Be the difference: the Adria Richards situation

Here’s a summary of my thoughts on the Adria Richards situation, as a female in tech. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter, here is a summary:

  • Adria Richards was an attendee at PyCon. Richards overheard a conversation by two men, which included a number of technical terms, which Richards took to infer some innuendo.
  • Richards posted their picture on Twitter to her thousands of followers whilst asking Pycon to remedy the situation.
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  • Richards was then subjected to a lot of twitter support; but also the subject of a great deal of vitriol. Most of it is too disgusting to repeat here, but I got some of it a whilst back when I complained about the experiences of girl gamers over Twitter. Trust me, it isn’t nice.
  • Richards, and one of the developers in the photo above, got fired.

So, as a female in tech, here are my thoughts:

  • The guys were mildly in the wrong for their initial comments.
  •  Richards was mildly in the wrong for the over-reaction. 
  •  Absolutely wrong – not mildly – is the sad fact that Richards has received a huge amount of revenge via social media. Vitriolic commentary about rape, being killed, and even tweets showing pictures of decapitation and so on and so on. The kind of vile stuff you see on the Internet. However, if you use social media, you need to recognise that it may not always like you and this is a consequence that nobody could have foreseen.
Richards has the right to be offended; absolutely. I personally would have been dismissive of such juvenile commentary, and perhaps rolled my eyes at them.  I don’t think either party could have foreseen the circumstances.  Richards and the developer fired, for example, and the internet furore and backlash that has ensued. 
In my opinion, the ‘dongle’ jokes were juvenile and silly, and they were thoughtless. However I do think that Richards should have had a quiet word with them, either immediately or at a later point. A simple ‘Guys, I’m not comfortable with that…. can you keep that until later?’ would probably have sufficed. This would have been a mature, simple route for anybody; male or female. If she didn’t feel comfortable doing that, then she could have asked others sitting around her for their thoughts and opinions. A simple sentence, signifying maturity, would have permitted the guys to apologise and amend their behaviour; if they didn’t, then she’d have a clearer case for justifying her Twitter response and ‘outing’ of these developers.

Why it is difficult for me personally:

  • I think that the initial over-reaction has a ‘halo’ effect; I don’t want ‘men in tech’ to think that we are all Richards in disguise. I don’t want to be treated differently because I’m female. I want to be treated the same. I don’t want guys to feel that they are treading on eggshells around me. I can carry out my professional work much more easily when people get past the ‘girl’ thing. 
  • This whole, sorry, wrong situation is a setback for everyone; men and women in tech. For example, I am worried that it may scare companies from hiring women, thinking that we will go off on some Twitter strop at the slightest provocation. That’s exactly the sort of situation that we do not want. I want to be seen as a professional; someone you’d hire and trust to deliver a good job, not someone you’d be afraid to interact with in case of a Twitter furore.

How do you get a balance, then? I do think that people should behave professionally; my code is to behave as if the CEO was sat next to you. Would you swear? Make juvenile jokes? Probably not. I’d expect the same professionalism from others, regardless of their sex.  Incidentally, the developer in question has made an apology, and it would be nice if it was accepted graciously. 
People need to wake up and realise that we are in tech, not saving babies or curing cancer, and apply our energies and brains to things that will really change the world. Like behaving as if we are adults. Like giving women the same opportunities as men. Like the risks to young women in various parts of the world, when they try to get an education – think of Malala, for example, at school near me. Like us women not shooting ourselves in the foot. Like trying to find the ‘mature’ route to set an example to the ‘brogrammers’ who are in the majority in our industry.
I really hope that this situation resolves itself as well as possible, for the developers and for Richards herself. That we all mature because of this situation.

Be the difference.

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