
commitment to our 130 employees, their families, our community members
and our more than 130,000 valued customers is our primary concern.
First of all I’d like to say
I’m sorry. I really did not mean to offend anyone and I really do
regret the comment and how it made Adria feel. She had every right to
report me to staff, and I defend her position.
It sucks that two companies overreacted, and two people lost their jobs. But change doesn’t proceed smoothly and fairly. Change usually involves disruption and pain.
24 thoughts on “Sexism in tech is like an onion–it has many layers and makes people cry”
Thank you for establishing the link between "sexism" and gay marriage. Now I know what to think of it.
You've had quite awhile to digerst everything and you still make some gaffes.
PlayHaven might have had some other reasons to separate.
Calling SendGrid's action "cowardly" is aggressive.
SendGrid wasn't attacked because the other guy got fired, it was attacked because it employed someone who did something stupid and showed no remorse.
Rishards was attacked personally because she did not admit her mistake, showed no remorse (boasted, in fact) and has a history of this stuff.
> You've had quite awhile to digerst everything and you still make some gaffes.
No, I'd say the account above is pretty damned accurate. You and the troll legions are the ones making serious gaffes.
> PlayHaven might have had some other reasons to separate.
Nope. Otherwise the person in question wouldn't have been employed, and at a conference. The moron lost his job for being a moron, on company time, arguably representing his company.
> Calling SendGrid's action "cowardly" is aggressive.
Nope. "Coward" is accurate. They folded like a cheap house of cards once they were attacked by the oh-so-cogent-reasoning-and-approach of brainless script kiddies.
>SendGrid wasn't attacked because the other guy got fired, it was attacked because it employed someone who did something stupid and showed no remorse.
She did nothing wrong. She did everything right. She called out horrible behavior, bravely. And so you and yours "attacked" SendGrid because you're too cowardly to just debate the issue front on. You hide behind your keyboards like the children you are.
>Rishards was attacked personally because she did not admit her mistake, showed no remorse (boasted, in fact) and has a history of this stuff.
Why don't you explain to us about the death and rape threats made against Richards, you miserable coward.
I really like this post. I recognized your name on Twitter. Very thorough.
Really, it's Playhaven who sparked this controversy. The funny part … is that Anonymous touts freedom of the internet … their founding principle was to be against internet censorship. They attacked the Westboro Baptist Church for taking down a YouTube video of Tom Cruise. So, I'm really surprised they went after SendGrid over a freedom of speech case on Twitter. There's no doubt that Richards has the right to report on something that happens in real-time. That's a basic right for citizen journalism. Otherwise, how do you draw the line? You can post this as Arab Spring but not that as Adria Richards …? What they've done is censorship. I come from a journalist and analyst background, so am pretty passionate about the freedom to report.
Again, this started by Playhaven over-reacting. I do feel bad for mr-hank. I personally would not have been offended by his comments … I probably would have found them funny. I go to a lot of tech conferences (and I have 3 older brothers), but girls joke about things, too. I'm just not one to freak out about the word "dongle" or "fork." The implications seem fairly innocent to me.
Long story short, I think there's a lot of attention on the gender gap in technology right now and it's feeling very forced … i.e. lots of press and publicity.
It'd be great if a large majority of venture capital firms devoted to funding one female led company this year. I think empowering, rather than squabbling, is really important right now. This change has to come from the top (as Cisco pointed out recently in their awesome statement about not being very supportive and dedicating to doing better).
It's the long-standing corporate powers who need to be symbolically "fired" (or otherwise reprimanded) – not mr-hank.
And it was Playhaven who started this unjust controversy – not citizen journalism by Adria Richards.
Glad you liked the post. I agree that people keep ignoring the fact that PlayHaven lit the fuse on this controversy.
I also agree that the people who are trying to censor Richards are some of the loudest advocates of free speech. Sadly, the quality of self-awareness is often lacking in many people, including the intelligent and capable men (and I guarantee that they are all male) behind the retaliatory attacks directed at SendGrid.
There seems to be a belief that censorship is something that governments and big corporations do, but "the people" are perfectly capable of censorship as well. Judge the action, not the actor.
It is unfortunate that people use gender issues to generate publicity, but I do view this as progress.
When abolitionists argued for freeing the slaves, they were considered self-aggrandizing troublemakers. The same for suffragettes fighting for the right to vote, the Civil Rights movement, Harvey Milk, and so many others.
Troublemaker is what you call someone when they're trying to change something that you want to stay the same.
The Cisco memo from John Chambers is awesome, and an illustration of why "Lean In" is helping advance the discourse, even if it's not perfect (and what book is?).
Thanks again for the thoughtful (and non-anonymous) comment!
Thanks for the thoughtful post. I did want to point out an inaccuracy in your original post though. The developer in question was not escorted from the conference. Here is the official statement from Pycon about the incident: http://pycon.blogspot.com/2013/03/pycon-response-to-inappropriate.html
Well, it was 300+ years of slavery, not 200 – but otherwise this is an awesome article.
I agree that publicity is progress at this point. I also agree with your comment regarding abolitionists being seen as "self-aggrandizing troublemakers" – incl. suffragettes, Harvey Milk, etc.
My only concern is these other groups were organized and had clear political goals as to what they wanted to have accomplished. Slavery banned, right to vote, etc.
What do we want accomplished from this situation? That two guys never make another sexual joke at a conference?
I think the tech industry is smart enough and talented enough to have a professional and political approach to this issue.
Harvey Milk wanted a gay rights ordinance in San Francisco. What's our take away. What do we want, exactly? It'd be easier to speak to both sides if we had a clear objective.
Thanks for the correction–the ejection was reported by a couple of outlets, but as is often the case, it looks like they got it wrong. I've corrected the post. It makes the actions of PlayHaven and SendGrid look even worse in comparison. It seems like the PyCon team was on top of the issue from the start.
It was hard to pick an appropriate length of time for slavery. According to my cursory research, the first slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619 (http://www.infoplease.com/timelines/slavery.html) but whites weren't technically allowed to own slaves until 1670 (http://cofcc.org/2012/03/americas-first-slave-owner-was-a-black-man/). 200 years was a convenient number to use. Regardless, any number of years that isn't 0 is far too long to allow slavery to exist!
You make a good point about needing to articulate some concrete ways to effect change. Two things come to mind:
1) We can take a similar approach to sexism that we took to hate speech and sexual harassment–draw a line, and punish those who cross it. Both hate speech bans and sexual harassment training are far from perfect, but both evils have declined greatly in this country during the past 20 years.
2) We can take a page from the NFL's playbook when it comes to speakers at conferences. The NFL has the Rooney Rule (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooney_Rule) which was established in 2003. The rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions before deciding on a hire. At the time the rule was instituted, there were only 2 minority head coaches, and there had only been 5 more during the entire 83-year existence of the NFL.
Since then 13 more minorities have been hired as NFL head coaches, and if you count coaches with multiple jobs, a minority has been hired as an NFL head coach 18 times since 2003.
In other words, before the Rooney Rule, the NFL hired a minority coach every 12 years (7 in 83 seasons) and afterwards, the NFL hired an average of 1.8 minority coaches per season. That's a rate that's over 20 times higher. That's palpable progress, without resorting to quotas.
One thing we could do is to adopt an unofficial Rooney Rule for panels; all panel organizers ought to invite at least one female speaker. She might not accept, but that dramatically increase the number of invitations extended to women.
Thanks but there's a few points I'd like you to clarify if you don't mind:
-I don't understand why we equate 'inappropriate comments at the workforce' when this wasn't at the office, but in a public conference as you stated. Also, in the office we would be protected from having our images snapped and distributed publicly so it's relevant on 2 fronts.
-"Big Dongle" is something (in my opinion) that we could expect a regular rational person not to be so deeply offended by. Now, for the sake of argument let's say she absolutely was. Adrias own tweets *from the same conference* involved big penis jokes, I'm not sure why you missed that as it's been very well covered, not saying it was intentional but perhaps a oversight that should be thought about.
-Adria absolutely broke CoC of the convention by publicly shaming them (it's in their rules of what NOT to do, just like crude behavior and language). This was a very clear cut case of the CoC being broken, where as saying 'big dongle' is a grey area, as we established earlier that Adria was already more than happy to do herself from the conference on her 10k+ twitter followers, and lets be honest, this was a conversation between 2 people and not the a entire conference aisle.
Thanks for the post. I'd appreciate a reply.
Thank you for writing this.
I was another of those few women at SW Mega. I'd been there as a UX Mentor all weekend, working with all the teams.
It was a huge relief to have a man speak up about women being used as marketing fodder. To be able to sit back and not be the one raising a fuss.
Admitting that makes me feel guilty. It reminds me of all the times I've just "rolled with it" because I was tired of being called sensitive, and even more so, because I wanted so desperately to fit in with the guys.
But it is exhausting to always be the one shitting on the parade, to be the party pooper, the nay sayer. I'm tired of trying to set an example, particularly when doing it too often just makes it so much noise to be brushed off and ignored all the more easily.
I've worked in the music industry, with real rock-stars and their egos, and all the flash and image. It's as much acting as it is songs, and there are definite stereotypes afoot. But we all know that.
I've bar-tended… enough said there.
I've worked in the cycling industry, where a female mechanic is an even rarer bird than a woman dev, and where a women walking into a shop gets her bike yanked out of her hands, since she couldn't possibly know how to fix a flat herself.
I've worked in advertising… yeah.
But I've never experienced such complete blindness to sexism paired with such raw and self-congratulatory hatred and malice as in the tech industry. There is something about having a space to comment and vent, there's some kind of challenge in there, like dogs pissing on the same tree at the corner of the block. That being the backbone of how this industry interacts and communicates seems to encourage and egg on the worst in people.
I don't know what the solution is. I'm still new here, really. I guess that's part of why I'm so determined to make it better, and so grateful when someone else steps up as well. I know it's not like this everywhere, and that makes me believe that things can and will change.
Again, thank you so much for being a champion, because really, it's not so much a champion of women, but of this community and what it can and should be.
One of intelligence and sharing.
chris could you please clarify:
the conversation in question between the 2 guys was a private conversation, just between the 2 of them, correct? and this lady
Adria overheard their conversation, took their pics, and tweeted about it?
if so, I am never setting foot in the police state of California again. and I am posting as anonymous.
The lesson for businessmen and businesswomen who want to win is don't hire people like Adria.
What if she turned on the TV sometime? Her head would explode because she would be so offended. You can see Best Buy's funny superbowl ad with Amy Poehler making a dongle joke, along with many other "unforgivable sins" here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gcn4wJvbR8
Adria wrote on her blog: "Women in technology need consistant [sic] messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry."
What if a company just wants a good employee, and not a child who needs to consistently be told by others that they're competent?
There are no victims here just two people who both demonstrated poor judgement at a moment in time. The developer apologized. On the other hand, Richards has continued her Twitter rant in a misguided attempt to justify her malice (posting the developers picture and details of the incident). Her actions demonstrate she has low social maturity and no insight into what went wrong in the totality of the incident. I suspect this will be tried in a court of law. When posting on Twitter, Richards knew or should have known there would be a certain level of negative outcome when she took a private matter global. That negative outcome can have legal consequences. The developer has a measurable loss, his job and reputation. Posting the event on Twitter is similar to sending a company wide email of a personnel complaint against a colleague – it will get you fired.
Really like the Rooney Rule. I wonder if there's a way to propose it.
Assuming these people were talking at normal conversational tone, then what AR did at the outset was what we call "eavesdropping", right?
I have not heard any assertion that they were talking loudly.
I have often eavesdropped myself (in the same casual sense) and overheard groups of two or more women in my workplace talking among themselves in ways that included some off-color jokes and language.
WOuld you say I should turn them in and they should be fired for unprofessional behavior?
Or is it just men who should be obliged to avoid off-color jokes and language?
Thanks for the comment.
In terms of office vs. public conference, the issue is that PyCon itself also had a code of conduct, which the remarks violated.
Richards' tweeting of the picture without the permission of the developers was bad form, but not a policy violation or illegal act, and would not invalidate the original offense or justify the outraged response of some sectors of the Internet.
In terms of Adria's own tweeting of sexual jokes, I've noted that this makes her a hypocrite, not wrong. It doesn't change that a violation of an explicit conference code occurred.
As far as Adria breaking the CoC, what I'm wondering about is why a tweet with very mild language is considered "public shaming."
She said, "Not cool." Not, "Check out these sexist jerks." I'd like someone to explain how this constitutes public shaming. Public, no question, but shaming?
I'm firmly of the opinion that you have to give as much as you can, but that other people don't have the right to decide what that is.
There are some activists who will happily sacrifice everything they have for a cause. Good for them. But not all of us are cut out to live that kind of a life, and that's a good thing.
It's easier for me to speak up (sadly) because I'm male, and because I don't work for a big company that would fire me for speaking my mind.
In terms of the high-tech industry, a lot of the issue is that the loudest voices tend to be young, unmarried, privileged men. This isn't to say that they haven't experienced discrimination; I'm sure they had jocks giving them wedgies in high school. But it creates a unique dynamic–in just 5 years, they can go from a picked-on 17-year-old to a lionized 22-year-old, and that's a touch transition for anyone.
I haven't noticed a lot of married fathers attacking Richards (though it should be noted that mr-hank is a husband and father…then again, his actions were far milder and forgiveable than the internet lynch mob posing as his "supporters."
I can have a private conversation with someone, but if I say offensive things that someone else hears, that's an issue.
I doubt Richards was focused on eavesdropping; presumably the developers were loud enough to be heard by anyone in the general area.
Richards was impolite, but she didn't break any laws or violate an explicit code of conduct.
I don't think it's too much to ask for a comfortable professional environment. The fact that television shows and advertisements employ sexism doesn't make it okay.
Anonymous (you know guys, it would be easier if you just used your real name…I don't leave anonymous comments, because I'm willing to stand behind what I say),
There are victims here–mr-hank is a victim and Richards is a victim. Not a single person would have cared about the tweet if PlayHaven hadn't fired mr-hank, at which point the mob went after Richards.
Neither acted well, but neither deserved what happened to them.
Anonymous 3 (are you all the same person or different people, it's really hard to tell?),
If women are telling jokes that make you feel uncomfortable, you should tell them so, or if you feel uncomfortable with that, report them to someone.
If you tell them that they're making you feel uncomfortable, and they tell you to "lighten up," you should stick with your guns.
I think I've made it pretty clear that what needs to happen is for people to follow principles, not stake out positions based on who's most similar to them.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, and for your blog over the years 🙂
Adria Richards' style of hyper-sensitivity and entitlement have countless costs for society. For example, that hyper-sensitivity is the reason why Asian-Americans are unjustly discriminated against in universities as part of affirmative action.
You can see in this poll a sampling of how much even progressives oppose affirmative-action-discrimination against Asian-Americans: http://videosift.com/poll/Is-discrimination-against-Asian-Americans-in-college-admissions-good-or-bad
Based on Adria Richards' tweet history, however, she almost certainly supports such discrimination.
The reason society's predictions for the future tend to be wrong on many issues is there are vast intellectual areas that are verboten because of hyper-sensitivity… including the ending of the anti-meritocratic discrimination against Asian-Americans.
"Competitive disadvantage: High-achieving Asian-American students are being shut out of top schools around the country."
Thanks for being a long-time reader!
As an Asian-American, I have felt the effects of racism. It's not pleasant to have colleges and universities fight tooth and nail for the right to reject your people. It's frustrating to be the ethnic group that fulfills all the rules of the American dream (work hard, save up, get educated), only to be marginalized in popular culture and business.
But it's this kind of discrimination that makes me appreciate the discrimination that affects others, whether because of race, religion, gender, or belief.
Even if Adria Richards supports discrimination against Asian-Americans (and I'm *not* saying that she does!), that doesn't affect whether or not she was discriminated against or harassed because of her gender or skin color.
The beauty of America at its finest is that we can rise above. I am reminded of the example of Senator Daniel Inouye, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor fighting for a country that had unconstitutionally imprisoned him and his family without cause.
We can all fight for our causes without having to invalidate or discount others' causes.
I have to tell you this was fascinatnig reading. One thing's for sure you've introduced the woman in the article to me, never heard of her before and never would have ever had this hadn't happened and you hadn't blogged about it.
She may be an obnoxious self promoter, but let's face it had Canseco not been the very same, it's very unlikely MLB would have made the progress it did in its drug policy had he shut his big mouth.
As for the guy getting fired, I think that's way over the top. People make mistakes. It's an overreactive effort to make an example of someone. If he has a track record of saying or doing inappropriate things then fire him.
By overreacting, it teaches to just not say it which doesn't really deal with the underlying problem. It happens time and again and it's called political correctness. Politicians learn not to say certain words. They can think what they want, just don't say it. And on goes discrimination.
I'm not endorsing sexism, I'm endorsing actually learning more from it than to just "not say it".
Glad you enjoyed the essay. Good point on Canseco as well. You have to judge the truth independently of the truth-teller.
thanks for share...
Thank you for the thoughtful post but I do believe there is a 'fail' involved:
"I know that's an unpopular stance, but allowing casual sexism is no different than allowing casual racism or religious discrimination."
The guy said 'big dongle'. That i no way falls under any standard of 'sexism'. He didn't direct it at her either. This was something you would hear on iCarly or a superbowl ad. Equating it to the dreaded 'N' word really cheapens that word. No one was ever lynched, strung up, and burned alive while being called a 'big dongle'.
I *DO* understand there is nasty sexism in the world and in male dominated industries. Ya think sexism is bad in I.T.? My girlfriend is studying surgery, it's HORRENDOUS in that industry, those guys think they are GODS and can do anything, but no one ever stands up to the all mighty surgeon. However I feel that using 'donglegate' as a example of sexism really cheapens the GOOD examples we have of it that are clear.
The more we call 2 men using the term 'big dongle' when talking to each other as 'sexism', the more we cheapen the term.
Please, let's solve sexism in society, we should NOT call Donglegate something it wasn't, sexism. Please use the appropriate term.