My Dongle is Bigger Than Your Dongle

In case you missed it last week, a couple people got fired for joking about the size of their dongles at a conference. Here’s the article from Tech Crunch — A Dongle Joke That Spiraled Way Out of Control.  Long story short — two guys make a sexually suggestive joke about a Dongle to no one in particular, but it’s at a conference and they’re in mixed company.  A lady overhears them and doesn’t like it. She takes a quick picture of them with her phone and tweets out the pic and the comment about how crude they are.  This gets the jokester fired, and, after the fallout, gets the lady who posted the picture fired!

To get reaction – I went to my buddy with the biggest dongle I know – Laurie Ruettimann!

(Tim) Laurie – you know the deal, you’ve been in HR, a couple of idiot guys saying inappropriate stuff – it’s HR 101 and an easy termination!  The backlash on the female who posted the original comment and pic, Adria Richards, I thought was a bit crazy.  It almost screams retaliation termination.  What is your take on this?  How would you have handled it as the HR leader?

(Laurie) If there is one thing like I like more than Human Resources, it’s dongles. I love them.

You know what I really hate? Public shaming. Adria Richards was well within her rights to be offended by a joke. I think using a #hashtag to talk about the joke, and gain the attention of the conference organizers, was okay. But when she took it upon herself to take a picture of the guys who made the dongle joke and publicly shame them, she went too far and exercised poor judgment.

Who wants to employ a person like that?

She was also fired because the hacker group Anonymous caught wind of her actions and went after her employer. Adria posed a risk to her organization. It was time for her to go.

There’s a lesson in this, Tim. Nothing good comes from industry conferences. Stop pretending like innovation and thought leadership happen at these stupid events. No matter what your industry, it’s mostly a bunch of nerdy dudes trying to hook up with hypersensitive chicks.  Get back to work.

(Tim)  LFR — Public Shaming?  You’re against Public Shaming!  Do you know Stephen Covey, Jack Welch and Mahatma Gandhi all call ‘Public Shaming’ one of the most underutilized management tools of the 21st century!  In fact, I think I taught a leadership development class on Public Shaming and Driving for Results back in the day.  

I’ll admit the Adria picture was a low blow — especially since in the photo it looks like there is one main dude she is pointing out, and that guy didn’t even do it.  Not only did she post the pic, she made it look like the wrong guy was the Neanderthal!  I’m still sitting here in shock you’re against public shaming, it’s the basis of every great HR Pro I know — and the entire liberal movement since the 1960’s!

(Laurie) My Dearest Timmy, I stand corrected. I am actually okay with public shaming when I do it, which is the hallmark of every great leader.

When I shame you, you deserve it. When someone shames me, they should get fired.

But the HR lady in me wonders why Adria didn’t have a crucial conversation with the guys who made the dongle joke. Right there. Adria wasn’t standing up for reproductive rights or fair wages. She wasn’t walking a picket line. Her safety and security weren’t being threatened. She heard a joke that bugged her. And if she can’t pony up the courage and tell two stupid dudes at an event to STFU, maybe she doesn’t deserve her job.

Leadership is all about small, subtle decisions. She made a big, dumb decision. So she’s out.

But you know my management motto: Do as I say, not as I do.

(Tim) I’m sure there’s some kind of poetic justice in all of this — but I’m an HR Pro and now have two positions to fill because people couldn’t act like adults.  Another day in HR!

So, what do you think? Would you have fired either, both or what? Hit us up in the comments.

9 thoughts on “My Dongle is Bigger Than Your Dongle

  1. What a lively topic…maybe a dongle contest is in the works here…but to T-800 ( Terminator series number) someone for bad humor or being within ear shot of bad humor is just as stupid.. I appreciate a good sexual tech joke every now and then, most times there awful. The female who was hell bent on getting her point across probably needed a class on confronting chaos, but not leadership. A leaders would tell a better joke to the two guys and then explain to them that it would be more diligent to speak of said “dongles” in alace more suitable for “dongle” talk.
    I suppose the real shame is that two people now have to tell their families that a “dongle” got them prematurely fired.

  2. I’m an old white, male so I have kept quiet about this issue. My demographic isn’t taken seriously when commenting on sexist issues. The biggest problem I see as a geezer geek is the lack of maturity in the software development field. Young people say stupid things at the worst possible time sometimes. Software developers also aren’t the most socially graceful people as a whole so things can happen.
    It was pretty obvious that public shaming on Twitter by a heavily followed (public) figure representing a company was a bad idea. She represented her company badly and she deserved to be fired for poor judgement. She brought a huge DDOS attack on her company servers and most likely lost it a lot of business it couldn’t afford to lose. Frankly, I was surprised at her past tweets on what was in reality a company account. Someone above her in the food chain should have been guiding her a bit more. I fault her bosses for that.
    I don’t feel too bad for the developer since he probably had several offers by the time the word of his firing got out. I would be shocked if he was out of work long.
    There were no winners here except for the folks filling in the two empty positions. I hope some people grow up a bit, but I am afraid the wrong lessons will be learned.

    PS: Dude, you really need to improve the look and feel of your site.

  3. I agree with the first comment. The 2 guys making the jokes should’ve gotten formally written up. I’ve been in many a big conference gather in my day and a couple of guys joking about the size of their dongle is actually pretty tame. The woman that took the photo should’ve been fired. Had she taken the professional route and formally complained to her HR dept or supervisor then there would’ve been no issue… even griping about it via twitter without naming names would’ve been acceptable, but posting their picture? Definitely fire worthy.
    Lets face facts, large conferences and corporate meetings are typically laced with alcohol and inappropriate behavior. They’re an HR nightmare waiting to happen. At some point companies are going to learn to save themselves the $$ and the headaches.

  4. For the record, I put more thought into this quick email exchange with Tim than anyone put into the dongle joke or the aforementioned tweet. And maybe that’s the problem.

    We never hear about rote, institutional sexism — but a dongle on Twitter is news. It breaks my heart.

    I was serious when I wrote that nothing good comes from many of these industry events. While there was a sexist and stupid exchange at a conference that was captured on Twitter, 1000s of these incidents happen in the workplace each day.

    And an incident at a tech conference that is captured on Twitter doesn’t represent the insidious and backwards sexism — from pay equity to equal opportunity to safe and harassment-free work environments — that many female STEM workers face on a daily basis.

    I’d like to have a real discussion on sexism and the tech industry. This isn’t it.

  5. If I posted a picture of every DBag making crude comments TO me, not just near me at a conference, I would be here all day.

    Lighten up, take a joke, they weren’t talking about dongling her. Even then – have the courage (as a woman tech leader) to say something directly too them. Its amazing how quickly things stop when we stop complaining and just say something.

  6. I will stir the pot. Unless this was reoccurring event, he should have been disciplined rather than terminated. For her, I would agree with the termination. She worked as a technology Evangelist for her employer. Her job is to interact with the public. The posting of the picture was not only a low blow but it would cross the lines into libel for the other guy in the photo. You do not want your public spokes people doing that.

  7. Laurie, you know I love you. And although I can’t really speak to this from an HR/risk management standpoint, I agree that it’s not too surprising Adria was fired after the amount of (bad) publicity this incident indirectly brought to her employer. That being said, and although I am not generally a huge fan of public shaming myself, I think the tech work environment (or at least what I’ve heard of it) kind of sucks for women. It SOUNDS reasonable to say that this particular joke was no big deal or that she should have brought this up with the guys at the time rather than taking the rather unprofessional approach of posting their photo online. But I think after you deal with this crap (and far worse) for years at a time, to the point where you feel unwelcome and an outsider in your own industry, at some point there is a straw that breaks the camel’s back. Plus, there’s a whole #iaskedpolitely hashtag about the frequent futility of trying to handle this type of thing “nicely.” I imagine it can get pretty wearing to carefully attempt to dialogue with adversarial colleagues without making them mad, affecting your own career, being branded the “hypersensitive” one, etc. etc. when the colleagues in question don’t give a crap about you or what you think and will more than likely turn on you no matter how subtle your approach is. It seems like a bit of a stacked deck.

    It also occurs to me that this is an instance where your typical advice–to find a new job if the work environment you’re in is hostile, rather than go through the hell of litigation with the only “prize” being keeping your job at a crappy place where everyone hates you–might be difficult to follow. What if the whole industry is basically sexist and screwed up?

    • SpaceCowGirl –

      Great points – I do think this screams of someone who just had enough and reacted. Unfortunately, she isn’t in a position that allows her to ‘react’ professionally – she has to be above that, even if that final straw breaks her back. I feel for her for sure – as a male I can’t imagine what many women endure, especially in male dominated environment with the constant crude jokes and innuendo.


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