Men, It’s On Us Now

The Adria Richards/PyCon/SendGrid affair has made me sick to my stomach. Any decent human being should be outraged and sad at how low so many people in the wider tech world can sink.

I’m not going to express an opinion on the original incident. How far out of line were those guys? Did Adria overreact? Could she have handled it better? I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and it doesn’t matter any more.

What does matter is that the only people who are happy right now are the trolls: the hateful, misogynistic sickos who’ve spent the last few days making horrific threats of physical and sexual violence against Adria.

The rights and wrongs of the case are, for now, irrelevant. The opportunity for a reasonable conversation about them has passed, and may never return. Any discussion of them against this background of hate becomes an implicit debate on whether Adria “brought this on herself”, and none of us should fall into that trap. 

This is where SendGrid failed so badly: it may have been the right call to let Adria go (and I have no opinion on the matter), but doing so under threat merely capitulated to the worst elements on the internet. Whatever mistakes you think she’s made, Adria Richards belongs to the sane, productive side of tech, and we should be circling the wagons around her, not cutting her loose.

Women in the tech industry are getting the message loud and clear: if you step out of line (or even if you do nothing at all) the trollosphere will destroy you at will, and your company will abandon you to your fate. As John Koetsier of VentureBeat put it:

What do you do now if you are a woman in technology and you feel harassed or abused and want to shine a light on it, but now see this prominent woman totally abandoned by her company?

I’ll tell you what you do, unless you’re a saint or a hero. You shut up. You put your head down. You grin and bear it, because it’s a man’s world. And you leave, eventually, for a better place.

So now it’s up to us, the sane male population of the tech world. If we want a diverse, welcoming industry that benefits from the talents and perspectives of women, we’ll have to be the ones to make it safe for them to participate. We must push back against exclusionary language, sexist banter, brogramming and all the other issues, large and small, that determine whether women are welcome and respected at our companies, conferences, open-source projects and online communities.

We can’t expect women to go through this alone. And if we don’t fight to keep and increase female participation in all parts of the tech industry, and women abandon it, we’ll all be poorer for it.