You may have seen a few angry tweets from me earlier about how Github handled the situation with Julie Ann Horvath.
First, I was angry about Theresa Preston-Werner tying the situation to Kickstarter. That’s a personal issue. It’s upsetting for me, but that’s not what I want to write about.
Instead, I want to write about all the other women in technology that this impacts.
No one seems to be recognizing that this situation is scary. So, I’m bringing this up even though it’s a career risk for me. It’s a risk someone has to take, and no one wants to.
Every time I tweet gender, I go back through to make sure all the people who are “important” to me still follow me. (Hint: people with power over me. Heads of Product at interesting companies. VCs. I’m not too afraid that my friends are going to stop following me.)
I don’t want to spend my time writing about gender. I want to spend it doing Product Management and founding companies. But I’m afraid if I don’t write it, no one will, and we won’t get better. If you haven’t noticed yet: I always alternate my “gender” essays and my professional content ones.
The Github thing isn’t just about one set of facts. It’s about how this reaction makes other women in technology feel.
I try to not make assumptions about situations I don’t understand. I try not to blame people. I try to avoid reading into things.
Github’s had some other issues. Take the Meritocracy rug. I know the general criticisms of meritocracy, but it’s not like I notice every rug in Kickstarter. I doubt a meritocracy rug would have bothered me if I worked there. I shared the story when they reflected & removed it, because I liked that they were responding to the community. Death by a thousand paper cuts sucks, but I’m not going to weigh in on another company’s paper cuts. (Unless someone asks me! Always happy to try to help!)
But – I am going to weigh in on things that send messages to women in tech as a whole.
Julie Ann leaving Github was VERY different from something like the rug. She already had a lot of respect & weight in the community. She’d been a strong advocate for “be female in tech and do awesome work, and it will be okay.” She was all about getting more women into our communities & supporting them, rather than focusing on problems.
I usually feel that way too – I think it’s important to talk about things – but also good to stay positive.
Julie Ann saying what she did was credible because of the reputation she’d built. Github immediately responding also gave the claims credence. It also seemed unsurprising given what others had heard. (I don’t know many within Github, but the general sentiment amongst folks I knew was there were issues).
I think she told the truth. But that isn’t all the matters.
Regardless of the exact details of the facts, Julie Ann’s perception also matters. A lot. People internalize situations based on prior experience – this wasn’t made up out of nowhere. Something did happen – regardless of the exact details.
Github’s answer was upsetting because it felt like a “non-answer.”
It said “she messed up enough to need to leave, but it’s not a technical legal claim.” That’s.. ambiguous. It comes across as “something bad happened, but we’re going to pretend it didn’t to protect ourselves legally.”
It was particularly weak because Julie Ann already said the process was more about arbitration. She’d already said it wasn’t about finding out what happened. Github finally saying this felt expected, weak and cover-up-y.
I get that there’s a legal issue. They don’t want to be sued. That’s a hard line to walk. I bet their employees are writing anonymously because they were told not to comment publicly.
But, that answer isn’t reassuring for women in technology at all. What happens if (when) something like that happens to you? Will your company throw you under the bus to protect themselves legally? Will they try to discredit you, even while taking actions make it clear something happened?
That’s ambiguous and scary. Seems like you lose twice – something bad happens, and you get discredited! Why risk that?
Then that got amplified.
The situation started feeling much worse when Marc Andreesen tweeted his support.. I’ve always looked up to A16Z. I’ve respected the people I’ve met there. Ben Horowitz used female pronouns in his book!
Marc’s tweets still make me uncomfortable.
The entire situation reads: A male executive can do something that’s wrong/sexist. The company will want to cover itself legally, so it will discredit the claims. It’s hard to PROVE something was sexist. There’s always so much individual variation between people – so it’s easy to discredit. The company does realize something was wrong – so it forces the executive to resign. Yet, a prominent VC is still offering support and funding, with no context.
Without more information, this is even more terrifying! For some people, this would be reassuring. Marc has his founder’s backs! That’s great! That’s not necessarily how it feels for women who want to start companies.
Let’s say I want to start a company (I do!) Let’s say I was thinking about taking money from Marc and A16Z.
What if something bad happened to me? Another venture partner did something wrong? Another executive from a portfolio company?
Marc’s statements make me wary that he wouldn’t have my back in that situation. He’d have the other, male, founders.
Seems more that someone would try to discredit me, cover it up, and support the male founder instead.
Money from A16Z suddenly feels very risky – what if something went wrong? Normally, I’d just silently strike it off my list of places to approach in the future. Today, I’m writing.
It isn’t just me.
We wonder why we don’t have women in tech – yet we don’t address when we terrify them! We focus on the facts instead of the overall climate.
Instead of thinking about what this situation means for all the women in tech, we focus on what it means for one founder.
I bet a bunch of talented women are writing off Github and A16Z as places to work and/or get funding right now because of this fear. I’d need to know far more to feel safe working with either of those places.*
As an industry we should and must care about facts. But we also need to care about the messages we send. Right now, the industry is telling me “if anything bad happens to you, we’ll throw you out instead of trying to address it.”
That’s what’s scary. That’s why I’m angry.
* I also know this isn’t just me. I’ve had women reach out today to share the same sentiments, who don’t necessarily want to share them publicly.