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Woman Fired for Reporting Offensive Jokes Men Made at Tech Conference

Woman Fired for Reporting Offensive Jokes Men Made at Tech Conference

"Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable?"

  • The tech community has become divided this over the firing of two employees after a joke was made at the Pycon conference in California Sunday.
  • The jokes among two men sitting behind developer Adria Richards were perceived to be sexual and inappropriate by Richards. 
  • Without confronting the men, Richards took a photo of them and tweeted it with their comments, asking conference staff to take action. 
  • Later though, due to her actions on Twitter, Richards was fired from her job and one of the men working for a different company was fired as well.
  • Since this incident SendGrid's website was down for a time from a hacker attack, Richards has been threatened and the tech community is avidly debating gender equality and culture in Silicon Valley.

What might have started off as a joke between two men at a tech conference has caused quite the stir in the tech community after the woman overhearing the joke, finding it offensive, snapped a picture of them and posted it on Twitter. Later, she was fired.

Adria Richards wrote on her blog, butyouareagirl.com, that she was seated in a ballroom at the Santa Clara conference Sunday when the men behind her started talking about "big dongles." Hence the term that has been used to describe the controversy since -- Donglegate.

A dongle is a device that plugs into a computer, but Richards tweeted that the men made the comment in a sexual way.

After hearing their remarks, Richards turned around, took a photo of two men and posted it on Twitter with their alleged comments for her thousands of followers to see.

(Image: Twitter via But I'm a Girl)

Conference organizers said they were concerned by the tweet and quickly met with Richards and the men, who immediately apologized.

(Image: Twitter via But I'm a Girl)

"We pulled all the individuals aside. We got all sides of the story. They said she was right, and they were very apologetic," said Jesse Noller, who chaired the conference, PyCon 2013, for people working on Python programming language.

Richards worked for SendGrid, a technology company with offices in Orange County and Colorado, and was fired for her actions over the joke. CEO Jim Franklin wrote on the company's website that SendGrid agreed with Richards' right to report the incident to Pycon staff, but not the way she reported it.

"Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line," Franklin wrote in a blog post on the site. "Publicly shaming the offenders - and bystanders - was not the appropriate way to handle the situation."

Franklin said Richards put the company's business in danger, divided the developer community and could no longer be effective at the company.

One of the men in the photo Richards posted has also been let go from his job at San Francisco-based mobile game company PlayHaven.

"PlayHaven had an employee who was identified as making inappropriate comments at PyCon, and as a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation. The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go," PlayHaven CEO Andy Yang said in a blog posting.

The company did not release the name of the fired employee, but said a second man in the photo "is still with the company and a valued employee."

"We believe in the importance of discussing sensitive topics such as gender and conduct and we hope to move forward with a civil dialogue based on the facts," said Yang.

Gender gaps are the hot topic in Silicon Valley, in large part because of the bestselling book "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook. Sandberg has launched a "Lean In" movement to encourage and support women in the workplace.

TheBlaze reached out to Richards but had not received a response from her. The Associated Press was told by Richards Friday that she couldn't comment. But she confirmed her blog and tweets, along with the report that she was fired.

"Have you ever had a group of men sitting right behind you making joke that caused you to feel uncomfortable? Well, that just happened this week but instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it .," Richards wrote in her blog post about the incident.

She said she was spurred in part by a photo of a young girl on the stage at the time, and the thought that the men seated behind her would make it impossible for the girl to learn programming.

Richards said she also had confronted a man earlier after he told her what she thought was a sexist joke at the conference.

"There is something about crushing a little kid's dream that gets me really angry," Richards wrote. "Women in technology need consistent messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry."

Business Insider reached out to some women in tech to get their thoughts on Donglegate:

  • A female developer who preferred to remain anonymous told Business Insider, "[Adrina] doesn't represent my views, a dongle joke wouldn't offend me. I'd probably think it was funny, in fact I probably would have found it funny 10 years ago before I came into this industry. I want someone who is reasonable, measured and creative in how they interact with difficult situations (not that I think this situation was). It makes me suspect that she is just as reactionary as the idiots who are now threatening her on Twitter."

  • Rachel Sklar, co-founder of Change The Ratio, a company that increases visibility and opportunity for women in tech and new media told Business Insider, "Adria doesn't represent all women in tech. But the hateful reaction to her has been breathtaking, and frightening. You cannot brush off repeated threats of rape. And honestly, check out a comments section on this stuff once in a while. (I don't plan on checking out this one.) It's when things blow up that it becomes impossible not to notice that women get treated scarily, threateningly and very specifically worse. And THAT's what SendGrid capitulated to. Their actions have been cowardly and intellectually dishonest. They could learn something from the employee they just cut loose."

SendGrid, which was founded in 2009 and has developed a cloud-based email system, was offline for a period of time due to reported DDoS attacks Thursday.


The Associated Press and AP writer Sudhin Thanawala reported from San Francisco.

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