This week there’s been a tremendous amount of tech community churn with companies being called out for blatant sexism/women-as-sex-objects in their company promotional material. Sqoot organized a hackathon in Boston and made a very big mistake in their call for participation which kicks off with the assumption that hackers would all be men, then continues with a misguided attempt at an apology that only suggests they are sorry I don’t have the same sense of ‘fun’ that they do (they have updated the apology to this, which I still find lacking). This morning I woke up to the delightful twit-splosion about Geeklist. I notice that I had never heard of either of these companies prior to their exposure from feminists calling them out which leads me to think about the long term impact for these kinds of internet altercations. Much like how having what goes into a MacDonald’s burger exposed or seeing video of how WalMart treats its employees has shaped my physical world consumer habits, I suspect that hearing about/experiencing sexism (or a multitude of other poor behaviours) from a particular company will help steer my internet participation whether I’m already familiar with them or not.
What these events should remind us of is that there are people working on this stuff. Individuals, to be sure, along with bloggers and the tweet-verse but also actual companies like, for example The Ada Initiative. They are experts at working alongside organizations, tech conference organizers, and open-source communities to help set up training, hiring processes, and organizational policies that would have helped both Sqoot and Geeklist avoid this kind of publicity in the first place by addressing their assumptions at a lower level.
If your company hasn’t got a Code of Conduct (and Mozilla is currently hard at work on creating ours this week after our own conflict a couple of weeks ago), if things are just being brushed aside right now or your employees are told to ‘lighten up’, then trust me: you’ve got a ticking time bomb in your organization’s future. Not having something in place is not the way to deal with the tricky details that come with the admirable goal of a diverse workplace/community. Sure, getting those things in place, making sure policies have teeth, and organizing some sensitivity training may not end all possibilities of people getting hurt or ending up in confrontations but I believe that setting the tone and getting a few ducks in a row is a wise undertaking for most companies with more than 2 employees and it most certainly won’t HURT. Once you have something in place, consider future occurrences of conflict opportunities to iterate.
Get in touch with The Ada Initiative today and figure out what your company doesn’t have in place yet that will give it the future you really want. I’m pretty sure avoiding having your brand dragged through the mud in the eyes of approximately half your potential market isn’t in your business plan.