A How-To on Setting Back Diversity, or, “we hired women to bring you beer”


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What a horrible month it has been for diversity in technology. March started off with an awful article on Brogrammers, and today the Boston API Jam, hosted by Sqoot of New York, took their turn at ruining things. If you thought the "brogrammer" article and everyone involved with it was beyond stupid, check out what the API Jam was promoting: the details of their event.

As ReadWriteWeb took note of, they weren't short of apologies, but it's too little, too late. Rather than tweet a weak apology after the fact, try thinking ahead of time on promoting an environment of equality. I would certainly hope they learn from their mistake and begin to take an active stance towards diversity, but given some of their responses on Twitter, I'm doubting that will happen.

As word got around, many of the early responses to the event's original description, which included "Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you," indicated they didn't really care. Responding that the text was just a little humor shows them missing the point early on. Plus, it wasn't even funny. Shortly after that, they respond with boom to backup a commenter who marginalizes the female role in a technology event as "a perk". A few hours go by and then starts the stream of "we're sorry" messages to seemingly anyone who mentioned them in relation to this blunder.

The message links to an "apology" letter which includes:

While we thought this was a fun, harmless comment poking fun at the fact that hack-a-thons are typically male-dominated, others were offended. That was not our intention and thus we changed it.</blockquote>

I'm not sure why poking fun at the men who attend these events needs to objectify women, but maybe that's what makes it "fun" for them? The worst part of this is the "others were offended" piece. They still don't acknowledge that it's not just that their words are wrong, but their views are damaging to the community. The message effectively says, "We think objectifying women is fun and harmless, but some of you were offended'. It's an unacceptable position to take, and the great news is that they've lost sponsorship because of it.

apigee pulled their sponsorship because the API Jam's message wasn't consistent with their values. Heroku did the same. CloudMine went on to write a post of their own about not only their withdrawal of sponsorship, but their feelings on sexism in tech. Good on all of these organizations for removing their support of this event.

The next time you plan an event like this or do any sort of outreach, please think with diversity in mind. It's mind boggling how far behind the times people in technology can be. There shouldn't have to be a women's tech suffrage, but as long as events like the API Jam promote the idea that women aren't a first-class citizen at their event, diversity in technology will keep taking one step forward, two steps back.

Contents © 2014 Brian Curtin