Hackers Got a Woman Fired by a Startup After She Called Out Sexual Harassment

The Atlantic

Today in the tech world's warped view of gender "norms": The cloud-based e-mail service SendGrid just fired Adria Richards, apparently for speaking out about sexual harassment after hackers made it clear they didn't approve of her complaining. 

Effective immediately, @adriarichards has been terminated from @sendgrid. For more details, please see ow.ly/jhW0y

— SendGrid (@SendGrid) March 21, 2013

The termination apparently came as the result of an unknown group of people — presumably men — who descended on the SendGrid website following an incident in which Richards, a (former) developer relations "evangelist," called out a man who made what she deemed sexist remarks during a presentation at PyCon, a conference for Python coders. She sent out the following tweet in addition to a post she wrote on her personal site

Not cool.Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles.Right behind me #pycon twitter.com/adriarichards/…

— Adria Richards (@adriarichards) March 17, 2013

One of the men in that photo ended up getting fired for his "dongle" joke. Though, he claims, "the sexual context was applied by Adria," with regards to the "forking" jab. Since a certain type Internet crowd hates the idea of losing anonymity at the expense of sexist remarks — creepshots, anyone? — hackers shut down her employer's website. As a result and for similar reasons, SendGrid started losing some customers, like one person who tweeted: "Canceled my accout with @sendgrid today. I cannot do business with someone who supports a woman who gets a father fired over a joke #freedom." In addition, Richards also received a barrage of threats on Twitter. All of that seems to have resulted in the termination of Richards.

RELATED: How the Tech World Bends Free Speech into an Excuse for Sexism

SendGrid says it will release more information on the decision today. Perhaps it "terminated" Richards's employment for other reasons. But it sure looks like she got fired because SendGrid was losing too much credibility in the very male-heavy developer community, which: Ugh. VentureBeat's John Kostler justifies SendGrid's move, saying: "There is legitimate concern over the public outing of a developer for what even by Richards’ account are fairly innocuous jokes." Except, well, she didn't appear to "out him" so much as he outed himself by saying inappropriate things out loud and at a very public event. Perhaps he didn't deserve to get fired for those remarks, but that's up to his employer. Richards merely pointed out to a larger audience what this guy said in public. 

RELATED: Samsung Puts Women in Their Place During Galaxy S IV Launch

The concern now is that a woman can't point out what she believes is overt sexism at tech conference — an unfortunately common occurrence at these types of events — without fear of losing her job. Perhaps it wasn't the most offensive thing a man ever said at a tech show. But Richards has been punished, and there's a direct line from his public comments to hers, and then to her termination. If people can't even comment on situations that make them uncomfortable, will Silicon Valley ever change? Will anyone?

View Comments (11)