Adria Richards' tweet denouncing as sexist remarks made by a man at a tech conference has brought out a fierce and angry backlash. Two people have been fired (Richards and the man she accused of making inappropriate comments), Richards has faced a torrent of abuse and threats; and both Richards and her former employer have been on the receiving end of denial of service attacks.
But the controversy has had a more constructive outcome as well: Women are speaking up to share their own tales of slights, sexism and discrimination they've experienced the tech world, bringing attention to problems that often go unreported for fear of ill-will and precisely the kind of backlash Richards has faced.
Silicon Valley has clung to its vision of itself as a meritocratic place where everyone has an equal chance at success and everyone receives the same support. The slew of recent blogs from women in the tech world suggest it's anything but.
Julie Pagano, a software engineer at Google, is just one of several technical women who are sharing their experiences online. Business Insider, which first covered Pagano's post, notes that her comments refer not to Google, but to prior employers.
"I learned early that sometimes being a software engineer means death by 1000 cuts because you don’t have the power to make it stop. Even the tiniest little things add up to something big -- sometimes it’s really death by 1000 paper cuts," writes Pagano. "I’m not the only one covered in bandaids trying to stanch the bleeding and focus on programming because it’s a thing that I love."
In another blog, she writes she realized at a previous job "[t]hat women are seen differently. That homophobia can run rampant. That people will say whatever the hell they want because they think there are no consequences."
In two entries both published on Tumblr on March 24 (neither of which mention Richards explicitly), Pagano describes how the "cuts" started in school, where she felt "discouraged and humiliated in math classes," and recalls that a teacher tried to dissuade her from pursuing an engineering degree in college, advice Pagano ignored. Her courses had few other women, she writes, and she endured a professor's "creepy comments about 'geeky girls' during class."
Conferences, colleagues, and jobs have provided additional challenges and frustrations, writes Pagano, who said she regularly observes double standards and demeaning comments about women being unable to understand or appreciate tech. At a previous job, she says,
I’m asked to take notes in meetings where I am a technical lead and should be actively participating. Male coworkers make comments about stalking women on facebook and looking at images of booth babes in work meetings (some later apologize). Others say that front-end development isn’t real software engineering. I suspect I’m paid less than male colleagues (perhaps paranoia, perhaps real -- it’s a hard thing to verify). Problems are easiest to resolve by finding a new job -- this is what I do (thankfully the new job is much better). A thousand paper cuts for the working world.
Those who argue that the fuss over discrimination against women is overblown and who counter criticisms by saying they've heard few complaints from female colleagues should read Pagano's posts for insights into how difficult it can to call out troubling behavior in the workplace.
Courtney Stanton, a game developer, echoed Pagano's observations in a post on BuzzFeed, observing that though she didn't agree with Richards' decision to tweet a photograph of the man making penis and "dongle" jokes at a tech conference, she also understood that "trying to address the situation privately might not have worked very well, given the barriers to direct reporting that clearly still exist at events like this."
"Historically in the tech community," Stanton writes, "Private is synonymous with 'swept under the rug and ignored.'"
Tech consultant Amanda Blum also weighed in on the matter and, while critical of Richards, says she's sympathetic to her frustration.
"To be clear, I believe the tech industry, of which I am a part, is rampantly sexist," wrote Blum. "It runs so deep and so organic to the industry that even men who would see it in other places don’t recognize it in our insulated world."
(h/t Business Insider)