Money for Nothing, and the Chicks (work) for Free

Ada Initiative reached its goal fundraising banner

Fundraising is almost as hard for me as self-promotion.  In fact, it’s easier for me to do the broadcasting I did around the Ada fundraising than I imagine it would be for me to do my own seed round for an idea I felt excited about.  I express with regularity how grateful I am for the people who practice social work in our society, doing outreach to the outcasts & downtrodden. I am also ever so thankful for people who can ask more times than I for contributions to important causes. No matter how valiant the mission, it’s such redundant communication, keep-your-chin-up, bright-siding, and a task this introvert, who merely has bouts of extroversion, finds very taxing.  So major kudos, fireworks, and many many pats on the back to Val Aurora and Mary Gardiner who held their own idea up and asked repeatedly for community contributions to support its very bright future. Thanks are due in advance for what they will continue to do now that there are some funds, to move forward and amplify the mission of getting more women, empowered women into all levels of Open Source communities.

I’ve observed that all these self-starting, entrepreneurial men act *entitled* to having people (often other men) throw (and put at risk) huge wads of cash on barely-developed ideas that appear promising on the surface.  And don’t a huge percentage of them fail?  And don’t many of those same men dust themselves off, move on to their next idea, and run the same game again?

Now, there’s some major class privilege here – these are generally very privileged men we are talking about. Men who have various safety nets, and often no dependents. Also they are the golden boys of capitalism (especially right now, and especially in the Bay Area) and that type of money lending/growing is not our game at orgs like the Ada Initiative.


When it seemed like the Ada Initiative’s fundraising goals wouldn’t be met, I found myself questioning the expectation of the Ada Initiative to get funds, to be a ‘we pay people’ organization.  There is a lot of messaging out there that tells women who care about outreach and diversity initiatives that this work should be extra, volunteer, and passion-driven (and can’t you just eat passion for breakfast?) kind of work.  I had to look hard to double-down my resolve to believe in (and broadcast) the opposite.  We should be able to ask for this, expect it, drive this point home repeatedly WITHOUT SHAME.  At this point I don’t care if someone thinks we’re asking too much, too often and I have not yet actually HEARD someone say that, I just made it up in my head. Then I had to notice it, and figure out how to tell that voice to shut the fuck up.

So here’s what I tell myself (and the other Ada Initiative advisers on our mailing list):

  • What you’re doing matters.
  • You should get paid for doing it.
  • You’re creating tremendous value.
  • It is fair to ask people to kick back a portion of their income (esp. earned in the tech industry) to help with outreach and diversity efforts.

The point of sharing my internal voice re-write here, and pointing out how others manage to do it without shame when working on capitalist models is to say:

As much as humanly possible (and your strength to do so will vary day to day, understandably) – please fake it.  Fake that sense of entitlement.  Pretend sometimes that you’re one of those guys who think people should give you millions just cause you made some little piece of plastic on a 3-D printer and you’re going to take your idea over to China and mass-produce more plastic for people who make too much money to buy from you in droves.  Fake that confidence as much as you can until it’s real – because our mission sure as hell is and the value of this project is bigger than their million-dollar, landfill-feeding crap any day.

More reasons to support the Ada Initiative

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.