Tech industry needs to address sexism

It is a classic case of blaming the victim, something we’ve seen all too often recently. Adria Richards, an employee of  SendGrid, was attending the PyCon Conference in Santa Clara, California earlier this month. PyCon is an annual conference for those who use and develop the open source Python programming language. It is a tech industry conference, and it is no secret that the tech world remains largely dominated by men. While there, two men seated behind her repeatedly made jokes using sexual innuendo. She finally had enough; she snapped a photo of the two men, and tweeted it with the following comment: “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big’ dongles. Right behind me #pycon” (CNN).

As a result of the tweet, one of the men, who worked for the gaming platform Playhaven, was fired. But that was only the beginning, and the bulk of the backlash hit Richards. She began receiving death threats, her private information was hacked, and both her personal site and the site of her employer were hit with cyber attacks. SendGrid CEO Jim Franklin then fired Richards for “publicly shaming the offenders” (CNN). According to Franklin, “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 [Richards’] 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. … In the end, the consequences that resulted from how she reported the conduct put our business in danger” (Jezebel).

When she sent the tweet, it was with the intention to get the rude behavior to stop. It was not with the intention to get the men fired. However, regardless of whether or not you agree with her actions, the resulting backlash against her reveals the true depth of misogyny within this industry: “Richards received many disgusting, racially charged insults via social media. She received rape and death threats. Someone tweeted her a disturbing image of the bloody decapitated corpse of a woman with the caption ‘When I’m done.’ The image included her home address” (

So I ask, what is the real conversation we should be having here? When are we going to address the level of hatred directed toward women by men, regardless of the environment it occurs in? During the recent Steubenville rape trial, the victim was re-victimized countless times as she was blamed, harassed, and repeatedly threatened for coming forward to accuse her attackers, while they received sympathy from both community members and the media. We need to stop the victim blaming. We need to address the root of the problem. We need to teach boys that girls are human beings, not objects to be degraded and abused. We all bear the weight of this responsibility, and while it is appalling that we need to have these conversations in 2013, it is clear that there is much work still to do.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

Leave a Reply