Time to Stand Up for Adria Richards

The tech vet was harassed and fired for calling out sexism that's become the norm in the industry.

Adria Richards (Facebook)

(The Root) — I want Adria Richards to know that I support her. I want to use whatever platform I have — big or small — to shout down the disgusting sexist vitriol that exploded all over the Internet after Richards, a veteran of Silicon Valley, dared to use her own platform to do the same.

Last week, in a classic case of catch-22, Richards, while attending the PyCon professional tech conference, overheard a group of men behind her making sexist jokes about “forking” and “dongles.”

Don’t worry if you don’t get the jokes — why they’re inappropriate and sexist. Most people outside of the tech community wouldn’t. The point is that Richards is, in fact, inside that community, and the jokes, whether innocent or meant to be overheard, made her not just uncomfortable but also angry and determined.

Explaining her side of the story, Richards wrote a blog post on her personal website, saying, “instead of shrinking down in my seat, I did something about it.”

What happened next has been hashed and rehashed, tweeted and retweeted, as well as debated and defended by a variety of powerful news outlets, influential tech blogs and personal email chains.

After hearing the jokes, Richards turned around, snapped a picture of the offending conference jesters and publicly tweeted the picture to the conference’s sponsors (as well as her more than 10,000 Twitter followers).

“Not cool,” she wrote in that first tweet. “Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big’ dongles. Right behind me.” She then tweeted the conference staff her location inside the ballroom and asked someone to come speak to the men about their inappropriate conduct.

PyCon responded quickly, speaking to both Richards and each of the men she pointed out. On its website, the conference organizers wrote, “Both parties were met with, in private. The comments that were made were in poor taste, and individuals involved agreed, apologized and no further actions were taken by the staff of PyCon 2013. No individuals were removed from the conference, no sanctions were levied.”

As well she should have, Richards felt proud of herself, expressing as much in that blog post about the incident. “Yesterday the future of programming was on the line and I made myself heard.”

But unfortunately things didn’t end there. One of the men involved, who worked for one of the sponsoring companies of the conference, was fired from his job presumably as a result of his behavior. That’s when the persistent boil of sexism in the tech industry — the very disease Richards was attempting to diagnose and treat — burst.

Commenters railed against Richards as self-aggrandizing at best, and at worst — well, let’s just say that when it comes to attacking a successful woman of color in a white male-dominated field, it’s easiest to grab the lowest hanging fruit. She suffered rape and death threats. Her experience was more than appalling to watch unfold online and frustratingly ironic.