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 most popular argument against supporting Richards is that she’s the one who acted inappropriately, publicly humiliating the men in question by tweeting their pictures. The burden of policing, the online jurists claim, was squarely set on Richards’ shoulders. If you see something, say something, goes the axiom.

Richards addressed that complaint herself on her blog: “Three things came to me: act, speak and confront in the moment. I decided to do things differently this time and didn’t say anything to them directly. I was a guest in the Python community, and as such, I wanted to give PyCon the opportunity to address this.”

Being on the other side of someone’s “ism” is never easy. As a woman of color, especially, combating the “angry black woman” stereotype is a constant internal battle of gut checks that would leave even the strongest constitution queasy. By allowing the conference staffers to deal with the problem that she pointed out, Richards utilized the layer of protection available to her. Instead of dragging herself into a possible shouting match (or worse), the situation was handled by the professionals in charge.

Could she have sent a private message? Gotten up and spoken directly with conference staffers? Absolutely. But she didn’t. And it isn’t Richards’ job to protect the privacy of men at a large public event who say rude things out loud where other people with working ears can hear.

Besides the over-the-top and, frankly, potentially dangerous backlash Richards received from the anonymous commenting “heroes” sent to save grown men from their own inappropriate actions, Richards was summarily fired from her post as a “developer evangelist” at SendGrid, an email-delivery company.

According to Richards’ former boss, “In light of the events over the last 48+ hours, it has become obvious that her [Richards’] actions have strongly divided the same community she was supposed to unite. As a result, she can no longer be effective in her role at SendGrid.”

So by pointing out some of the pervasive behavior that divides the tech community, namely an overall “boys’ club” environment antithetical to inclusion, Richards allegedly fractured said community even further. Don’t you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet? Wouldn’t it have been a powerful message of unification for SendGrid to stand behind Richards? Has a potentially powerful watershed moment just been swept under the rug?

So far Richards hasn’t been available for comment. According to reports from those who know her personally, she’s “staying safe” and off the radar. That sounds like a good plan for someone who has been thrown off track hopefully only temporarily by the highway robbers of the Internet. But that leaves it to the rest of us to do what SendGrid and too many others have not, and what Richards herself decided to do — confront the moment.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.