Tech Conventions: Breeding Grounds for Social Media and Sexual Harassment?


Two guys, sharing a joke at a crowded conference, not realizing that its alleged sexist nature just might be offensive to an attendee seated in front of them, could not have predicted that it would have gone viral on the internet, linked to their likenesses and result in a job loss.  The tweeter, reportedly fed up with their alleged sexist jokes and using her 10,000 Twitter followers to publicize their inappropriateness, may not have foreseen that her actions would backfire and result in a dismissal from her job.

So who is the victim here?  The women subjected to alleged sexist jokes at a professional conference or Preventing-Sexual-Harassment-in-the-Workplace

the men whose privacy was impinged without their consent resulting in a termination of employment? Or, is it social media getting the bad rap for those individuals not considering a level of social responsibility when using it to make their point?


Last week at PYCON  (the largest conference for programmers using open-source Python programming language) Adria Richards, an Evangelist Developer for SendGrid, overheard alleged sexist jokes made by two men seated in front of her.  As reported by Kevin Smith for Business Insider in YAHOO! FINANCE, Richards fed up with their jokes and wanting to do something about it proceeded to take a picture of the offenders and post it to Twitter along with the following comment:  “Not cool.  Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and “big” dongles.  Right behind me.”

Adria Richards

What resulted, according to Smith, was the dismissal of one of the men pictured, a PlayHaven employee, and an eruption of online posts by the tech community, specifically on such forums as Hacker News, Reddit and Anonymous.  Smith summarized the online chatter as, “…the tension between the ‘freewheeling boys-will-be-boys atmosphere’ that has traditionally existed in technology and a modern politically correct atmosphere”.

The spotlight on convention sexual harassment against women by men has been illuminated in 2012 by incidents reported during or about such conventions as DEFCON 20Games Developer ConferenceNew York’s ComicCon and ReaderCon.

Someone claiming to be the male that was fired from PlayHaven posted on Hacker News, that Richards’ photo caused him to lose his job, “She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate.”  Online discussions continued to address the incident with most of the posts siding with the PlayHaven employee, to the point of setting up an online petition to Give the mistreated employee their job back which currently has 760 signatures.  The article,  VentureBeat – PlayHaven Developer Fired cites Adria Richard’s blog ButYourAGirl in which she explains her version of the incident and her motivation for posting the tweet.  While Richards has her supporters, she has received Twitter death and rape threats.

Reported in VentureBeat SendGrid, Richards’ employer, made a comment about their support of Richard’s right to report the incident to PyCon personnel when she believed the men’s behavior and comments were inappropriate. However, upon her dismissal they added the following statement:

“Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line.  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.”

Having commented on their dedication to gender equality and their value of honorable behavior, PlayHaven explained in their blog that a resulting investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to release the employee.

So, who are the victims? What can we learn and what can we change for the better? Is more sexual harassment prevention training required?  More code of conduct documents required to be signed by conference or convention attendees? Should be ban smartphones from conventions?  Perhaps the solution can be found in one word: RESPECT.

About mcpat2013

HR Professional, Student of Discovery, Beader, Traveler, Mom, Pop Culture Enthusiast, Actor and Overall Optimist (most times)
This entry was posted in Privacy, Social Media, Twitter and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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