December 20, 2014

Sexism Scandal Rocks the PyCon Tech Conference

pycon_2013_usTech Developer Adria Richards Gets Fired for Firing back on Twitter at “Dongle” Comment

Maybe next time those nerdy IT tech guys will learn to keep their inside jokes about “big dongles” to themselves, because those sexist under-the-breath jokes might just bring about a bizarre chain of events and get a bunch of people fired from their jobs all stemming from the 2013 PyCon tech conference, of all places.

For female technology developer Adria Richards a “dongle” joke was so offensive to her that she shot back on Twitter at the group of men who insinuated  that  her “dongles” (in the tech world translates to a device that plugs into a computer) were not actually a real dongle, but her bustling bosom.

Richards claimed that after she heard the sexist comments she immediately became uncomfortable and snapped a picture of the two men and posted it on Twitter with the statement, “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and “big” dongles. Right behind me.”

Before you knew it the power of social media took over and the back lash was enormous. Shortly after the Twitter picture, a Playhaven mobile gaming platform employee got fired, and Richards started getting death threats. Some hackers (or it could be a strong possibility that it was fired Playhaven employee himself) hacked into her personal and employers website SendGrid with cyber attacks. Even her personal information was exposed online.

It didn’t take long before Richards was fired for “publicly shaming the offenders,” stated in the SendGrid’s latest blog post by CEO Jim Franklin.

All this drama for nothing, or is sexism really a problem? But again this raises the issues of women working in a man’s world. It’s safe to say that the tech world is largely dominated by men. But don’t get the idea that it’s filled with powerful corporate man, it’s quite the opposite. The tech world is submerged with those IT-nerdy types or “techies” as they like to call them. If you’ve ever spent a few hours with these guys or caught an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” then you know that these techies get unusually uncomfortable around women, especially beautiful women with “big dongles.” So is this a safe sector for women to work in and fight back at a bunch of sexist slurs?

According to Nikki Stevens, director of fashion startup Engineering at Refinery29, “This incident is indicative of larger problems in the tech industry. What’s hard is she isn’t the first person to get fired for speaking out, and she won’t be the last.”

This can be blamed at the lack of awareness from men, and a nonchalant attitude towards women in the tech world.

Technology vice president of data analytics startup Jirafe stated, “There are so many incident in my career of guys saying stuff like that. It does occasionally go far. It’s the rare occasion that I have thought there was anything going on other than cluelessness.” Well, can you really blame them? A lot of these guys haven’t ever had a real girlfriend; of course they’re going to be clueless about women.

This nonchalant attitude towards women in a field that clearly lacks diversity has become the theme for Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in her new book, “Lean In.”

Sandberg thinks that in order to fight against sexism in the work place, she encourages women and men in the tech world to converse openly about gender issues, “We need a conversation that examines the barriers that hold women back and prevent us from achieving true equality. The blunt truth is that men still run the world.”

Many successful women in the tech world seem to agree. Recalling previous jobs where she overheard office chit chat filled with sexist jokes and saw email lists filled with misogynist images, Carol Mirakove, the head of quality assurance at link-shortening site Bitly, said the PyCon incident was an “unfortunate,” blow that came at the wrong time and that, “The technology industry cannot afford for this conversation to be shut down any longer. It has more open jobs than skilled workers to fill them, and all tech workers are entitled to a fair and safe work environment.”

However, Facebook Sheryl Sandberg and other female techies think that having open conversations isn’t enough. Her thoughts are causing the book to be highly controversial because it begs the question that tech women should change their behaviour and attitudes to get ahead in their careers.

According to PyCon attendee programmer and hacker Eric Matthes’ blog, “Women shouldn’t have to grow ‘thick skin’ to go into a technical field.”

To many startup insiders, they believe that in order to bring about change, tech companies should hire more women in managerial positions and make them into company leaders.

But if you look at the tech world as a whole, a whole lot of women aren’t jumping on the band wagon of becoming a techie because for one, a lot of women have no interest in that sector at all.

But for those women who are interested in careers in the startup world, they should know that just like any other sector, it’s a safe place to work in and stand up for what they believe in.

 

 

    A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of "exit". The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth. Paul Graham, Y-Combinator