The Consent in Silence: What Tech Companies Can do to Prevent Violence and Bullying

At the moment there’s some really serious talk about tech leaders and their connections to domestic violence and bullying. I have no interest in discussing these cases nor do I have any insider knowledge, but I do want to talk about early intervention.

It shouldn’t take this level of disaster to remember that the world isn’t a perfect bubble of safety and supportiveness. Responsible companies should get proactive.

If we believe that technology should be accessible and built for real users, then perhaps our companies should be designed for a diverse group of employees. This means two things:

  1. That employees feel empowered to be the eyes on the street; and,
  2. That we prioritize safe spaces (and put grownups in charge of consistent enforcement).

Berkman Fellow and Microsoft’s Principal Researcher danah boyd just wrote, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. In it she discusses urban theorist Jane Jacobs’ theory of the “Eyes on the Street”. The theory is that the safest streets are those where a thriving community deters crime, vandalism and neglect. It’s not far off from Linus’ Law where “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

For the last decade, boyd has applied Jacobs’ theory to the role of social media communities in identifying warning signs amongst at-risk and suicidal youth. In other words, she believes that the average online Good Samaritan can prevent crisis simply by identifying and reaching out to those in need.

So what are the early warning signs to prevent workplace misconduct or domestic abuse? And how many employees know what to do in the wake of witnessing either of these things? (My guess is not many.)

In Lord of the Flies, a group of school boys are shipwrecked on an island and govern themselves with disastrous results. This is what it’s like in some startups. For whatever reason, a number of tech companies forgo formal HR leadership and policies. Although unintentional, this lack of clarity can come with serious consequences.

Without explicit policies, employees might be confused about what to do in instances of bullying, harassment etc. This confusion, coupled with a potential risk to their own careers, creates a chilling effect. As a result, witnesses are tempted to ignore bad behavior. And unfortunately, this collective silence is interpreted as consent.

What might begin as a single person’s bad behavior or poor judgement, can escalate into a corporate culture that excludes or hurts valuable team members.

Here are a number of generic tips for friends and family members to help those they suspect are being abused. Instead of pretending violence is isolated between a victim and an assailant, companies can use tips like these as a starting point to design their own action plans and discuss them with staff members.

In light of recent events, I’m hoping that more startups work to make employees feel safe, supported, and empowered to do the right thing. And let’s be crystal clear: As neighbors and colleagues, the right thing to do for each other when bad things are happening, is to intervene. Period.

Instead of being the silent bystander or the judgmental peanut gallery, let’s build inclusive companies and be the eyes on the street.
SF Local: Tech and the Politics of the Free Lunch

The tech industry is being demonized for what many describe as its “Ivory Tower syndrome” and in some cases, rightly so. There are a number of companies who haven’t made good on their Community Benefit Agreements despite looking for their Central Market and Tenderloin tax exclusions. Apart from Zendesk, the vast majority of those applying, are missing the mark. And it’s all about procurement.

One of the indicators of community contribution is sourcing vendors and caterers from within the neighborhood. But to get around this, some companies are using a 1 mile radius of their business as their cut off. Because San Francisco is tiny, 1 mile from a Tenderloin business includes caterers in SOMA, Hayes Valley, Japan Town, Union Square, Pacific Heights and the Financial District. So apparently the free lunch is rife with politics.

While it certainly doesn’t solve a housing crisis, Ellis Act evictions, and wage disparity, it is good to spend money with neighborhood businesses. If you’re working in what realtors are calling “New Market”, please try to source your caterers and vendors from the area.
Some of my Favorites

The Coding CEO of the Company with a $175M dollar Valuation

At this year’s SXSW, New Relic CEO Lew Cirne took the stage to offer his “Confessions as a Coding CEO”. Among his many feats, the SF-based entrepreneur and developer is known for continuing to code well after his first success with Wily Technology.

In the case of New Relic, Cirne not only built the organization’s first product, but continues to build the second. Perhaps what no one is saying here, is that this particular CEO is coding for a company with 80,000 active customer accounts, powering more than 3 million apps.

In other words, this isn’t a 3 person baby dev shop with a technical co-founder — this is a REAL company and there’s a lot at stake when someone at the helm opts to ship code rather than spending that time shaking hands. Nevertheless, Cirne defends his role as the “Coding CEO” and offers advice to others who want to follow in his footsteps:

1. Surround yourself with exceptional people: Cirne revealed that in order to ensure his company was running smoothly while he was off coding, he needed to find the right people to trust and delegate. He cites hiring Chief Revenue Officer Hilarie Koplow-McAdams and President and COO Chris Cook as two individuals who’ve helped the company excel. These individuals have allowed Cirne to free up time for development and product iteration.

2. Take Time to Yourself: Says Cirne, “I spend at least a week alone in a cabin in Tahoe doing my work, and from there I believe I’m actually making better decisions.” Most recently Cirne has been working on the next iteration of the New Relic offering (Codename “Rubicon”) and taught himself Node.js in order to better understand his growing Node customer-base. 3. Disrupt Your Own Business: Cirne also believes it’s important to start building your next product and innovating well before it’s a matter of survival. In the case of Rubicon, Cirne began work alone in 2012 and has since brought in a number of developers to help him scale it. The product itself is expected to be released in 2014. This launch is hotly anticipated given rumors of the organization’s impending IPO.

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Themed by: Hunson