WISE women in computer science

Maybe… You Should Apologise

I ran a poll on Twitter this week looking for answers to a question I was curious about.

Tweet reads: Men in tech I'm curious - if/when you accepted that you work in a misogynistic industry and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo did you ever feel compelled to apologise to anyone? (Poll, long form responses also welcome) 57% Yes, it went well 10% Yes, it went badly 11% No, afraid 22% No, no reason to

I find the results interesting. On the one hand it encourages me how many people have apologised and it went well. On the other, the number of people who say “no reason to” makes me despondent. The question was designed to filter out men who are unaware, and I think some people used that to mean “would be self indulgent to apologise to someone who doesn’t want to speak to me”, and of course Twitter polls are not an exact science.

I started to think about this question because of two recent conversations.

The first one. Someone was telling me about how he’s worked in $Dude1’s organization, and $Dude1 was great on diversity so he felt confident it was a good environment. And like, my information on $Dude1 is ~1 year out of date but includes 1) massively inappropriate behaviour (not sexual, but horrifying) to a woman I know, 2) multiple accounts of harassment in his org, and 3) a known broken stair.

Now it’s possible that in the time that passed $Dude1 has addressed his own behaviour, fired the missing stair, and developed better strategies for harassment and now runs a healthier organization. But I don’t think that people who suffered in the process are obliged to forgive him, or give him the benefit of the doubt.

The second one. Someone asked me for backchannel on $Dude2. I generally like $Dude2, and am reasonably positive about him, however I feel like he learned some lessons at the expense of me and another woman, and that always tempers my comments on him.

I’m at peace with it and that allows me to be friendly with him, but the fact that we’ve not had an open conversation about it makes it hard for me to be confident he’d do better today than he did then.

When and How

To be clear, I’m not advocating that men apologise to people who clearly want nothing to do with them. That’s self indulgent.

I’m not suggesting general “I realise I am part of the problem” apologies unless you can answer “how, specifically?”

But if there’s someone who you still have a relationship with, an apology about a concrete thing that you would do differently now… that seems like something that has the potential to be a good thing.

Macro Problems

One thing (of many) I find very jarring about the discourse on “diversity”, is how it’s framed as “things used to be AWESOME, but now they are AWESOMER”. As someone who was harassed, who has many friends who were mistreated in a variety of ways (including N > 1 stories of sexual assault), who has heard horrifying stories about basically every major tech company…

… the only way I have to describe it is that it’s like being socially gas lit.

If there are <20% women and ~2-3% PoC there’s a reason for that. And if companies have finally learned, if things are finally better – I’m skeptical of this, but setting that aside – people were financially, emotionally, even physically harmed in the process of learning those lessons and addressing that environment.

IANAL but I understand companies can’t admit this because legal liability. Which perhaps makes it all the more important that individuals do.

Thanks Rachael for reviewing a draft and providing helpful comments.