The same story has played itself out on my screen a couple of times over the past few months. Let me paraphrase it for you:

1. Potentially sexist statement made.

2. Upset response (usually mostly from women).

3. “No no, it’s not sexist! It’s a joke! I’m telling you, it’s okay!” – response (often from men, but often women too).

4. Debate ensues.

5. Eventually, an apology.

I need to be clear about something. Women in tech most definitely have a collective sense of humor. (We have to.) But gender is a touchy issue here, if not for all women in tech then at least for good number of them. And people rarely find sensitive issues funny.

 

We will call you out. (Or, at least, I will.)

So if you make some kind of sexist statement, you will look like an ass. And if you do make a joke which ends up offending people–that’s okay. I’ve come to realize that a lot of people (…okay, men) have just never thought about this stuff before.

But, whatever you do, do not defend it. For the love of everything, do not defend it. “It’s just a joke!” (So?) “No, no it’s not!” (Yes, yes it is. And it’s not up to you to make that call, anyways.) This defensive attitude–rather than an apology–is what really gets me. It also makes any eventual apology harder to swallow.

The latest example of this, of course, comes from Sqoot. They listed “women” as a perk for their upcoming hackathon (and not like cool coding ladies, either. We’re talking about the kind of women who are only around to serve the beer). And then the same old story played out again. Ending with a tail-between-the-legs kind of post from Sqoot. (Although many are calling it a non-apology.) And also ending in the loss of their sponsorships. My startup alma mater, CloudMine, pulled its sponsorship and also had a particularly graceful response:

 Sexism in tech is a serious problem. Events like what happened today are, unfortunately, not uncommon. Catering exclusively to men in a sexist manner in your marketing materials is not only wrong, but it undermines those trying to make real progress. It hurts everyone when something like this happens—it can make women feel like outsiders in their own field, and it normalizes this type of behavior as okay (which it absolutely never is, even if there was no intention to hurt).

So, in the end? I’m proud that the startup/hackathon community came together to support women like this. It makes me proud, and it makes me hopeful.

I’m Tess Rinearson, a freshman (and a girl!) in Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve interned at Valve and CloudMine, and if you liked this post you should follow me on Twitter. And if you didn’t like it, you should let me know.

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