Racism sucks. Sexism sucks. Heck, any type of bigotry and hatred sucks.
I stand pretty firm on that. And, I think it's a safe bet, that most of you out there feel the same.
I would posit that the bigotry problem, within the Tech industry (and possibly the rest of the world… though the Tech industry is where I'm focusing, as that is the area I know the best), goes far beyond racism and sexism. Age, religion, and political discrimination run rampant.
The bigotry and hatred within the Tech industry is, in a word, bonkadoodles.
To illustrate this, I have some well-documented examples and a survey. First, let's talk about the preliminary results from that survey.
A Survey of Tech Bigotry
I sent around a simple survey asking a variety of questions (ranging from Ethnicity and Age, to personal experiences). The sample size for this, while larger than many Presidential election polls, could still benefit from having larger participation. Just the same, it is certainly sufficient to take a first look at some of these issues.
One of the big take-aways from the survey is that many people, within the Tech industry, have been discriminated against. Personally. Not witnessed, not heard-of… they, themselves, have been the target of discrimination in one form or another.
The most common basis for that discrimination was Political afiliation, with 17.5% of respondents feeling they had been discriminated against based on politics. Respondents who answered this way tended heavily “Conservative”.
Second most common basis of discrimination was Gender (11.4%), followed by Age (10.2%). Ethnicity (9.1%) and Religion (8.5%) being the least common.
Over 16% of respondents felt that, if one of their co-workers publicly supported President Trump… that would be a problem. The majority of those responding in this way identified, in the poll, as “Liberal” politically.
The same question was asked, but with President Trump replaced with ex-Vice President Biden. How many people felt it would be a problem if a co-worker publicly supported Biden? Just a hair over 5% (less than one third of the Trump version of the same question). Again, the majority of those responding this way self-identified as “Liberal.”
50.6% of those surveyed do not feel comfortable talking publicly about religion or politics… away from work. Over half fear negative impacts if a co-worker found out about either their religious beliefs or political ideas.
Again. This is for public discussions not taking place at work.
Whatever is happening in the Tech industry (at companies, conferences, etc.), most people are afraid to say what they think. This is not only backed up by the survey, but just about everyone I've talked to about the topic.
Let's talk about a few examples where we can see some of this bigotry in action.
Note: I'm going to name a few names. I want to make it very clear that I, in no way, want to see any sort of public backlash against these individuals. They are being mentioned here as examples of public personalities that have done something that has perpetuated bigotry, and helped to foster some of the problems talked about above. I choose to believe that these are good people who made some mistakes.
Corporate rep encourages crime based on race / gender.
Back in July of 2018, I attended an open source conference, put on by O'Reilly, known as OSCON. During OSCON was a related, mini-event known as the “Community Leadership Summit”.
During that portion, a keynote was given. That keynote was from a “Principal Architect” at Microsoft, named Scott Hanselman, who also happened to be one of the Program Chairs of the entire OSCON event.
During his keynote, Hanselman encouraged people to not be “just allies” with women and people of color… but to be “accomplices” in the quest for diversity. He advocated for commiting criminal activity, specifically, against white people and men.
Saying, and I quote, “Accomplices will go to jail with you."
Image Source: Twitter
Just in case there was confusion, he created an entire slide which read: “To create an inclusive tech environment we need accomplices more than allies." He used the words “crime” and “accomplice” many times. For those curious, here's the definition of “accomplice”:
A person who knowingly helps another in a crime or wrongdoing, often as a subordinate.
Example: “an accomplice in the murder”
A representative from Microsoft – and one of the organizers of OSCON (an incredibly large, corporate run tech conference) – actively encouraged people to commit criminal activity against others… based solely on skin color and gender.
Banned for political reasons
Remember how over 50% of people surveyed did not feel comfortable talking publicly (away from work) about their political or religious ideas? That fear is well founded.
In November of 2019, the Linux Foundation banned a person from one of their events (KubeCon) for, as they stated, “Tone policing.” (A term which does not exist within the “Code of Conduct” for the event in question.)
The banning came after a public complaint was made on Twitter – that complaint consisted, primarily, of a picture of the soon-to-be-banned person wearing a red “MAGA” hat.
I, and multiple other journalists, reached out to The Linux Foundation for comment or clarification. To date, no journalist has received any response regarding this incident.
A person went out in public (not at work) with a piece of clothing from a politician. It appears this was the root cause for a punishment he received in his career (banned from a tech conference).
CEO not a fan of “conservatives”?
Are there other ways that companies (and the people within them) are making people feel afraid to be honest about their beliefs? Even away from the office?
What about the CEO's of the tech world? Surely they can't be engaging in, or encouraging, discrimination like that… right?
An individual on Twitter sent a tweet to Melissa Di Donato, the new CEO of SUSE (the oldest Linux company on the planet), saying the following:
“I left the SUSE family in 2010 because of how conservative, right-wing, exclusive, bigoted, and resistant to change it is. I like the changes that I'm seeing under your leadership!”
To which the CEO of SUSE responded:
“Thank you ! We are no longer those things. Just watch this space !”
The tweet was promptly deleted (and not replaced with another one). Thank goodness for screenshots.
So what, exactly, does this mean? If you take her words at face value, this means that the CEO of SUSE thinks that her company used to be “conservative”, “right-wing”, and “bigoted”. (With the insinuation that those things are related.) But that it is no longer those things. And she is happy about that.
But, perhaps she simply worded things poorly. Perhaps she doesn't actually think those things. Naturally, I did what any journalist should do. I reached out to SUSE for their side of the story.
The CEO did not distance herself from her statement (or the ideas behind it) in any way. A later response was provided in the form of a tweet which read: “We dare to be different, to be diverse, to be inclusive, to be open and have been so EVERY day for 27 years.”
Again, no distancing of herself from her anti-Conservative, political statements as the CEO of SUSE.
Bigotry. Bigotry everywhere.
I just presented three, well documented examples of different types.
A conference organizer, and keynote speaker, encouraging and advocating for criminal activity against people based on skin color (White) and gender (Male).
A Foundation and Event discriminating based on perceived political leanings (Conservative).
A CEO speaking publicly, negatively about political ideology (Conservative) while equating it with negative traits (Bigotry).
Three types. A call to action, a direct taken action, and a disparaging sentiment.
Then consider the results of the poll. 17.5% have been the victim of discrimination based on politics.
Nearly double that of either Ethnicity or Religion (which are already way too high).
Here's the thing. All bigotry is bad. All hate is bad. Period. Zero room for debate there.
Yet, here we are, in 2020. Bigotry, discrimination, and (let's call it what it is) hate are so common… that over 50% of those in the Tech industry are afraid to talk in public – away from work – about these topics… for fear that someone at work might find out.
That is the environment that has been cultivated – and allowed to be cultivated – by our Tech leadership.
Where do we go from here?
I want to reitterate something: I do not want to see anyone punished for the examples in this aticle. Demonizing and vilifying each other only breeds more hate.
Do I disagree with such hateful statements and actions? You bet your bippy, I do. Heavens to Betsy. I'm not sure it would be possible to disagree with them any more than I do.
But people are people. And people make mistakes. Even the best of us. I'd be willing to bet good money that everyone involved is a solidly good person with a good heart.
… So, how do we fix things? How do we allow all people to feel not discriminated against within their workplace? Clearly, a lot of people currently do. And for a pretty wide variety of reasons – discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, political afiliation, age, religion… all of it.
How to make that go away?
Personally, I feel that if we simply all adopt the “Be Excellent To Each Other” approach to life, we'd be good to go.
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