An Open Apology

I had coffee this morning with Greg Wilson and chatted about DemoCampToronto9 that happened this past Monday. Greg continues to encourage his students at the University of Toronto to come out and participate in the burgeoning technology and entrepreneurship community in Toronto. Greg sponsors, supports, attends, presents, hosts, organizes, influences and shapes this community. He sees the value that an open community brings to companies, universities, professors, students, etc. So I was quite dismayed that to hear that 2 of his students would not be returning. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me a whole bunch: DemoCamp may not be for everyone, it’s about technology. But it’s the reason they were not coming back that really concerns me.

Greg provides corrections and additional information

DemoCampToronto9

The reason that the students are not returning is that they felt uncomfortable because of sexist, misogynistic remarks made by DemoCamp attendees. The specific incident was when Jane Zhang and one of her colleagues (I apologize for not remembering her name) were speaking at the beginning and someone in the peanut gallery felt compelled to make inappropriate comments about this woman’s chest. Correction: It comments during the ConceptShare demo, not during Jane’s colleague’s presentation that there were inappropriate comments about the perfume model’s chest.

“One of the guys standing behind my table made a couple of locker room comments about her breasts while the image was on screen, and another couple of guys near him laughed. They probably didn't notice the looks on the faces of the women at my table, but I did. As the one who had invited those three women to attend, I felt embarrassed, and ashamed, and more than a little bit angry.” – Greg Wilson

These comments from the peanut gallery made these students uncomfortable. The students felt that DemoCamp represented the same old privileged white boys club (or frat house) that has permeated the technology industry for years, and rather than fight an uphill battle they’d look for something else to dedicate their time and effort. There were other examples throughout the evening that reinforced their perception of the DemoCamp culture.

An Open Apology

First, let me personally apologize to the 2 individuals were made uncomfortable by the juvenile and offensive behaviour of others. BarCamp and DemoCamp are meant to be an open, safe community where people can come together, share, learn and generally get excited about what’s going on in technology and on the Interweb.

Second, let me unequivocally state that this behaviour is unacceptable and will NOT, should NOT, and can NOT be tolerated.

Now, someone is going to point out that I referred to Eli as my “Jewish friend”, in a poor attempt to mimic Stephen Colbert’s bit about his Black Friend Allen and other Ethnic Friends.

Community Discussion

Greg has written about respect. Sutha responded to Greg’s original post, as has Leila Boujnane (*full disclosure*: I work for Sutha at Ambient Vector, Inc. and Leila is on our Board, to the best of my knowledge this is all true for now). Chris Messina has written about The Future of White Boys clubs and web conferences. It concerns me that we are potentially building a community that does not reprimand or prevent this behaviour. Many of the people who inspire me would potentially feel excluded.

Michelle Levesque has posted about this, and refers to Suw's excellent 12-step article on how to fix it. And yes, it is broken, and does need to be fixed. – from Greg Wilson’s Third-bit Blog

Greg noted on Monday that the make up of the audience at DemoCampToronto9 was approximately 10% female and 5% non-white (or as Mr. Colbert would say Ethnic Canadians ). Is this a self-selected community? Is the makeup of the community a self-fulfilling prophecy? What can we do to change our culture? What can we do to change the community values and beliefs?

24 thoughts on “An Open Apology”

  1. <p>David,</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Very interesting post.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I was not at the event and I am not judging anyone however my question is, if you or any other males who were in attendance found that the remark uttered was totally unacceptable why didn't any one speak out against this remark and publicly state at that moment and time (i.e. in real time) that such behaviour/comments are totally unacceptable.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I am somewhat hesitantly admire 'white boys' who write in their blogs about how they have to be inclusive, but I have rarely seen a 'white boy' in attendance with his other 'white boys' in a mixed public forum speak against the actions of such behaviour especially when that unacceptable behaviour is happening live. </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Action always speak louder than words (or blog postings)</p>

  2. <p>Unfortunately, I did not hear the comment. Omnipresence a feature request that is still incomplete.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>If I had heard the comment, I would have spoken out very loudly, and since I had the mic I probably would have done this in a very public manner, i.e., public ridicule.</p>

  3. <p>I remember the slide during the conceptshare demo. </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>It was a perfume model on her back with her bare cleavage featured prominently at the top left of the picture. The context was that there was an image of a bottle of product overlaid on the bottom left of the picture and the shared whiteboard participants were ostensibly discussing placement and size of the bottle.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I remember hearing some tittering when the picture came up and the presenter started talking about the product 'not being big enough'. I recall thinking the reaction it was a little premature of any punchline and a bit facile but didn't specifically hear any discernable comments.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Then the presenter annotated the picture by adding a note that said something along the lines of 'let's make this bigger here' and attached the note via an elastic pointer widget to the bottle, but either inadvertently or for effect hovered the connecting dot over the breasts for a time before settling on the bottle. Whimsy of sorts ensued, and that's probably when inappropriate adjuncts were made to the already suggestive situation. I know I felt that the hovering had been somewhat provocative of audience response. Though I didn't hear them, I do not doubt the remarks were inappropriate and offensive. </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I hope the context helps those who wish to form an opinion.</p>

  4. <p>David-</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I have to say, I fully disagree with all of this hub-bub. This is gay <strong>and</strong> retarded (luckily I can say both since I am in both minorities. phew!).</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>What do women say? Why didn't a woman say something if it was so offensive? What the fuck are over-paid white men like us doing bitching about this stuff? </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I would like to hear from the students directly. Did they actually say that's why they didn't enjoy it? Or did they just feel uncomfortable, like most students would.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I'm in a minority: gay males in software. And, people might assume gay guys are about fashion and not computers. So, how do I disprove that? I fucking work hard to make myself a better programmer and more passionate than all the breeders out there.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>It seems patronizing to me to assume that women and ethnic minorities can't stand up for themselves. Lets listen to their side: <a href="http://www.hyperbio.net/fric_frac/2006/09/i_dont_need_you.html&quot; target="_blank"><a href="http://www.hyperbio.net/fric_frac/2006/0…</a></p><br />
    " target="_blank"><a href="http://www.hyperbio.net/fric_frac/2006/09/i_dont_…</a></p>" target="_blank">http://www.hyperbio.net/fric_frac/2006/09/i_dont_…</a></p></a> </a> <br />
    <p>Crow- I respect you tons and I hope this doesn't become too much of an issue: But, I heartily disagree that I should be outraged. In fact, I just hope the joke was funny.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>-hampton.</p>

  5. <p>Hampton,</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Thanks for the respect. And right back at you! You are one of the top 1% of developers I have met in Toronto. (You didn't need to out yourself on my blog ;-)</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Since I'm running a start-up I'm not overpaid, technically I'm not paid at all. Damn equity arrangements. BTW have you checked out <a href="http://nakama.ca/&quot; target="_blank">our product</a>. But it does beg the question of why are middle-class white software nerds talking about this. I just want to build stuff that doesn't suck.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>You and Leila are 100% correct. But you are both the best of the best. My concern is that this is not the first time I've heard these comments (not specifically about DemoCamp, but generally about open-source efforts). I want to make sure that our culture is <strong>NOT</strong> inherently exclusive. We should care about building cool products, great technology and making successful businesses. Sutha, Leila and you are right but you are the top 1%. This will never be an issue for you, straight, gay, male, female, brown, black or white. I think the concern comes for those that aren't as strong, aren't as out spoken, and aren't the leaders. We should protect and mentor these folks, without coddling them.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>You're right that this is all conjecture and hearsay, it would be great to hear directly from the students. </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Maybe this all stems from my deepest desire to have people like me and to have conflict all at the same time.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Maybe I'm over reacting.</p>

  6. <p>David, if I may say so, it doesn't seem to me like you owe anyone an appology. Whoever said that which offended should be the ones to repent.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Brent, great recap of the ConceptShare demo. To aid our pontification still further, Tom posted a photo of the offending breasty image on Flickr:</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>&lt;img src=&quot;http://static.flickr.com/111/253522917_8e455078f3.jpg?v=0&quot; alt=&quot;&quot; /&gt;</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I suggest we keep this all in its proper context: we were all at a bar, in the evening, not so far from the rough neighbourhood of Parkdale. this is a place for grown-ups. Comments like that are never welcome, but if offended adults ignore or confront at their discretion and move on.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>For what its worth, I bet this would not have happened at MaRS and without alcohol. The offended students may want to give the next DemoCamp a look because it will be in a safer environment right on their campus.</p></img>

  7. David,

    Very interesting post.

    I was not at the event and I am not judging anyone however my question is, if you or any other males who were in attendance found that the remark uttered was totally unacceptable why didn't any one speak out against this remark and publicly state at that moment and time (i.e. in real time) that such behaviour/comments are totally unacceptable.

    I am somewhat hesitantly admire 'white boys' who write in their blogs about how they have to be inclusive, but I have rarely seen a 'white boy' in attendance with his other 'white boys' in a mixed public forum speak against the actions of such behaviour especially when that unacceptable behaviour is happening live.

    Action always speak louder than words (or blog postings)

  8. Unfortunately, I did not hear the comment. Omnipresence a feature request that is still incomplete.

    If I had heard the comment, I would have spoken out very loudly, and since I had the mic I probably would have done this in a very public manner, i.e., public ridicule.

  9. I remember the slide during the conceptshare demo.

    It was a perfume model on her back with her bare cleavage featured prominently at the top left of the picture. The context was that there was an image of a bottle of product overlaid on the bottom left of the picture and the shared whiteboard participants were ostensibly discussing placement and size of the bottle.

    I remember hearing some tittering when the picture came up and the presenter started talking about the product 'not being big enough'. I recall thinking the reaction it was a little premature of any punchline and a bit facile but didn't specifically hear any discernable comments.

    Then the presenter annotated the picture by adding a note that said something along the lines of 'let's make this bigger here' and attached the note via an elastic pointer widget to the bottle, but either inadvertently or for effect hovered the connecting dot over the breasts for a time before settling on the bottle. Whimsy of sorts ensued, and that's probably when inappropriate adjuncts were made to the already suggestive situation. I know I felt that the hovering had been somewhat provocative of audience response. Though I didn't hear them, I do not doubt the remarks were inappropriate and offensive.

    I hope the context helps those who wish to form an opinion.

  10. David-

    I have to say, I fully disagree with all of this hub-bub. This is gay and retarded (luckily I can say both since I am in both minorities. phew!).

    What do women say? Why didn't a woman say something if it was so offensive? What the fuck are over-paid white men like us doing bitching about this stuff?

    I would like to hear from the students directly. Did they actually say that's why they didn't enjoy it? Or did they just feel uncomfortable, like most students would.

    I'm in a minority: gay males in software. And, people might assume gay guys are about fashion and not computers. So, how do I disprove that? I fucking work hard to make myself a better programmer and more passionate than all the breeders out there.

    It seems patronizing to me to assume that women and ethnic minorities can't stand up for themselves. Lets listen to their side: http://www.hyperbio.net/fric_frac/2006/09/i_dont_need_you.html

    Crow- I respect you tons and I hope this doesn't become too much of an issue: But, I heartily disagree that I should be outraged. In fact, I just hope the joke was funny.

    -hampton.

  11. Hampton,

    Thanks for the respect. And right back at you! You are one of the top 1% of developers I have met in Toronto. (You didn't need to out yourself on my blog šŸ˜‰

    Since I'm running a start-up I'm not overpaid, technically I'm not paid at all. Damn equity arrangements. BTW have you checked out our product. But it does beg the question of why are middle-class white software nerds talking about this. I just want to build stuff that doesn't suck.

    You and Leila are 100% correct. But you are both the best of the best. My concern is that this is not the first time I've heard these comments (not specifically about DemoCamp, but generally about open-source efforts). I want to make sure that our culture is NOT inherently exclusive. We should care about building cool products, great technology and making successful businesses. Sutha, Leila and you are right but you are the top 1%. This will never be an issue for you, straight, gay, male, female, brown, black or white. I think the concern comes for those that aren’t as strong, aren’t as out spoken, and aren’t the leaders. We should protect and mentor these folks, without coddling them.

    You're right that this is all conjecture and hearsay, it would be great to hear directly from the students.

    Maybe this all stems from my deepest desire to have people like me and to have conflict all at the same time.

    Maybe I’m over reacting.

  12. David, if I may say so, it doesn't seem to me like you owe anyone an appology. Whoever said that which offended should be the ones to repent.

    Brent, great recap of the ConceptShare demo. To aid our pontification still further, Tom posted a photo of the offending breasty image on Flickr:

    I suggest we keep this all in its proper context: we were all at a bar, in the evening, not so far from the rough neighbourhood of Parkdale. this is a place for grown-ups. Comments like that are never welcome, but if offended adults ignore or confront at their discretion and move on.

    For what its worth, I bet this would not have happened at MaRS and without alcohol. The offended students may want to give the next DemoCamp a look because it will be in a safer environment right on their campus.

  13. <p>I just think if there is a solution to getting more women and ethnic minorities (and even more gays) then its by building up positively than by being offended on their behalf for things.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Furthermore, I don't think its an unwelcoming environment. I don't think any of the guys there wouldn't be thrilled to have a more diverse crowd. But, in the end, should we feel bad for showing up and being male? Should less males show up to make it 50/50?</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Of course not!</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>I think we should seek out more diverse presenters, because they are out there. We make this place diverse by being pro-active, not by being offended.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Oh, and I outed myself a long time ago. the blog was just to maybe get me laid!</p>

  14. <p>Certainly a funny twist. I guess my mothers advice of 'never say anything you wouldn't want printed in the paper tomorrow' is quite good actually. </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>huge kudos for Dave on another great event! </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>looking forward to the next one. </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Cheers </p><br />
    <br />
    <p>Scott</p>

  15. <p>It doesn't make sense for you to apologize. The above picture might have been offensive to some, while the comments made about it offended someone else, while the laughter about it offended someone else. Personally, I felt offended when a few DemoCamps ago I saw a really crappy demo by someone showcasing a really big IT company's really crappy product & it made no sense whatsoever.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>With DemoCamp's very open and fluid community and with people not knowing each other that much, there is not enough peer pressure perhaps, so it would be hard to outright prevent such incidents in the future. And I agree with John above that the setting is a strong influence on how people behave. At UofT's geekland (Bahen Centre) or even at MaRS, such incidents are quite unlikely to happen (I have never witnessed one in the past few years.geeks tend to respect geeks).</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>About the makeup of the community.who cares ! I can be termed a 'visible minority' since I am originally from India, but the only things I care about at DemoCamp are the demos and an opportunity to meet some fellow geeks. It won't make an iota of difference to me whether the room is full of white, brown, blue, purple, etc people or what their dress style is or other aspects of their personal life & I don't give a damn about all that. Also, on the flip side, the 'makeup' of the computer science and engineering student community at UofT is predominantly of asian, south asian and east european origin, and I'll estimate about 10% students are 'white'. Maybe 20-30% students are female. I haven't heard anyone talking about including more 'white' students.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>So, basically, it boils down to: people will do what they want to do, and it is hard and not useful to try to shape communities.it is sufficient for the community to be open and it can then evolve by itself.no need to feel bad about the decisions other people make for themselves'.</p>

  16. I just think if there is a solution to getting more women and ethnic minorities (and even more gays) then its by building up positively than by being offended on their behalf for things.

    Furthermore, I don't think its an unwelcoming environment. I don't think any of the guys there wouldn't be thrilled to have a more diverse crowd. But, in the end, should we feel bad for showing up and being male? Should less males show up to make it 50/50?

    Of course not!

    I think we should seek out more diverse presenters, because they are out there. We make this place diverse by being pro-active, not by being offended.

    Oh, and I outed myself a long time ago. the blog was just to maybe get me laid!

  17. Certainly a funny twist. I guess my mothers advice of 'never say anything you wouldn't want printed in the paper tomorrow' is quite good actually.

    huge kudos for Dave on another great event!

    looking forward to the next one.

    Cheers

    Scott

  18. It doesn't make sense for you to apologize. The above picture might have been offensive to some, while the comments made about it offended someone else, while the laughter about it offended someone else. Personally, I felt offended when a few DemoCamps ago I saw a really crappy demo by someone showcasing a really big IT company's really crappy product & it made no sense whatsoever.

    With DemoCamp's very open and fluid community and with people not knowing each other that much, there is not enough peer pressure perhaps, so it would be hard to outright prevent such incidents in the future. And I agree with John above that the setting is a strong influence on how people behave. At UofT's geekland (Bahen Centre) or even at MaRS, such incidents are quite unlikely to happen (I have never witnessed one in the past few years.geeks tend to respect geeks).

    About the makeup of the community.who cares ! I can be termed a 'visible minority' since I am originally from India, but the only things I care about at DemoCamp are the demos and an opportunity to meet some fellow geeks. It won't make an iota of difference to me whether the room is full of white, brown, blue, purple, etc people or what their dress style is or other aspects of their personal life & I don't give a damn about all that. Also, on the flip side, the 'makeup' of the computer science and engineering student community at UofT is predominantly of asian, south asian and east european origin, and I'll estimate about 10% students are 'white'. Maybe 20-30% students are female. I haven't heard anyone talking about including more 'white' students.

    So, basically, it boils down to: people will do what they want to do, and it is hard and not useful to try to shape communities.it is sufficient for the community to be open and it can then evolve by itself.no need to feel bad about the decisions other people make for themselves'.

  19. <p>DemoCampToronto9 was at a bar, and began with a lot of kidding around among the organizers and people who knew them well. Such an atmosphere encourages the audience to feel unrestrained, and nobody should be surprised by the consequences.</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>(And no, John, being near Parkdale had nothing to do with it. Internal factors only.)</p><br />
    <br />
    <p>If the tone had been more 'professional', I doubt that you'd be apologizing for anything. And I personally would prefer it too. Lately DemoCamps have been appearing somewhat clubby to me (e.g. jokes thrown around that only insiders will get), something that I know isn't intended. The phrase 'open community' contains an inherent conflict and some care is needed to ensure that 'community' doesn't drown out 'open'.</p>

  20. DemoCampToronto9 was at a bar, and began with a lot of kidding around among the organizers and people who knew them well. Such an atmosphere encourages the audience to feel unrestrained, and nobody should be surprised by the consequences.

    (And no, John, being near Parkdale had nothing to do with it. Internal factors only.)

    If the tone had been more 'professional', I doubt that you'd be apologizing for anything. And I personally would prefer it too. Lately DemoCamps have been appearing somewhat clubby to me (e.g. jokes thrown around that only insiders will get), something that I know isn't intended. The phrase 'open community' contains an inherent conflict and some care is needed to ensure that 'community' doesn't drown out 'open'.

  21. <strong>Trackback from False Positives:</strong><br /><a href="http://www.falsepositives.com/index.php/2006/10/02/toronto-democamp-9-back-from-the-holidays/&quot; target="_blank">Toronto DemoCamp 9 : back from the holidays</a><br /><br /> After a small pause, we have returned to another season of Demo Camps with Demo Camp Toronto o9, now on a Monday, and it's back at No Regrets, 42 Mowat Ave., Toronto, ON, one last time.<br />
    DictaBrain – Rapid Voice to Text…

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