Combating Sexism in Tech With Honesty: The Impact of Upload’s Silence

from Medium

I was the Creative Producer at Upload until most of the Upload San Francisco staff and I quit after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against its founders. We used to love Upload for its reach and ambition, but our trust in the company has faltered since our departure. These are my thoughts on bro culture in tech and the impact of Upload’s silence.

Upload jump-started my career and made me feel welcome when I moved to San Francisco by myself. Will and Taylor treated me extremely well, and I once viewed them as both my mentors and friends. That’s why this whole ordeal shatters me. I’m so saddened by the fact that not everyone felt as welcome as I did. It makes me second guess how much I let slide under my nose in the name of trying to please other men. And it sucks to watch the men I used to look up to slide into a reality that I can’t endorse.

I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on this situation for months, but when I tried to write things down, I ended up with a mishmash of multiple drafts until I had about 15 pages of repetitive gibberish that I was too nervous to share. I was about ready to let this go and move on, as I had done so many times this summer, when the sound of my doubts rang one last time. That’s when I realized I was fighting myself.

“If I speak up, will men I respect still do the things I’m trying to speak up against? Will those men think less of me? Will they stop wanting to hang out with me? Am I taking things too far?”

“Well shit,” I thought, as I leaned back in my chair. Here I was, trying to support gender equality, and yet all I could think about was censoring my words to solely protect the feelings of men. I was subconsciously prioritizing men over women, and that scared the shit out of me. But arriving at these realizations should be celebrated; it became another opportunity for me to acknowledge my faults and actively reprogram the parts of my mind that are still littered by casual sexism. So screw it, here’s what I have to say.

More here.

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10 Responses to Combating Sexism in Tech With Honesty: The Impact of Upload’s Silence

  1. Meghan Healy September 21, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

    Sexism is an obvious issue in the work force. Men in any position of power think that they can make jokes about their female workers, specifically on their appearance. Most men will laugh it off assuming that the jokes are harmless, and they might even join in the conversation with jokes of their own. Even in 2017, gender equality seems to be nonexistent in the work force, specifically in the VR/AR industry. The author of this article mentions that while writing about the sexual assault issue, he was still concerned with the other men and what they would think of him. Casual sexism is an issue that is often not recognized. We seem to be prewired to prioritize men over women. The author, a male, who wanted to support gender equality still found himself subconsciously wondering about the approval of his formal male coworkers. He also addresses the issues of “bro culture”. Men have made a habit of talking about sex in a group of other men in order to be socially accepted. This normalization of sex talk in the work place stigmatizes the idea of sexual harassment being okay. If a new worker agrees that he likes the short shorts of a female coworker out of fear of being ostracized, that behavior will become conventional. These objectifying comments are regularly greeted with laughter and approval. The author even describes it as a weird initiation process.

    The author states, “The more you hear about, talk about, or contribute to a belief of someone, the more that belief is reinforced as the primary attribute of that person.” The more men talk about the appearance of a woman, that is all she becomes. Female employees have turned into a sexual joke for their male coworkers to make. Their objectification has become a ticket for social approval, and has also turned into a “fun” game. Men think it has no effect on the woman since it is mostly done after they walk away. Most people do not expect their male coworker to take it a step further. Sexual assault is often a result of these “harmless” jokes and the “fun” game. Men, like the author, are afraid of speaking up in defense of the woman out of fear of being rejected or seeming uncool, or someone that their coworkers cannot talk fun to. These jokes are often excused as being “locker room” talk.

    The author also mentions that we need leaders who understand and recognize the issue. We currently have a president that openly objectifies women in front of an audience. During a presidential debate, he excused some sexually aggressive comments he previously made on camera as “locker room” talk. He has had multiple sexual assault charges pressed against him. The election of this man as a leader says a lot about who we are as a country. Having a president that engages in this behavior normalizes the issue even further.

    The author and his coworkers were all afraid to share how they felt before the lawsuit. They each individually knew pieces of what was going on in the office, but they thought they did not know enough to speak out, even after it became public news. The company’s choice to deny the news and lack accountability added to the employees’ reluctance to speak. Most employees quit because of their employer’s dismissal of the issue. The author advises that men reading this article speak up if they notice something. It is important to talk about this issue and to demolish the normalcy of objectification of female coworkers. It is time to take accountability for our seemingly harmless actions.

  2. Rebecca Hu September 22, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    This article is written by the former employee of the virtual reality company, Upload. This article published on Medium website, written by Danny Bittman address the sexual harassment lawsuit against the founders of the company. To fully understand the situation I searched article up to the lawsuit case. According to the website TechCrunch, a lawsuit was filed against the founders of UploadVR in May. The company was accused of “create a ‘boy’s club’ environment” in the office, which results in discrimination against women. Indicating the work environment was “hostile environment for female employees” (TechCrunch). A specific example of creating a “kink room” for male employees to engage in sexual activities and paid make employers more compared with female employees.
    After reading the first article I just find it shocking. I heard of the Uber sexual harassment case before and now another case with a tech company experiencing the same thing. I thought with new startup companies, they would not think in a “traditional” way. As the male is superior and has more ability than female. However, from reading this article the tech company is darker than I imagined it to be.
    This article discusses sexual harassment from a male employer’s point of view. Danny states “If I speak up, will men I respect still do the things I’m trying to speak up against? Will those men think less of me? Will they stop wanting to hang out with me?” Danny is worried about his actions will influence how other people feel about him. In my personal opinion, every community such as school, company they are divided into smaller groups. It can be divided by ethnics, race and the most common one is by gender. It is almost like part of the genetics of human to divide into groups into gender. At least from my memory, I remember boys don’t play with girls because they are “categorized” to have different interest based on their gender. What happens at UploadVR is just an amplified version of what we would do when we are in elementary school.
    Humans are social animals. We need to interact with others to survive, to feel like we belong somewhere. That is the main reason why we conform to the majority or peer pressure. We would like to be included in a group, we would choose to act with the group hoping the group will include us. Thus lead to sexual harassment reports being ignored, and not seeking to do any prevention. Because that is what the majority of the males are doing in the company. It is the equivalent concept of hanging out with the “Cool Kids” in middle school. Danny mention in the article “Most guys go along with sex talk purely because they want to be socially accepted, especially when they meet a new group of guys” We all have the experience to go along with the topic of the group, we do not want to be the only one that has disagreement with the group conversation.
    There is a saying that a lie told often enough becomes truth. It is the exact situation Danny tries to address in the article. Although some men think differently than the group they just go along with the discussion, “The more you hear about, talk about, or contribute to a belief of someone, the more that belief is reinforced as the primary attribute of that person.” Men might not be objectifying women at first, however, over time, through reinforcement they think women differently compared when they first enter the company.
    I thought new Startup Company should approach the gender issue more seriously than other companies. Recent years we have been fighting equal rights for every human. Continuously we have the argument about gender difference, the pay gap. There should be changes, however, witnessing big tech companies such as Uber and Upload having the same problem. Not act upon sexual harassment once it has been reported to the HR department or to be silent when the company is being accused of sexual discrimination. Technology is the future, everyday life now depends on technology. In this field, men are dominating the workforce. However, that should not be interpreted as this is the field of men. Therefore men are superior or better than women in this field. The entire ecosystem in business and technology are changed, this should include eliminating sexual discrimination within the company.
    This case reminds me of a classical experiment conducted related to peer pressure. Where everyone in the elevator stands with their back facing the door of the elevator. When the man enters in the elevator seeing everyone is standing with their back facing the door he would turn around and conform due to peer pressure. We should not just blindly follow the majority. It is just like entering college where the professor makes you think rather than just listening to lecture. The education system encourages and puts a lot of emphasis on critical thinking. Yet, in the society, we cannot think for what is the correct thing to do? Classify conversations as “locker talks” making the act of objectifying women justifiable, it’s just unacceptable. It is the same example where we do not talk behind someone’s back. These are just facts or rules we learned, but we cannot apply that criteria in real life.
    We should encourage people to be different, to stand up if they are treated unfairly. Just like the NJ Transit always say on the train “If you see something say something”. Do not accept unfair treatments. As the author said “Humans are finally working together to build a whole… the only way we can do that right, is if we’re honest and open with each other”. I would hope through this case, tech companies would learn a lesson and change their attitude and policy in the company to make a welcoming environment for every employee.

    Video of the experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgRoiTWkBHU

  3. Jimmy Bedoya September 22, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    As ridiculous as it might seem, up until today, men have been comfortably objectifying women behind closed doors with no hesitation. It has become such a social norm that men are starting to feel comfortable expressing their personal opinions about women right in front of them. Society has been evolving and transforming in a very negative way and it is the time people took a stand. Unfortunately, however, the voicing of negative comments does not just stop with women. Today, unnecessary statements are being hurdled to a number of various races, sexes, and cultures. We are living in an era where the public is viewing racist and sexist remarks as a freedom of expression and that is where we must realize enough is enough. As humans, we must stand together and accept each other for whom we are and learn to respect each and everyone’s form of being. This ideology, however, should not just be limited to one environment but instead carried globally. That includes anywhere from the outside world to the professional world of jobs and work environments. Additionally, this form of respect and understanding should not just be practiced publicly and socially, but privately and individually. Otherwise, the respect we show to one another is meaningless and not genuine. It is vital to embed this into our heads and hearts so that we can learn to turn this ideology into a lifestyle. This along with the power of love will send us in the direction of unifying everyone on a physical and moral level.

    In the article “Combating Sexism in Tech With Honesty: The Impact of Upload’s Silence”, Bittman touches base on a pre-existent issue that is starting to take place in workplaces nationally. Bittman raises the silence on the controversial “locker room talk” and gives his piece of mind on how unacceptable it is. The controversy within this stands with the fact that a lot of men are deeming it innocent and even more men “go along with sex talk purely because they want to be socially accepted” as Bittman states. This in itself is an issue because it represents the individual’s way of conforming to society out of either fear or lack of knowledge. Whatever the reason might be, Bittman reiterates his argument by stating that it is time men started putting other men in check. We must target the issue where it starts and not be afraid to stand against the wrong. If we let this slide, then what men are really doing, as Bittman states, is “training their brains to only see sexual objects when they talk with women”. This becomes an issue especially in the work world, because when men start looking at women as objects they stop looking at them as humans and neglect their intellect and intelligence in the process. Bittman makes it clear also that it should not matter whom you are or what position you hold, a standard should be set that everyone follows with respect and honesty. The problem Bittman encountered was having company executives make inappropriate remarks and no one was standing against them due to fear of being fired or unawareness of severity. Deep inside, Bittman understood that this was extremely wrong especially on an executive’s part, but he like many others, waited too long to speak up. Thus, Bittman constructed the article to shed light on how dark “locker room talk” can be. He wants people to not conform, and speak up in order to avoid drastic changes in society let alone within an individual. Instead of objectifying our female counterparts, we must learn to appreciate them and respect them for who they are and their importance to our world. Nevertheless, this mentality of respect and appreciation, as I mentioned before, should not only be practiced amongst genders, but amongst races, cultures, and hemispheres. If you are experiencing at firsthand any form of discrimination or bearing witness to it, do not hesitate to step forward and speak. Behind closed doors where those making the remarks feel most comfortable is where these issues should be addressed especially. Addressing someone in a state of comfort will help him/her understand how severe the issue is. Speaking up is the only way to halt the negativity and disrespect, and then truly unite as a society, as a nation, and as a planet.

  4. Leslie Trejo September 30, 2017 at 12:38 am #

    Sexism is a brutal force that often can have a negative mental effect on both men and women. As Danny Bittman had described in “Combating Sexism in Tech With Honesty: The Impact of Upload’s Silence” there appeared to be a case of sexism within the workplace that ultimately disrespected the women in his former company Upload. Women for centuries have continued to get an education and work in a corporate setting, but often face a glass ceiling- or a barrier that prevents advancement in a profession. As Mr.Bittman had explained with the fictional character “Jill” it did not matter the work that she contributed, her male coworkers simply used the opportunity to be inappropriate and degrade her image as an employee. Although society has gradually accepted into the workforce, there are still issues with the concept of professional with women and what boundaries are not acceptable.

    According to the author, there appeared to be a domino effect when it came to the discussion of women in his work environment. Although Mr.Bittman acknowledged that him and the other male employees were clearly talking in an unprofessional way about the women workers, he went along with it because of his fear of being rejected in the office. When this issue had escalated and a group of workers (including Mr.Bittman) had confronted the executives, nothing had gotten resolved except for a lawsuit. The author was very bold in posting the situation on the internet and explaining to those in person, why? To prevent something like this from happening again. Mr.Bittman had made a wise point, if no one is going to bring up and do something about these kinds of issues with sexism and women in the workplace, nothing will ever change and this will continue to be norm in society.

    • Leslie T September 30, 2017 at 12:47 am #

      Sexism is a brutal force that often can have negative effects on both men and women. As Danny Bittman had described in “Combating Sexism in Tech With Honesty: The Impact of Upload’s Silence” there appeared to be a case of sexism within the workplace that ultimately disrespected the women in his former company Upload. Women for centuries have continued to get an education and work in a corporate setting, but can often face a glass ceiling- or a barrier that prevents advancement in a profession. As Mr.Bittman had explained with the fictional character “Jill” it did not matter the work that she contributed, her male coworkers simply used the opportunity to be inappropriate and degrade her image as an employee. Although society has gradually accepted women into the workforce, there are still issues with the concept of professionalism with women and what boundaries are not acceptable.

      According to the author, there appeared to be a domino effect when it came to the discussion of women in his work environment. Although Mr.Bittman acknowledged that him and the other male employees were clearly talking in an unprofessional way about the women workers, he went along with it because of his fear of being rejected in the office. When this issue had escalated and a group of workers (including Mr.Bittman) had confronted the executives, nothing had gotten resolved except for a lawsuit. The author was very bold in posting the situation on the internet and explaining to those in person, why? To prevent something like this from happening again. Mr.Bittman had made a wise point, if no one is going to bring up and do something about these kinds of issues with sexism and women in the workplace, nothing will ever change and this will continue to be norm in society.

  5. Shemar Givens October 6, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    Sexism is a controversial topic on all levels. The conversation itself can go numerous ways, it’s just matter of people keeping it at a sacred level. Especially in the work force, everyone has a different concept and view about it. There’s never a time where you can’t freely voice your opinion but just the way you go about it is what’s most important. The guy in the article was afraid voice his opinion because he wasn’t too sure of how the people he once admired and looked upon would react to it. The business was already going into shambles because of the situation that was going but there was still that certain respect that he had for the higher ups who had given him an opportunity.

    On touchy topics like this I feel that anyone has the given right to state exactly how they feel. We’re given the right of free speech and there are plenty of others who let their voice be heard despite the things you may think of them or say in response. For years, conversations of women and sexism within the workplace has erupted. As a human being if one feels strongly about it, then definitely shouldn’t be afraid to speak about because change has to start somewhere and it can be that one voice heard that changes everything. Depending on the substance and quality of the points that are made, one can change another person’s views and it will create an effect that can soon widespread. Moral of the article is to never be afraid and stand for what you believe in.

  6. Shiyun Ye October 6, 2017 at 7:18 pm #

    A former worker in Upload writes the article and he claims his opinions on the sexual harassment lawsuit happened in the company. Firstly, he was worried that he would not be respected by the men or would lose the chance of hanging out with them anymore. However, from my understanding, he just took things too personal. On the one hand, if he felt that these men’s actions are not what he agreed, he would not wanted to hang out with them in the future. On the other hand, the sexual harassment issue is a universal admitted problem so even if he stands up and talks about it; no one should blame him for that as long as he says the truth. Therefore, the completely beginning part is unnecessary in my opinion but it do shows a sense of politeness in current society. As the author stated by himself: it is no wrong of “[supporting] gender equality” and should not be “silent on solely protecting men’s feelings.”

    Moreover, the Upload’s case reminds me of the Uber’s sexual harassment. Uber as one of the biggest car service companies in the world should create a comfortable environment for employees and behave as an example for other organizations. However, similar to the Upload’s sexual harassment case, Uber has a “bro-culture” as well. This “bro-culture” mostly defines how should a man behave around other men so that they can be accepted. The author specifically points out that it is the tech company’s man culture. However, I feel almost every company or the whole society has this problem. Men tend to undermine women’s accomplishments but more focus on their appearances and other factors. There is an example in the article, which is the “locker-room talk.” The men in the “bro-culture” states that this kind of private talk is not harmful since women are not surrounded and they do not have a clue on what has been discussed. Moreover, it is a private conversation so it is protected. Nonetheless, the consequences are described clearly: after the sexual private talk on a woman, men usually do not focus on the woman’s work performance or what she talks. They only focus on the comments that others made on her and double-checking them when the woman is talking.

    The same situation goes in college as well. Sometimes due to the peer pressure, mostly come from fraternity, boys are more easily talking sexually in order to appeal cool in front of someone. My personal experience was when I first encountered some boys in the college and they made these kind of jokes around me while I feel highly uncomfortable. However, they claimed that it is a part of United States culture and I was just being too sensitive. I admit that there is a big difference between Asian culture and western culture, but making fun of women should not be simply explained as a culture difference. I agree with the author that passive silence is not an answer when reacting to those behaviors. The shock, confusion and anger emotions are created inside of a person’s heart and merely suppress them would not help at all. Speaking up about the issue and set up a standard for men to talk about women in society are respectful ways to solve the problem. The people who apply the methods are not sensitive on what happened around them, they just have more awareness than the others do.

  7. Michael Dias October 6, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

    Since the beginning of mankind, there has been this concept that the man has to go and work while the woman has to stay home and tend to the house and kids. This was fine, as most of the labor since then up until about a few centuries ago involved hard manual labor and physical duties. Men were hunters, builders, and soldiers/warriors. Their belief was that the man had to take care of and protect the women of their communities and households. However, women were often considered property in many of these societies, but not the ‘slave kind’ of property, where they were worked to death with little to no pay. Instead, they were protected (usually) and kept from hard labor and physically demanding jobs. As time went on and new jobs were created that did not demand such hard and physical labor, women became more involved in the workplace alongside men, and occasionally took over during times of war. As we live in a time were a majority of jobs are not physically demanding, and our societal views on women have changed from property to equal to men; it is troubling to see old concepts still being displayed in modern environments. If humanity can become accustumed to basically everything around them changing, from entire cities to jobs and beliefs, why can we not grow used to the fact that men and women are able to do the same jobs and perform the same tasks. During the summer of 2017, I worked doing floor construction through the union in New York. To my surprise, in this environment where work was straining and hard, there were many women. I am not sure why this took me by surprise, as the world is ever-changing and evolving. It might be due to the concepts being taught that still today, the man has to be the provider while the woman the care taker. But why? Why must we oblige more to men rather than to female priority, especially in the workplace? Why do women not deserve the same respect men have? There are many successful women who hold jobs in companies that are above their male counterparts, so why are they still looked down upon? I remember the “bro-talks” where boys would speak of girls solely for the purpose of berading them with thoughts of sexual acts and disrespectful actions. This has to stop. Respect should be the most important thing to evolve with everything else that is changing around us. The times have changed, women are no longer considered property (in a majority of the world), and do the same, and sometimes more, than men do. So why are they still looked down upon?

  8. Isabel Grullon Ramirez October 8, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

    Written by Danny Bittman, “Combating Sexism in Tech With Honesty: The Impact of Upload’s Silence” discusses how Upload’s failure to address sexism lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. The author speaks about how “bro” culture made his life at the company unpleasant. This kind of talk, which focuses on undermining females and creating a feel of male superiority, is alive and well in today’s workplace. Undermining females is a practice that not only diminishes the images of women but also limits their opportunities for advancement. As the author mentions, after objectifying comments made in the privacy of a “men only” environment, “Men without a doubt be thinking about the objectifying comments [made]… and miss half of her pitch [for a new project] and then dismiss her concept for its lack of structure” If females are not given the opportunity to present new projects with the same respect as their male counterparts, they cannot lead a new project or even give new ideas for the company which in the end, hinder the company’s ability to grow. Not only does it hinder the growth of a company, it undermines the efforts of women. If women are not valued at their jobs as their counterparts are, there is no motivation to bring new ideas, as they will not be taken serious.
    Another issue to which the article sheds light on is that “most guys go along with sex talk purely because they want to be socially accepted, especially when they meet a new group of guys, or start a new job.” These kinds of behavior need to be addressed immediately. A company should have a zero tolerance for this kind of behavior as it leads to serious issues. It opens the door to lawsuits due to sexual harassment, which was the case of Upload, the company mentioned in the article. It can also lead to a hostile work environment, and could also constitute harassment. Harassment in the workplace is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This issue also brings to attention that the more that the belief that the objectification of women is accepted, the more that this belief is “reinforced as the primary attribute of that person.” This encourages men to only see women as sexual objects, not as equals who also have ideas to bring to the table.
    Similarly, the article also talks about the lack of response from the leadership team at Upload. The leaders of this company denied of doing anything wrong in their company. Not only did they dismiss the issue as a whole, but they also claimed that the allegations were just an overreaction and denied the validity of the truth. They did not offer any solution to the issue, rather they wanted to quickly settle this matter as if nothing happened. This creates a crucial issue. The silence of leaders on issues such as this one not only perpetuates this kind of objectifying behavior, but also normalizes the idea that this is just “locker room talk.” They need to be held accountable for these actions and learn that objectifying women is NOT acceptable. Passivity, as the article refers- isn’t an answer. It’s an easy exit to a conversation that desperately needs to happen. The men in the community need to recognize and address the damage that sexualizing women in the workplace does.

  9. TraceeF October 15, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    As women continue to generate healthy careers they receive more and more backlash from society. Of course there is a population that continues to congratulate women on their many successes over the years, but there is still a population that is uncomfortable with women in positions of power. Due to the uncomfortable nature of those people, sexism becomes a coping mechanism in the work place. As humans there is a need to be accepted and liked, so even though participants may be uncomfortable with sexism they choose to take part in it.
    Sexism in the work place is a serious hazard because it so easily leads to sexual harassment. Sexism leads to the illusion that women are less than human, they are simply objects. This objectification leads to sexual harassment because objects don’t have feelings or rights.

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