I just sent a letter to Jim Franklin, CEO of SendGrid, as invited to on his blog. I figured it would be worth also sharing online, just so others can better understand why his actions were categorically wrong.
I was saddened to hear of your recent actions following the PyCon events on Sunday, principally you terminating Adria Richards. Quite simply, the two stated causes for termination—dividing the community and “public shaming”—are flimsy reasons at best, and totally ignore the real experience of women in the tech industry.
As a male, I won’t pretend any special knowledge about the harassment and pressure those women face on a daily basis. I imagine you’re getting a fusillade of anecdotes, statistics, and other damning information in your inbox as I write. However, I think I can speak to the online behaviors I’ve seen, both in this case and in previous ones.
Simply put, what you call “public shaming” is an important community role in recognizing troubling behavior and talking through its consequences. I’ll take those attendees’ behavior on good faith, that they didn’t mean anything exclusionary to women by their behavior. But that is a large part of the problem, that we engage in these kinds of behaviors without recognizing their consequences.
Public dialogues are how we talk through these issues, and educate others about why we find them disturbing. Twitter particularly is important because there are several strong, supportive feminist communities. It’s why I’m sharing this letter online with others right after I send it, in fact.
But why call them out specifically? Because, quite frankly, all too often these kinds of things are swept under the rug. The picture didn’t personally identify the culprits and didn’t ask that they be terminated for their actions, only showing that misogynists look just like everyone else. And if the community did go to far in getting them terminated, that is in no way a reflection on Adria herself.
As for dividing the community, I’m amazed that you would even try to make this argument. Take a look at some of the online dialogue criticizing Adria’s reaction—are you seriously concerned about losing the business of virulent misogynists? The same people who are DDOSing your service and trying to get her fired are the ones that you don’t want as your banner customers.
More importantly, you’re sending a chilling message to all your current employees as well as other women working in the tech industry: speak up about wrongful actions, and you’ll lose your livelihood. Again, you don’t want to be a part of that shameful tradition of intimidating women in male-dominated workplaces.
Even if you still disagreed with her actions after considering all that, you could have pointed out to her detractors that the tweet came from her personal account, and didn’t relate to her professional role at SendGrid. (I think that argument’s pretty dubious given her interest in ensuring a welcoming developer community, but let’s play this out.) At that point, it was not necessarily a SendGrid issue.
But now that you’ve terminated her, now that you’ve lashed SendGrid to one side in a fight that you’ve admitted divides the community, now there’s no question that your company’s involved—and on the wrong side. You can still reinstate Adria Richards, and admit that it was an overreaction from DDOS and other pressure. Or, you can cast your lot with the misogynists and hope that your morals net enough proceeds as you sell them in front of millions. The choice is still yours to make.