I’m angry because I’m afraid.

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.

The Facts

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.

The Perception

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 “he 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.

56 thoughts on “I’m angry because I’m afraid.

  1. Matt Olenik

    As a male who’s been following the story with GitHub and Julie Ann unfold, I have to say I’m a little concerned that more men aren’t at least empathetic to Julie Ann’s claims of harassment. It’s concerning to me because a good number of men, perhaps more often in tech than other fields, were bullied at school when they were kids.

    A lot of what’s going on, the power dynamics of it, is all pretty similar to playground and classroom bullying. Except now it’s with adults, so the risk covers more area. Now it’s not just one kid’s childhood, it’s one person’s life and career, and it’s their families, their friends, their homes, their lives and livelihoods wherever they are. It’s even the fate of companies. Yet so many men are shrugging this off in the very way our own terrible experiences were ignored by others when we were growing up. Some are dismissing it because they want more “hard evidence” of harassment, some have even accused Julie Ann of making up or exaggerating her story as an attention grab.

    I was bullied as a kid, and any time a bully was about to get caught, they’d always have some bullshit story for an excuse. The worst one, the most infurating one, was always “he’s just making it up to get attention.” You know what made it really infurating? When the stupid adults actually believed them. When you got in trouble because someone else was giving you shit.

    Do any guys out there remember how that felt? If you do, you know exactly what’s happened to Julie Ann and many other women. Not just in the tech industry, but everywhere. You know how terrible it feels to have someone completely dismiss your story, and how alone it feels when there’s no one around to speak up for you.

    Given the sheer number of male critics Julie Ann has acquired over this ordeal, it’s highly likely that many of those men know exactly what I’m talking about. They grew up in the same or worse situations as me. I really wish those men would remember what that was like before asking for “hard evidence” for harassment in the workplace. Do it before trying to tell someone that they are wrong about their own experiences and accusing them of acting out of a desire for attention.

    1. Schlomo Shekelstein

      This isn’t for you but the author of this site (your beta arguments are nearly impossible read without a good dose of self-hatred). But to Ellen Chisa, I see header “Facts”, followed by seven or eight paragraphs containing 0 facts. It’s like you didn’t even try.

    2. J Smith

      I like your commentary so much. Great analysis. I have often wondered about this… I guess there is a tendency, once a person has made it up the heap, to want to distance themselves from anyone else who is farther down?

  2. Tiffany

    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?”

    Yes. Yes they will. This is true for any corporation, not just tech. Your employer doesn’t care about you. It cares about its image and profit margin. Speaking up potentially affects both. HR is not there for you. Their job is to protect the company by making sure the company doesn’t get sued for discrimination and on the job injuries. If you’re being harassed, your best bet is to find a new job, and tell HR why you’re leaving. Anything else puts you at risk for retaliation and good luck proving *that* in a lawsuit.

    1. Naomi Most

      That may have been the right approach in the 80s, but now we have this thing called the internet, which can be used for widespread dissemination of information by anyone with a keyboard.

      Companies may still want to cling to the idea that it’s in the shareholders’ best interests when companies deny all allegations and try to sweep it all under the Meritocracy Rug (metaphorically speaking). But increasingly, companies will find that they can’t manage the blowback when they do this — and thus will lose market share regardless.

      In other words, you’re right that companies only care about their image and PR. The part that makes your approach the wrong one is that companies are no longer in direct control of their image.

      The Right Way would be for employers to take ownership of the mistakes they make and resolve to do better.

      GitHub is positioning themselves as not taking their internal problems seriously. As an investor, what I see is a company bound to make the same mistakes over and over again. That’s not very good for long-term market value.

      1. bubba

        No one really cares. It’s like saying things are different because you can walk into a public area and start telling everyone your life story.

        but ultimately, the only person who really cares is the person it’s happening to, and those around them. The situation hasn’t changed that dramatically, and while the internet has changed a lot of things, it’s more often that people “get away” with the same behaviors. Only rarely do things go “viral” enough for actual retribution.

        Or do you believe harassment only happens every once in a while?

        the internet is not there for people to get angry and crusade about things.

  3. Katie Cunningham (@kcunning)

    I’ve met men in tech that have been bullied before, and many of them believe that this renders then incapable of being a bully.

    One dude regularly described the women in our office as to how attractive they were, but he thought he could only be egalitarian because he’d been beat up a few times in middle school. Another thought it totally okay to proposition women at conferences and hound the ones he particularly liked, because he’d been called names and would know harrassment if he saw it, right? I know the guys with backwards attitudes who think they’re utterly forward because once, they were treated poorly.

  4. erif

    This definitely sends the wrong message to other women now in tech and to those to come who are now in highschool or college and hear about this, would they feel inspired to join tech? I certainly wouldn’t at that age. I know that your work should speak louder than your gender, as Hopper said, but as you say thay are also sentiments involved. And matters. I think that the worst part although is the silence, and the fear.

    1. Jessica

      Totally agree. I volunteer often to speak to middle school/high school/college students about how I got into tech and why they should too. Every time a story comes out like this it makes it a little bit harder to do that :(

  5. Noah Gibbs

    I agree with Tiffany. If somebody asked me, “hey, I’m at (small SiliValley company). If I have a conflict with the founder and I’m in the right, will they have my back?”, I would ask “are you high? Of course not!”

    Like, regardless of the gender of the person asking.

    It sucks. It’s unjust. It’s only sort of gendered, though — most founders are male, but male and female employees both get the shaft on this one.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I’ve been trying to figure out a way to express my thoughts on this situation, but I don’t feel like this is a safe topic to approach. You talk about being scared for the implications of this, but at least it’s not professionally dangerous for you to even broach this subject. As a male and a startup employee it’s basically impossible for me to talk about this publicly. Thank god for anonymity, right?

    Here’s my fundamental problem with the entire situation: Everyone has heard one side of the story and then assumed the worst case. Think back on any ambiguous situation you’re personally familiar with. Two friends who got divorced is a good analogy. There are always two sides to the story and neither one is the entire truth. Github and the employees there has been admirably restrained in their discussion of the whole matter. But I am certain there’s another side to the story. There always is.

    Let’s try a couple of possible narratives to show the range of possibilities:
    1) Everything happened exactly as JAH claims. Github had a dangerously toxic culture and she was the first to raise the alarm publicly. Everyone else there worked in such a culture of fear that they were paralyzed to act.
    2) JAH made up most or all of it. She was selective in what she reported, lied about other parts and generally distorted the truth. There was no wrong doing of any kind at Github. She’s heartless, cold blooded and wanted to kill the company from the inside for her own nefarious reasons.
    3) Some generally well meaning and decent people (JAH and everyone else at GH) did what they thought was best given what they knew at the time. Some mistakes were probably made, some feelings were hurt, but no one acted in a cold blooded or malevolent manner. Things got out of control and Github made some bad choices about fixing the situation. A series of small mistakes added up and blew up into a big public brouhaha. People with personal knowledge of the situation know the shades of gray involved, but are not able to comment publicly for professional, legal or personal reasons.

    Of these 3 extremes, #3 seems the most realistic to me. Real life is never black and white. I’m certain there’s another side to the story that’s not being told. And I’m frustrated at all the hand wringing and industry wide concern that this incomplete story has generated.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Ah, but realistic situations don’t whip the media up into a frenzy. They don’t enable social justice warriors to continue a crusade…

    2. Ellen Post author

      Hi! I actually totally agree with you that the truth usually lies in the middle. I’m sure it’s somewhere between the two – but from my personal vantage I’m more inclined to trust Julie Ann. I haven’t gotten much to work with from the other perspective. Another issue is that even when it’s #3, the female employee is usually the one who gets the short end of the stick.

      That said – I wrote not because of this one issue. I’m sure if you’re at Github, it’s really frustrating that this has become A HUGE DEAL. I know that feeling.

      The issue isn’t “Github did bad things” or “Marc tweeted something wrong.” It’s that these things happen a lot, from different companies/people. This was an example that people were already talking about, and that let me articulate my message.

      The problem is a lot bigger than this one thing.

      Each incident like this creates fear in women, and when we don’t address that fear, we have a high rate of attrition from the field. I hadn’t seen anyone talk about that fear, and I felt like it needed to be said.

      1. Xiong Chiamiov

        So what do we do about that fear? My perception of the situation is that there really wasn’t a discrimination problem (just plenty of interpersonal ones), and Github’s third-party auditor confirmed that. I take it you don’t believe this, because if there were no problems there’d be nothing to be afraid of, but what would you rather see? Would it make you feel more secure if the auditor found out that yes, there has been rampant sexual discrimination at Github, worse than you could ever imagine? It just seems like finding out that all female employees are required to strip for the men and then perform lewd acts while chained up (or whatever gross thing you’d like to use as an example) is quite the opposite direction of the ideal, and of what we’ve found.

        1. Ellen Post author

          There are serious questions about the legitimacy of the third party auditor. I liked @nk’s proposal to share the full findings so we have more information: https://twitter.com/nk/status/458662279811444736

          I’d feel more secure if the auditor report seemed to reveal a thoughtful investigation. Regardless of the results, then the right thing to do would be address what the problems were, why they happened, and how we can prevent them in the future. (Even if that was a perception issue, or a false accusation issue). There clearly was some type of problem – she & the founder both left.

          So, I think we talk about it. I think we admit these situations scare people, and talk about why we’ll do better / how we’ll prevent them.

          An aside: I’m not quite sure why you included a gross example. It was completely unnecessarily. You could have just said “if they found something clearly sexist and/or egregiously wrong” and the point would have been made.

          1. Sarah Mathers

            “There are serious questions about the legitimacy of the third party auditor.”

            What exactly were the questions regarding the legitimacy of the auditor and what was their basis?

          2. Ellen Post author

            After this, not replying to anonymous comments, but for now:

            1) Julie Ann stated she was uncomfortable.
            2) Auditor was paid for by Github, accountable to Github. Doesn’t seem unbiased.
            3) The auditor hasn’t shared specific findings.

            On top of this, the entire point of this essay is about the PERCEPTION of these reactions, and how they make women feel. It’s about the aggregate, and not just this one. Focusing in on the specific details of what happened within Github is not the point.

          3. Xiong Chiamiov

            Thank you for replying.

            There are serious questions about the legitimacy of the third party auditor. I liked @nk’s proposal to share the full findings so we have more information: https://twitter.com/nk/status/458662279811444736

            I’d feel more secure if the auditor report seemed to reveal a thoughtful investigation.

            The same point was made to me on Reddit. I’m noticing now that I tend to trust companies’ findings, but if we were talking about a government organization I’d be at the head of the criticism charge. Transparency is always a tricky thing when dealing with people’s personal lives, but a bit more seems like a good idea.

            An aside: I’m not quite sure why you included a gross example. It was completely unnecessarily. You could have just said “if they found something clearly sexist and/or egregiously wrong” and the point would have been made.

            Yeah, that was pretty inappropriate. I’ve spent too much time in some rather dark corners of the internet that have permanently wacked my internal appropriateness meters, and I was a bit frustrated at some other things I had been reading this morning. What I said was out of line, and just proves that I’m still far from the mature engineer I wish to be.

            My girlfriend came upon this article independently, and after we argued about it for a bit, I think I can answer my own question; please feel free to correct me if I misrepresent your view.

            It’s not the specific instance of allegations (true, false, or somewhere in-between) that causes fear; it’s that there were a large number of pro-Github (or pro-Tom?) messages spreading before any real information surfaced. This means that if you (or any woman, or likely any other minority, in tech) were discriminated against (which we all know is far too common in Silicon Valley), you would know that speaking out about it would be sure to land a whole heap of criticism (and if history repeats itself, death threats and other harassment) upon yourself. Yes, no, sorta?

            My apologies if it sounds like I’m just restating your post; I just find it helpful to repeat in my own words what someone says to verify I heard the same thing they spoke.

          4. Ellen Post author

            Yes! That is exactly what I’m trying to get at for the first part. For the last part… I think the ambiguity does cause fear, but yes, our tendency to automatically believe one side is an issue too. There’s a lot of complication & nuance to it.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Oh, I’m not at Github, totally a 3rd party here.

    I actually agree with you about the fear part. I think it’s an unfortunate consequence of the Things We Don’t Talk About. Having no transparency about situations that work out well magnifies the ones that don’t.

  8. Pingback: Is The GitHub Scandal’s Bizarre Transparency The New Norm?Digital Era | Digital Era

  9. Benjamin Reece

    As having friends who work at Github, I’ve followed this story closely since it first broke.

    Of course, I am also a huge fan of Marc Andreessen but his public strong support of a recently “fired” co-founder sat with me poorly as well.

    Everything you say makes sense, Github should release more information and Marc Andreessen should add more clarity.

    In the meantime, what should we do?

  10. Anonymous Butterfly

    Marc Andreessen’s support of Tom Werner Preston doesn’t sit well with me either. Neither does the fact that the co-worker engineer has not resigned but has been promoted instead. As for Github’s “investigation’s findings” anyone can hire their own investigator to issue a report favoring their side of the story. Github’s legal advisers would be hindering their client if they hadn’t ordered such a report in what is still a potential lawsuit.

  11. Susan Parker

    I’m in academia so have no special insight into the situation, but I followed the reporting pretty closely.

    My assumption is that Andreessen’s support is part of a negotiated separation between Github and Preston-Werner. If the Github leadership, in which I include Andreessen but not Preston-Werner in this context, thought it was best for the company to draw a line under things but lacked legal grounds for forcing Preston-Werner out, they had to negotiate him out. And that would surely include some face-saving sweeteners.

    I take Tiffany’s position that it’s all about protecting the company. In this case Preston-Werner, as a founder, had a stronger negotiating position than Horvath, but he’ s not there any more, either — which is where I tie in Noah Gibbs’s observation that Andreessen’s and Github’s actions are only sort of gendered.

    1. Ellen Post author

      In some ways yes, it’s about the company/VC relationship and protecting the company.

      In others, it’s very gendered. Most harassment currently happens to women. It’s also much more common for founders to be male. Generally, this pattern will repeat – something bad will happen to a woman and company/VC will try to discredit her to save reputation.

      That makes it unlikely for the pattern to change – there are few consequences for the company, and many for the woman who was already harassed.

      We aren’t, but should strive, to be better than that.

      1. Susan Parker

        I agree completely that these VC/company decisions reinforce and are normalized by a larger environment that is highly gendered. It will help if the introduction of basic HR structures and practices prevents workplace frictions and misconduct from escalating into these power showdowns, in which women, for now, will nearly always be on the less powerful side.

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  13. Kendall

    First of all, I always want tech to be a welcoming place for all people. I have worked with many female co-workers and managers that I thought were excellent and as technically good at development as anyone else I ever worked with.

    The very fact I have to list those qualifications saddens me though. I have always thought that the tech field was bar none the best place where women could work and truly earn respect based on ability. I still think that is true, but I feel like a lot of workplace drama that is not really gender based is being painted as such, and that is what may truly be scaring women away from tech more than anything – stories like this one.

    To me both sides of the story seem odd. Github’s response is indeed a weasely non-response. But when reading her original complaint, a central part of the complaint seemed to be some women hulu-hooping at a company party -even though stuff like the allegations against other people working at the company of direct harassment seemed far worse (though the link above someone posting noting details of prior relationships gives one pause about those complaints).

    The thing that most confuses me about the issue is this. If conditions are truly so intolerable, why not just leave? That’s the OTHER great reason for women (or really anyone) to work in tech, because ANY company can become a horrible place to work for in all sorts of ways, even places you loved for a time. Being a tech worker means about as easy job mobility as anyone on the planet has, so there’s no reason to tolerate anything that makes you deeply unhappy or hurt. I’ve left companies before when situations turned sour or I did not like how I personally was being treated.

    So women out there reading this, don’t let these scary stories of sexism in tech scare you off – because there still is no better field to get into to truly be valued for what you create, and to give you the most options to find a job and co-workers you truly enjoy.

    If you still feel concerned abut it though, you may want to avoid working in California. Everything is weirder there. :-)

  14. Antonia M.

    This post reeks of irony.

    If there is ground for litigation, J.A. Horvath should take actions.

    So far, the third party auditor seems to think otherwise (legally).

    Are you surprised that your firm/corporation/tech startup and investors will protect their founders, margins and profit when presented with independent investigation results? If so, you are (all readers) very naive.

    Yes we all wish for and idealistic place of work, but both men and women get strongarmed in the workplace. The difference between an experienced and mature employee vs one full of “piss and vinegar” is how they’ll react under threat. This was the result of inexperience from both sides.

    There is a myriad of other ways in which J.A. Horvath could have handled her feud, and again, if there is ground for litigation, why not take action? Otherwise as it stands it’s hearsay with an advantage for the side with an independent third party auditor.

    I’m apalled by your statements about the auditors. If J.A. Horvath had grounds, she could get ger own qualified auditor, in fact, I’d strongly encourage her to. But you have no real legal grounds for dismissing of the auditors’ capabilities, regardless of the justification you gave.

    I’m lost for words at the innacuracies and borderline inventive basis of this blog post. A wrong might have happened, the bullying message isn’t only for women, the tech world is full of it. It is scary.

    Scarier even, if I were Github I would take legal actions (slander, perhaps defamation) against J.A. Horvath.


  15. James Flounder

    I’m sorry, I don’t really get this post or the entire controversy around this issue. And I can’t see how anyone could given the details that have been released. I’m totally sympathetic to the plight of women in tech, thought I’ve worked for a couple tech companies that had a lot of women and I never saw any objectionable behavior (not saying it couldn’t have existed, I just didn’t see it).

    All this to say, I’ve read all the accounts of this story, and none have included enough detail for me (or anyone IMO) to draw real conclusions about what happened.

    The fact that there isn’t any real legal implications is perhaps a clue as to the severity of whatever happened. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t still problematic, but it tells us something. Just saying that comments on her pull requests were aggressive is a bit vague. What were the comments?

    The only thing that seems obvious is that the fohnder’s wife was way out of line, and by extension you have to be suspicious of the founder himself. Why would his wife be at the office and involved in anything if she wasn’t an employee. That to me is a red flag, and so I feel no sympathy for the founder.

    That being said, it seems like people are rushing to support a woman without any real facts – which in many ways can hurt the overall issue.

  16. Rebecca Rachmany

    After reading both Julie Ann’s story and the medium article cited by Sarah Mathers above, I have to say this sounds more like a story of complicated interpersonal issues rather than a black-and-white story of discrimination. In this case, I don’t expect Github to release details. They certainly could have made more assertive statements about their sexual harassment policies, but exposing details of people’s personal conversations where at least one person is being bonkers, well, that’s not a good idea. I don’t have evidence to judge whether it is the wife who is bonkers or Julie Ann who is bonkers, but the reports show it could be either or both of them.

    I do agree that it is a story that deters women from getting into tech fields. I do agree there is discrimination all the time. One of the lessons of the story, in fact, is that if two (straight) people date at the office, the person who will end up leaving the company will almost always be the woman, regardless of seniority. It’s almost always a bad idea to date someone who you work with, especially if you’re a woman. Is that discrimination? Yes. On the other hand, friggin don’t date people you work with!!! It’s unprofessional, shows poor judgment, and it will harm your working relationships and your company. Even reading just Julie Ann’s side of the story, I’m stricken by how odd it is that she is public about the fact that she’s not only dating someone at the office, but that the date is being used to relay messages…. it shows poor judgment. I’ve been in many offices where there are personal relationships, either by dating, marriage or siblings, in a company. 95% of the time it sucks for everyone.

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  18. Geeta Ramani

    “Will your company throw you under the bus to protect themselves legally? Will they try to discredit you, even while taking actions making it clear something happened?”
    Yes, they will. Even while piously mouthing how much they understand and how hard they are working to create a “safe environment” for you, HR, and management in general, will actually work hard only to ensure they are legally safe. As the only woman in my IT team, I complained about a bully in my workplace and instead of investigating that, they investigated me since this bully was considered too “valuable” to discipline. And surprise! The internal “investigation” did not “uncover any facts to support” my “perceptions” that this targeting and bullying was happening. Even though several people came forward to attest to the bullying. And he has bullied others, with one or maybe even two quitting due to him. Regardlesss, they “uncovered” enough “facts” to give *me* a warning. I quit to preserve my sanity.

    1. Aimee Levens

      Agree so so so much – and a very similar thing happened to me. The louder I complained, the more I was blamed while the jackasses remain to this day.

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  20. LateBlogger

    @ Rebecca: I am glad to finally see one woman mention the obvious:

    Even if we take Julie’s story at face value (and coming from someone who complained about the company rug because of the word “meritocracy” and dated people in the office, I would have HUGE reservations about doing that), there is nothing in that story that could be qualified as any form -ist. Even if true, her story only shows dysfunctional personal relationships in the office (which could have been easily avoided had she not dated there), not discrimination of any kind.

    Even though this is patently obvious, men cannot say it because they will be immediately accused of sexism. It is up to the sane and hard-working women in tech to disassociate themselves from the con-artist women who use accusations of “sexism” to get un-earned promotions, file ridiculous lawsuits and grab victim-karma points in the gullible media.

    Women who support each other regardless of the merit of their case, make me lose faith in the female side of humanity.

    To the sane women in tech, who are watching this nonsense: make your voices heard, and show everyone that women aren’t just a bunch of greedy liars who will jump at anything bs excuse to paint themselves as victims, and grab more money and better jobs. And no: we are not offended by the word “meritocracy”, but I can see why Julie was.

    1. Jen L

      Wow. OK. Yeah, all the women in tech here are “irrational” because they recognize some of the behavior as things that they have personally experienced and they draw a logical conclusion that differs from a man who believes the meritocracy myth.

      Glad to know that there’s no sexism in tech, guy who just claimed that all women who disagree with him are crazy, a standard gendered slur for a woman who disagrees with a man’s opinion.

  21. Kelly Holler

    Thank you for writing this. I completely agree that this case is much bigger than the specific situation and reveals broader issues for women in tech. I’ll add that I think these concerns extend beyond the realm of tech and that female professionals in general might be feeling the ripple effects. I know it’s not easy to write pieces like this, but your courage helps others feel like they’re not alone and open/continues a necessary conversation. This is consciousness-raising at its best!

  22. Aimee Levens

    “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.”

    You hit the nail on the head. There are all too many leaders (men and women) in the tech community who are willing to throw women under the bus in the name of profit and public relations. I’ve seen men admit to sexual harassment then execs do *nothing* to discipline those individuals. I’ve been personally verbally attacked in front of a former boss and watched her do nothing – except to talk down to me about how *I* could have handled it better to prevent his outburst. It’s so twisted.

    With the rape case up here in the Portland tech community (http://www.oregonlive.com/silicon-forest/index.ssf/2014/01/portland_tech_community_grappl.html), it blew me away at how many people defended the rapist and his friends who testified for him, rather than calling serious attention to how tech leaders are deified in this town and can, as in this case, get away with the most heinous of behaviors.

    Thank you for calling out what needs even more calling out of – it sucks that we have to be writing about things other than our chosen career paths in these blogs but I’m proud to see women not sitting on the sidelines.

  23. Brendan

    Without taking anything away from the gender specific issues here, I think this whole thing with Github is more about corporate greed and personal weakness than anything else.

    The Directors of Github, the VC backers giving their support… they’re all protecting their financial backsides and none of them have the balls to admit what actually happened, for fear of legal and financial retribution.

    That’s what is wrong with this situation, and the world today – while some startup execs are the exception, the general rule for most of these people seems to be that they’ll write blog posts ad nauseum, speak in public, and otherwise present the facade of being transparent, honest, hard-working startup executives. But when it’s all said and done, they’re gutless and greedy, and at their core really don’t give a damn about humanity.

  24. James Flounder

    Wow, after reading through all of the comments is starting to become clear just how horrible of a blog post this is.

    The entire premise of this post is that the tech world is “scary” for women – this incident being the latest reminder. How exactly is that the case? If anything, it is posts like this that mislead women into thinking tech is a field they should be scared to pursue. This post does exactly what the author claims to be concerned with – discourage young women from pursing tech careers.

    An individual makes a claim – we have no idea if that claim is accurate or not – and without any real details about the claim, it’s dangerous and disingenuous to start taking sides. The small pieces of evidence we do have is that the behavior was both not illegal nor discriminatory. A third party auditor concluded the latter, and then the author of this blog decides that the auditor is now questionable -based solely on the fact that GitHub paid them. Who else exactly was going to pay for this auditor? Is there any reason to assume they aren’t an honest company? Why the insistence on the idea that there is a problem here other then perhaps a problematic employee?

    This blog post is really shameful. The author is clearly biased and coming into this situation with her mind made up that there was a problem, and is now trying everything to rationalize that position. And by doing so, she’s creating fear amongst young women who may now get discouraged from pursuing a career in tech that in all likelihood would be conflict free. Even the title of this post is offensive. Who would write such a title unless their goal was to actually produce more fear?

    One could view this issue from the exact opposite perspective, with much greater logic then what is contained in this post. A woman at a tech company makes a *claim* of harrassment or discrimination. Imvestigations reveal that no law was broken and no discrimination occurred, yet the founder still ends up leaving! This seems like a win for women worried about issues in the industry. Even an accusation and some poor judgement can get a founder removed from his company.

    I am a strong supporter of increasing the number of women in tech companies, and this post flies counter to that goal. It aims to scare women away from the industry based on nonsense. The author is clearly biased and a bit of an egos maniac. She is so talented but now so scared that she has decided she wouldn’t be comfortable taking funding from one of the most prominent VCs in the country. Really? Really? Sounds like delusions of grandeur to me.

    I really hope women reading this article see it for what it is – a sad attempt by an individual to pickup on a meme that has gotten traction in the media but doesn’t represent most women’s experience in the industry.

    1. icequeen

      I’m sorry James, but your privilege is showing.

      Speaking as a successful woman in tech who has been called a role model and mentor by men and women, this is a very appropriate and important conversation to have, one that could make the tech field better for all. It’s less painful to see this as a fluke than as a facet of a larger problem we all wish we didn’t have.

      I agree with many of the earlier commenters, there are shades of bullying here (including you chiming in that it’s imaginary because that veneer of plausible deniability is one hallmark), and there are shades of gray. To pull those two threads together, I’ll add that the most typical first/early response that I’ve seen to bullying is to respond in kind – that really makes it murky. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys” just a lot of hurt people.

      The exact shades of gray that started this do not invalidate the topic. It’s difficult to pin down, but it needs to be said.

  25. James Flounder

    I appreciate the dialog on this, thought I standby my assertion that this post will do more to drum up fear by women then the event itself.

    @icequeen – I wonder if it is actually your bias that is showing. What evidence of bullying have you seen? There was after all a third party investigation – which came to no such conclusion. What info do you have that contradicts that?

    I think it is really dangerous to make these types of accusations and jump to an individual’s defense without any real info.

    1. icequeen

      Posts like this reduce my fear that this could happen to me, so I respectfully disagree with your assertion. This post reduces my fear, but my goal is not to deny anyone the reality of their own experience.

      Who has no job, and who is on to the next startup with public support from a prominent VC? That is a power imbalance.

      A few years ago, a director with a psychology degree told me that the socially acceptable term for power imbalances is bullying. As a literary choice, I liked using the same word as the first comment because I felt that Matt made a good point that was on topic. We’re pretty far off-topic when I’m defending my choice of words.

      As mentioned many places including the comment thread above, the third-party investigation was paid for by GitHub so that’s a potential conflict of interest. I would respect more transparency; without it, I still feel fear. The title of this post is spot-on for me.

      I had no idea that I hurled accusations, or leaped to an individual’s defense. Umm, wow. This must be why I rarely comment. I intended to speak in generic terms about the hidden kyriarchy.

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  33. Aspie Savant

    Why is it that everyone condemns misogyny but misantry is openly promoted? Why is one kind of sexism better than another? Am I the only one here who recognises a double standard for what it is?

    Yes, most men are assholes… but most women aren’t any better. This isn’t an issue of “male vs female”. This isn’t a race or class problem either. This is a problem that strikes all of humanity and crosses race, gender and class lines.

    Consider my predicament. As an Autistic savant, I belong to one of the most disenfranchised groups in Western society. I belong to a group either ignored, mocked or attacked in every aspect of life… without anyone standing up for us :
    * We’re constantly expected to fit moulds that don’t fit and make no sense to us
    * Society treats us as if we have a mental disorder, just because we’re different from the norm
    * We’re either mocked, ignored or hated by most people out there because we don’t fit the norm
    * We’re almost always underemployed or unemployed because we don’t fit the norm
    * We’re almost always bullied in high school playgrounds, by boys and girls alike
    * The heterosexual women among us are preyed upon by sexual predators
    * The heterosexual men among us are usually ignored or mocked by women
    * Even if we’re the victim of abuse, we’re often blamed for it
    * We aren’t taken seriously if we have an emotional breakdown, but we’re expected to take other people’s pointless drame seriously

    We’re ignored by “civil rights” movements because we’re not one of their typical target groups. And like us, there are many other groups of people ignored by society as privileged groups fight among one another over artificial dichotomies like “man vs woman”, “black vs white” or “rich vs poor”.

    It is a human problem, I tell you. Stop drawing the gender card. Stop drawing the race card. Let’s work together on a better humanity instead of fighting each other.

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  35. Anonymous

    Don’t trust the auditor’s “findings”. I know first hand how biased they can be especially in favor of the hand that feeds them. After witnessing blatant lies in reporting to dis-credit the whistleblowers, I have no confidence in them. I recommend having an un-biased licensed investigator recommended by a court to look into complaints.


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