Over the past few weeks we’ve seen some blatant episodes of sexism and discrimination within technology get called out quite publicly. Sexism in business and technology has been rampant for years, but now the public, verbal backlash has begun. Finally. It’s high time to put an end to booth babes and muscle boys, and to focus on what really matters.
Some things have to be said and my post-SXSW disgust is still strong. So it’s time to talk about this in more than just tweets, in hopes to bring light to what’s happening and why it needs to stop.
“The most awesome stage”
Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
For those who haven’t noticed, it’s 2012. We’re far beyond the point when a qualifier needs to be given for accomplishments. Racism, sexism and discrimination of any sort of defining statement about someone that is other than “a person” has to end.
It doesn’t matter that someone is “the most powerful gay man in technology“, it matters that they’re likely the most powerful person. A female CEO? A transgendered company founder? Who cares? Get over the thought that you have to point out someone’s differences in order for their accomplishments to count.
See most recently the argument between developer Shanley Kane and Geeklist co-founder Christian Sanz, as well as CEO Reuben Katz documented here. Geeklists’s choice to not only defend a video that was clearly offensive, but also to post thinly-veiled attacks at Kane is disgusting, at best. The company has since “apologized“, but the bitter taste remains.
@BradMcCarty That’s not an apology, that’s a macguffin to do some promoting for a friend
— Liz Alper (@LizAlps) March 22, 2012
Backtrack a couple of days and you’ll see a hackathon list beer-delivering women as a “perk”. There’s simply no point at which this is excusable, and Sqoot paid the price in lost sponsorship, as well as public outrage.
Putting people — flesh and blood human beings — on display, is an age-old concept and it works. But racism, genocide and indentured servitude are age-old concepts too. That doesn’t mean that they’re good ideas. We like to trumpet loudly, in technology, about how we’ve moved so far beyond the “normals”, and yet we’re still resorting to the very same things that the normals do.
Really hate the whole “women in tech” thing. We don’t need more women, we need people excited about what they do, regardless of sex or race.
— Amber Weinberg (@amberweinberg) March 22, 2012
2012 may very well be the year that female-founded startups see a meteoric rise, and a recent TechStars class is probably a good litmus test of that theory. But any progress that we make takes two steps back each time that we resort once more to selling with sex, regardless of the gender. How can we expect more women to want to be founders when every day is filled with the locker-room talk of the boy’s club?
The difficulty here is that we have to find a way to acknowledge standout people, without saying that they stand out only because of their gender, sexuality or skin color. I’m often brought back to this clip from 60 Minutes with Morgan Freeman.
While I don’t believe that the end-all answer to discrimination is to simply stop talking about it, the decision to stop pointing out differences has to be part of the process. It’s simply unacceptable to continue to recognize people based on their differences.
I mentioned earlier my post-SXSW disgust. Why was I disgusted? It had everything to do with booth babes, scantily-clad promo girls and competitions like “dirty pick-up lines”. How about, just for once, we agree to bring attention to our products based on the merits of those products? Can we agree, if only as a first step, to finally have a conference that doesn’t objectify anyone, regardless of their gender?
I’m tired of being disgusted, I’m tired of excuses and I’m sick to death of people asking for forgiveness when common sense should have prevented the need for an apology in the first place. Most importantly, you should be sick of it too. If you’re not, you’re just not paying attention and that makes you part of the problem.
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