Some recent accounts of sexism and harassment in the tech industry

It really bugs me that many people are in denial about sexism and harassment in the tech industry. Some engineers, developers and other professionals in the tech sector have been incredibly brave about sharing their experiences over the past few years, and I think they’re worth highlighting:

User Experience expert and speaker Johanna Krollman:

A talk at a conference showing girls in bikinis. An API presentation from a sponsor featuring ladies in bras. A demo at a hack day with a slide of women in underwear. A business model canvas workshop using a strip club as an example to illustrate the tool.

These are just a few examples of casual sexism I’ve experience at (tech) events. It’s common for at least part of the audience to react with laughter – sexism is entertainment. I’ve observed that the photo, comment or story gets laughs from the audience, gets attention. No wonder it feels like it’s ok.

Susan Fowler, engineer and author, on her time working at Uber:

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

(Fowler then goes on to describe how this wasn’t actually the manager’s first offence, and how she was given negative performance reviews as a result of highlighting behaviour such as this)

Engineer Katy Levison:

I have been raped by a colleague — not just once, but several times over months. A second colleague at a different institution held me against a wall against my objections and struggles and hit me with objects for his own amusement. My female colleagues told me later that he raped some of them, and in much the same way I had been raped by my rapist. I’ve had a colleague scream at me that everything good I ever had was given to me because I was a girl and that if were a boy, nobody would even know my name. He screamed it in public to humiliate me. The worst part was that, as I told him to go fuck himself and tried not to cry, I couldn’t prove to myself that what he said wasn’t true. Nor could I prove it to myself later, lying awake in bed.

Software engineer Tracy Chou on her internships at Facebook and Google:

My fellow interns and full-time coworkers were first friendly, then flirty. They floated awkward pick-up lines and complimented me on the way I looked, not the work I produced. One offered to give me a massage “because I looked stressed.” Another tried to get me to watch a movie with him in a dark room with the door locked and blinds closed. Later, he gave me a custom-made t-shirt with his name emblazoned across the front.

Product manager Leah Weitz, on things men have said to her at tech events:

“I was hoping to talk to someone who can actually explain what your company does. Are any of those guys available?” [points towards male coworkers]

“What size t-shirt are you wearing?” [stares at my bust, smirking] “Can you turn around for me so I can see the back?”

[discussing a widely-circulated piece of writing that I authored] “Who wrote that? Did you write that? [points at male coworker to my left] Oh. Did you, then? [points at male coworker to my right] Wait, so you wrote that?”

Chief Marketing Officer at a social media startup, Lisa Barone:

I remember being at a popular conference, sitting amongst my colleagues, and having a gentleman attending put his hand on knee while asking me what company I worked for. I remember the same man then removing his hand only to put his arm around me. And leave it there.

I remember being alone in the elevator with an employee of popular conference and being asked if I wanted to go back to his room to “have a drink or something”.

12 better rules for men

  1. Equality for others means you win too. Like other sorts of winning, equality is more satisfying when you fight for it.
  2. Laugh at yourself and allow others to laugh at you. Don’t be too proud.
  3. Embrace social change and be wary of a fictional nostalgic past where you might have had a higher status.
  4. Sexual consent matters.
  5. As men we have power and privilege that women don’t have in our society. Acknowledging this doesn’t undermine our own achievements.
  6. Be interested in things, be happy that others like them differently.
  7. Accept things can sometimes be hopeless. When they are, cry. Ask for help.
  8. Be slow to judge: try to imagine walking in the shoes of those less fortunate than you.
  9. Be kind to others, especially to those with whom you disagree.
  10. Be kind to yourself.
  11. You’re probably a bit gay. Embrace it.
  12. Be careful of pithy advice from old men like me


  • Jordan Peterson has a book with 12 rules, and they seemed kind of rubbish, so I came up with my own.


  • This is a work in progress. I’m happy to receive feedback.
  • I have no idea what I’m talking about. I mean it about rule 12.
  • A number of people contacted me after my last article about Jordan Peterson pointing out that I should probably read his stuff before being snarky about it. I have ordered his book and will post a review when I’ve read it.
  • I was thinking of heterosexual Irish men when writing this. Applicability to other kinds of men may be limited.

Is Irish masculinity in crisis?

A shot of the crowds at the Jordan Peterson event in Dublin. Photo credit: Peter Kavanagh / @TheKavOfficial on Twitter (tweet link)

I had been aware that Jordan Peterson had been coming to the 3 Arena in Dublin for the last few months, and if I’m honest I was looking forward to a minor inner gloat as he spoke to a tiny crowd. I was shocked to see a photo of thousands of Irish men gathered to listen to a message that masculinity is in crisis, because feminism and liberalism has gone too far (this New Yorker article has a relatively balanced summary of his views). If I’m honest I can’t think of a progressive thinker who could draw such crowds on a sunny July afternoon.

I think this is evidence that there is a large cohort of men in Ireland, especially younger men, who are deeply dissatisfied with some of the progressive changes we’ve made as a society, who feel that gender equality has gone ‘too far’ and who think that the role of men is being dangerously undermined in Western societies. A crisis, if you will.

This development saddens me, and makes me worried about the future. I don’t know what the answer is, except that Irish men who are progressive and feminist and believe in tackling inequality need to do more. We need to start our own public conversations about gender and why we believe that equality is not here yet, and why it’s worth fighting for. We should not demonise the thousands of men who turned up in Dublin yesterday, but we should also be making our own arguments why a more equal and progressive future is a better one, for men and women.

By recognising our privilege as Irish men, and using that privilege to amplify and support people with less privilege than we enjoy, we become better fathers and sons and brothers and husbands. I don’t know how we can do it, but we need to listen to compassion to those who disagree with us, and figure out together a better future for Irish masculinity.

Make our street great again

To the project team in charge of redesigning Limerick’s main street:

Please remove through traffic from O’Connell Street.

Expecting people to compete with 1 tonne+ hunks of metal dashing from one side of the city to the other is a recipe for disaster. Let’s admit that “shared space” is the “sorry/not sorry” of urban design when it facilitates traffic throughput.

Let’s be ambitious for our city centre: O’Connell Street has enough room for green spaces, playgrounds, exhibition areas, and much much more.

To attract the best to live, work and learn in our city centre requires a city centre worthy of the best.

I genuinely appreciate the effort that the project team have made to consult the public. I know we share the same hopes and dreams for our city, and I hope you can revise your plans to remove through traffic and centre our great street around our city’s most important asset: our people.

Sent as a submission to the O’Connell St project design team, 29th June 2017.

The Curious Tale of Limerick Marketing Company

IMG_2557Limerick Council announced recently that it had promoted its Communications Officer to be Head of Marketing, a pretty un-noteworthy story even by the sleepy standards of local news in a small city.

Yet the appointment marks the end of a sorry tale of money wasted, opportunities missed and the continuing damaging culture of secrecy that pervades Limerick Council.

One of the unintended consequences of Fine Gael’s commitment in 2011 to consolidate some state bodies was that it left a number of people with lucrative permanent public sector jobs needing to be redeployed. Part of Limerick Council’s response was to set up a number of companies (why the separate companies were needed was never explained: was it to support salary increases outside of the public sector pay freeze? I suspect we will never know), including the Limerick Marketing Company, which was launched with great fanfare and an announcement that the company would double visitor numbers in five years. The company’s two employees came from state agencies that were affected by Enda Kenny’s putsch on quangos.

This ‘company’ never published any details about its staff or its activities beyond a pretty bland statement of objectives on the Council’s website. Two and a half years later, due to restructuring in staff in the council, the need for the company has gone and the idea has been quietly forgotten (and presumably, the objective to double visitor numbers has died with it).

It’s difficult to criticise the marketing of Limerick that has taken place over the last three years because frankly there wasn’t that much of it. Sure there were a few articles in the local papers, which I’m sure provided gratification for the individuals involved, but there was very little national or international coverage, and so in the absence of any other evidence it seems like the objective of Limerick Marketing Company was “Let’s tell ourselves how great Limerick is, and we’ll hope someone outside the city notices”.

One of two flagship events of the Limerick Marketing Company was Riverfest, an event rightly criticised by Brian Leddin last year as an event that “reflects a city as sophisticated as a Supermacs outlet on a Saturday night”, and that was “lame and mediocre”. Brian’s full article is worth a read as he also highlights the inward looking approach to marketing our city.

The second event was acknowledged locally to be a complete disaster. The marketing company spent half of its annual budget underwriting a “rugby world club sevens” event, and a five-year contract was signed with a private company to underwrite this event. The Limerick Leader reported that the turnout was “paltry”, with only 300 people attending one of the events in Thomond Park, and a total subsidy of €200 for every ticket sold from the public purse.  The Leader termed Limerick Marketing Company’s justification for the event to be “self-serving drivel” – strong words for a local newspaper that is normally very supportive of local events.

The new marketing company was stitched in to the fifteen year socio-economic plan for Limerick (the “Limerick 2030 Plan”) – with nineteen specific actions assigned to it. Even though the marketing section of the 2030 plan was perhaps one of the weakest sections of the document (I described it as being “pretty terrible” in my submission to the plan), at least it published some initial steps that the Limerick Marketing Company could take. Out of nineteen actions I cannot find any evidence that any of them were completed, even though all actions were due to have been completed by the time the company ceased operations.

The one positive initiative that the Limerick Marketing Company was involved in was the ‘street ambassador programme’ that ran over the summer months. This wasn’t an initiative of the Company – it merely inherited responsibility for it. Once the company inherited the responsibility, it promptly scrapped the programme.

In fact there is no evidence that the company ever traded at all. The most recent returns of Limerick City & County Marketing Limited were made in April 2016, where the accounts showed no activity beyond the issuing of a share capital of €2. It was reported recently that the board of the company hasn’t met in the last two years.

It didn’t need to be like this. Between promoting a culture of openness, creativity, debate and vibrance; and targeting specific visitor niches where we can compete effectively; we really could have doubled visitor numbers in five years. Instead it feels like we will continue talking to ourselves, and the promises will continue to be forgotten.

Reinventing Limerick, Part 1

Limerick, that small city in the west of Ireland that I call home, has had somewhat of a challenging time of late.

Limerick City has always had an unemployment problem. But it’s worth restating how bad that problem is since the economic crisis hit. The last census showed Limerick City to have the highest unemployment rate (of any local authority area) in the country, at 27% (national average was 19%). The only two electoral divisions in the country where more than half the working-age population are unemployed are both in Limerick. The Central Statistics Office defines an unemployment blackspot as an area with over 35% unemployment. Six out of the seven worst unemployment blackspots in the country are in Limerick. Just under half (18 out of 36) of our electoral divisions are considered unemployment blackspots, and we have more than in Dublin City.

I could go on for paragraphs. The numbers for educational attainment and a host of other socio-economic indicators are equally dismal. Our city is dying.  Limerick is in crisis.  A crisis that is exacerbated by poor planning leading to a suburban doughnut around the city, a generally poor quality (with some honourable exceptions) of public representative (even by the somewhat dismal standards of Irish local councillors), an even poorer quality of local governmental and quasi-governmental agencies, each overlapping in remit with at least five other agencies, and a population that has, not unreasonably, given up a little hope of things being a bit better.

Of course Official Ireland’s answer to a crisis is to publish a long report, hold a snazzy launch, and hope nobody reads the thing, because while it is very important To Be Seen Doing Something, it is equally important Not To Offend Anyone By Doing Something Which Might Actually Make A Difference.  The latest example of this was the 170-page Limerick 2030: An Economic and Spatial Plan for Limerick back in June 2013.

Sadly I’m one of those nerds who actually read the whole thing, and even put in a brief submission (although by the deadline for submissions, the plan had almost completely disappeared from view on the City Council website, which should have told me all I needed to know about how seriously the Council takes the views of its citizens).  Brian Leddin posted his (much more eloquent) submission on his website so I thought I’d do the same below.

This article is a Part 1 because I’ve been thinking over the last few months about how things could be better in Limerick. I think it’s important that we don’t leave the future of our city in the hands (and half-baked ideas) of anonymous overpaid consultants.  I came across Richard Florida‘s writings some years ago and I remember that they had a certain resonance for Limerick, luckily a 20th anniversary edition of his landmark (and not uncontroversial) work Rise of the Creative Class has just been released so I’ve got a copy and plan on adding a follow on post in a few weeks to add my own humble thoughts about how Limerick can overcome its crisis and look to 2030 with confidence.

A few brief comments on the Economic and Spatial Plan for Limerick: (submitted to Limerick County Council 12th July 2013):

The whole document needs proof-reading – there are a number of typos and mistakes throughout which undermine the strategy – e.g. it’s the Logistics sector, not the Logistic sector (p 17), the M20 will go to Cork, not Tralee (and the M21 will go to Tralee, not Cork!) (p28).

More serious than that, the document suffers from a lack of structure and flow which make it difficult to navigate and digest. I appreciate that there is a lot to cover in this Strategy, and multiple revisions and authors can militate against coherency. The Strategy jumps all over the place, there is excessive verbiage in some areas, the same points are repeated throughout the text, and the Strategy could greatly benefit from a comprehensive rewrite. The success or failure of this document will depend in part on the degree to which it is adopted by the key stakeholders involved, and a clear, structured and legible Strategy can only help to achieve this aim.

Many of the issues addressed in the strategy have been successfully (and not-so-successfully) tackled in other small European cities. It is a bit frustrating to see that the only comparators are to cities that are mostly to a completely different scale than Limerick, e.g. Oslo (pop 570k), London pop 8m) and New York (pop 8m). There was a real opportunity to examine the spatial and economic strategies of similar-sized small cities, like Koblenz (pop 106k), Wurzburg (pop 133k), Esbjerg (pop 115k), Quimper (pop 63k), Västerås (pop 110k) and Shrewsbury (pop 70k). All of these cities are relevant to Limerick not only in terms of their population, but other socio-economic and geographical factors as well. What international comparators exist in the Strategy seem to arise from whatever city breaks the authors have been on in the last few years, rather than any desire to benchmark and learn from international experience. And it is disappointing that none of the lessons from ‘research visits’ taken abroad by council officials (and funded from the public purse) in the last few years made its way into the Strategy.

Some of the sections dealing with traffic and roads are a little odd. The Strategy deals with the pedestrianisation of O’Connell Street in little over a sentence, giving no reasons why the street should not be pedestrianised. There’s a strident assertion that Henry Street should be two-way, without any evidence at how this would help traffic management or pedestrian permeability.

It’s a shame that the economic cultural and artistic assets of the city are not explored more. The proposed Theatre Royal development gets only a brief mention, and there’s hardly any mention of the Creative Limerick project and no mention of how it could be extended.

There is no evidence of any commitment to good practice in public consultation. This is a good document, but it could be a great document through engaging with the people of Limerick. Public consultation is an area that Limerick City Council has historically been bad at, and it would be good to see some commitments in this area.

Finally, I am no means a marketer, but the marketing plan listed in the appendix is pretty terrible and needs a complete rewrite. Surely we have more innovative ways of communicating our message than spending tens of thousands of euro on signage and paying journalists to write nice things about us.

On Foreigners and Rubbish

Picking up rubbish today on the canal bank
Picking up rubbish today on the canal bank

Today was a glorious February day with searing sunshine, and I spent it picking up rubbish with friends.

And it was brilliant.

We joined the indefatigable Limerick Riverpath Volunteers who organised a Spring Clean of the canal banks between the city and the University of Limerick.  It’s a lovely spot, made even more beautiful by the blinding February sunshine.  It was surprisingly fun spending three hours picking up rubbish, there was great camaraderie and there is something satisfying about doing something physical with tangible results

The canal joins the City with the University 4km away and the path is popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists.  You can read an account of today’s cleanup on the Limerick Riverpath Volunteers website (including a description of some of the random things we found!), and Brian Leddin has an interesting post from one of last year’s cleanups on what a beautiful and useful amenity the Park Canal is. But what struck me today wasn’t the rubbish, but the people.

Some of the rubbish we collected
Some of the rubbish we collected

There were over 30 people at today’s cleanup.  On the face of it we were perfectly reflective of Irish society: some pensioners, families with kids, students, and all ages in between.  But there was one difference: according to the 2011 census in Limerick City, less than 14% of the population have a nationality other than Irish.  Yet by my reckoning, around half of the volunteers today were from outside Ireland.

The symbolism is stark – ‘foreigners’ turning out to collect our soiled nappies, cider cans and all the other detritus that Irish people like to throw away on our nature sites.

It’s a powerful slap in the face to the those who complain about people from outside Ireland who choose to come and live here.  My friend Carla got chatting to a lovely Romanian student, here on an Erasmus programme studying at the University of Limerick.  It later turned out she had only been here a few days.  When asked had she done this sort of thing before, she said:

The canal after we had finished!

Not here but I have joined cleanups back home.  They weren’t as bad as this though.

I am humbled that people who aren’t Irish would volunteer their Sunday to clean up our mess.  It’s a reminder of how much our country has been enriched by ‘foreigners’ who have come to settle here.  It’s maybe not surprising that they’re making a disproportionately positive impact on our society, but it is easily forgotten.  I hope we never forget how lucky we are to have them here.