Big Dongles, Public Shaming, and Recruiting Women in Tech

I was bummed to read this article about some public shaming at Pycon. Adria Richards overheard two men making crude jokes – one about forking repos that I haven’t been able to read as sexual, and another about big dongles which was clearly sexual. So she decided to publicly shame them and ask conference organizers to reprimand them.

Here’s where I’m having trouble supporting Adria. This seems like an extreme course of action if you haven’t even asked the guys to cut it out. They shouldn’t be telling sexual jokes in the first place, but there’s value in expressing your displeasure personally, rather than passive aggressively broadcasting it on Twitter.

That said, the temptation to do so is really, really strong, and social networks have made it easier than ever. I did the same thing at SXSWedu earlier this month, and as I did so, part of me thought, “why am I just not turning around and telling these guys to shut up?”

I don’t want to go too far down that path, because it’s a whole ‘nother set of questions (and another post) about the behaviors encouraged by social networks. The real problem in the Pycon controversy is the bigger gender equality problem we have in our industry. There are lots of people trying to fix that, but not enough. Even if you don’t have responsibility for it, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help build a diverse workforce. Here are some simple things I do

1) I ask our recruiting team about it. Recruiting talented women is not as simple as it sounds and does require some additional focus. I wish we did more on that front, but personally I can work to keep the issue front and center. I ask if we reached out to many women, if many showed interest, if any had feedback why they wouldn’t want to work with us, etc. I’m polite but persistent on this front.

2) When I visit one of our offices outside NY and notice a gender imbalance, I say so out loud. When I talk to a team and notice a lack of women, I say so out loud. I’ve learned a lot from this. In some places, the local talent pool is skewed toward men, and we don’t get many women applying for engineering positions. In others, there hasn’t been much turnover or opportunity to create more balance. But keep the issue in the front of your colleagues’ minds.

3) I casually ask hiring managers if there were any qualified women in the applicant pool. If so, why didn’t they make the cut? Did we interview them? Who did the interview? Again, I’m polite but persistent. I don’t want to offend my colleagues or imply they haven’t done their job, but want to make sure they are asking themselves these questions.

Could I do more? Probably. But from my role (which is pretty far from recruiting and hiring), I think it’s a good start.

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