Github and the Problem of Sexism in Tech

After 50 years of trying to end endemic sexism in technology, we are plagued by sexism in technology.  Another explosively public case reared it's head: one of harassment, bullying, and stalking of a female employee over at github who has since resigned. According to even more gossip at Valleywag, this is not the first female employee to depart the company under similar situations.  For every female employee who leaves, tells all on twitter, gives an email interview with TechCrunch, is covered in Ars Technica and Gigaom, and then gets the front page of Valleywag, another 10,000 are suffering in silence terrified to leave their jobs while being abused.  

From the standpoint of discussing Github, it brings the integrity of the privacy and security of the users who use the product on a mass scale into question.  Also, the company should face some serious legal questions about its practices.  An unauthorized non-employee not only on premises (itself a major issue) but interacting with employees and with corporate assets which belong to paying customers on a sustained basis is not going to hold up to any legal scrutiny.  As a product used by millions of developers, Github should be promoting its integrity as its core value, as its integrity is more valuable than its racks of servers.    

As a community, we need to ask why these situations keep happening.  There's something wrong with the Internet culture that not only creates these situations but perpetuates them.  Either the frathouse culture, the sense of entitlement that comes from being technologically superior to others, or simply the heady air of becoming popular on the Internet feeds a deep bro-culture insecurity that makes it okay to stalk and harass.  Over the years it hasn't gotten better.  It has gotten worse.  

The frat house culture is not okay.  The workplace is not undergrad.  The workplace is a place of business.  It is a place of rules, laws, and legal obligations.  It is not someone's madhouse with 15 people living in it.  And the problem is: we encourage the workplace as a frathouse to make technology "fun," "hip," "cool," and to get young men with online social lives to work long, horrific hours.

As a culture, we need women to enter technology fields.  Having 50% of the population frozen out of a profession is not healthy.  Something has got to give.

Bad culture comes from bad corporate leadership. When bad corporate leadership comes from the same frat house mentality then the company itself has a toxic culture.  If the company has a toxic culture, then the issue perpetuates.

Wish I had some solutions but the only solutions I have are:

  • Discourage a "bro" culture.
  • Focus on team cohesion over team competition.
  • Founders focus on growing the business over personal popularity.
  • Enforce a clean, professional work place clean (omg)
  • Turn off the Internet.

And none of this is satisfying.  Until tech becomes a safe place for women, there will continue to be few women in technology and those who are there end up in these situations.

I am in no way saying all men in tech are bad -- very much the opposite.  Most men in technology are made of awesome.  If they weren't, I would have left a long time ago.  But with 20 years of experience in computers, I can say this is an endemic issue, and the Github incidents will continue until something, and something ugly, gives.