How Mens' Reactions To 'Donglegate' Speak To The Issue Of Sexism In The Tech Industry

adria richards

It’s no secret that the tech industry is dominated by men. 

And now, it’s also no secret that it can be hard to be a woman in tech.

Last week, a joke about dongles and forking at a tech conference led to two people losing their jobs, and sparked a discussion about sexism and a lack of women in the tech industry. 

Yesterday, we covered how Google software engineer Julie Pagano says her experiences in technology have felt like death by 1,000 paper cuts. 

In both cases, many people responded with offensive, sexist comments.  

After we reported the Donglegate story, commenters called Adria Richard’s racist, “another low self esteem tech girl,” a “C%*#, and a “typical uptight bitch.”

Meanwhile, over on Adria Richards’ Facebook page and elsewhere on the Web, people called her a handful of other derogatory words, with some going as far as making both rape and death threats. 

In Pagano’s blog post, she reflected on how her life has been plagued by men patronizing her and dismissing her ideas. While in college, she had to succumb to her engineering professor’s sexist jokes. At an old job, those in authority would pat her on the head to dismiss an idea, and make comments when she would wear makeup to work. 

Similar to what happened with Donglegate, the commenters made their opinions known:

  • “You know what the typical guy would do, he would either suck it up and become better, quit or start his own company,” jeffdavis writes in the comments. “You know what the typical woman would do, she would bitch the first chance she gets…oh wait.”
  • “Oh spare me your agony!” David Conley writes in the comments. “She chose to work in a male-dominated profession. Guys will be guys. Stop taking things so personally. Grow a thicker skin. Have you been touched improperly? Have you been stopped from advancing in your career? Has any male actually said anything to your face that was inappropriate? No….so…grow up! Believe me…if a guy had to work in a female dominated area….the table would be turned. I’m so SICK of these whining women!”
  • “Sounds like another man-hating, pug-fugly lesbian that finds something wrong with absolutely every aspect and facet of a man’s existence, and bitches about it to no end,” Filet-O-Fug wrote in the comments. “Doesn’t this never ending bitching constitute “creation of a hostile workplace”? It would if roles were reversed. Uggch!”

These commenters, while not representative of the entire tech community by any means, seem to suggest that many of the complaints women like Richards and Pagano have are entirely valid. 

Women in tech

First, there’s the “pipeline problem,” meaning that there’s a lack of women attaining degrees in engineering and computer science.

“Women in general need to be part of that industry,” Linda Miller, co-founder and CEO at mobile communications app deets, tells Business Insider. “It’s a huge industry and it’s growing as you know. You want everybody to be able to participate.”

But at the same time, some women are discouraged from pursuing technical degrees. And for those who do end up in the tech industry, it’s not always smooth sailing — neither from a personal nor professional standpoint. 

CNNMoney recently completed a one-and-a-half year long investigation in which they discovered that racial minorities and women are generally underrepresented in management roles. And to make matters worse, certain Silicon Valley tech companies seem to be actively trying to hide how many women and ethnic minorities work for them. 

Priyanka Sharma, who now does product marketing over at Outright, used to work for one of those Silicon Valley tech companies. 

“I actually had circumstances where managers themselves would say, ‘Oh, you’re just a girl from India,'” Sharma tells Business Insider. 

Sharma ended up leaving that Silicon Valley company, and said her experience at Outright has been a total 180-degree shift. 

That’s mostly because there are more women in management positions at Outright, Sharma says. 

“The right kind of mentorship and the right kind of managers is the best way to encourage women,” Sharma says. “And a debate about how many women engineers is not as relevant as having women in leadership roles.”

Regarding “Donglegate,” Sharma says that because the tech industry is so dominated by men, it sounds like people were “so angry that a woman challenged them so much that they tore [Richards] apart.”

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