Having It All

This month’s issue of The Atlantic includes an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

I came across the article when it was shared in a LinkedIn group that I’m a part of, and it immediately sparked a lot of comments and conversation. I’ve been stewing over the article ever since I read it, and I wanted to take time to really think — and write — about what gave me such a visceral reaction.

I’ve narrowed it down to the following:

All For One Is Not All For All

In the context of “having it all” the word “all”should be a self-defined metric. Here, the author has interpreted her son’s difficulties and her decision to leave her position in Washington, D.C. as a failure to achieve it all. She then takes her evaluation of herself, and extends it out to all women to say that because she has, in her own estimation, not achieved it “all” it is therefore impossible for women, in general, to have it “all” and that feminism has misled us in thinking that we can.

For me, “having it all” is about having choices. By my definition, Slaughter did “have it all” — she had the opportunity to choose, and to decline, jobs. She left one high-powered position to return to her previous one. Not all working women have that abundance of choices. Not all women who work do so because they choose to, but because they have to. Not all women have an engaged co-parent to lean on for family obligations when work gets demanding. Not all women have the flexiblity in their jobs to care for a child, or an aging parent, or a sick spouse. Being able to choose to dial one’s career up or down, being able to take a break to give birth, and have a paid maternity leave…these are luxuries that not all parents have.

To be fair, though, if I take issue with Slaughter extending her definition of all to me, I should not do the same to her. My “all” is not her “all,” and she is entitled whatever feelings she has about her own experience and achievements. But, I would like to publicly say: Ms. Slaughter, I think you have a remarkable career and are quite clearly a caring and engaged parent. I admire your accomplishments, both professional and personal.

“All” Doesn’t Mean “Perfect”

“Having it all” doesn’t translate to “a flawless life.” Slaughter seems to have interpreted her son’s rough period as an indictment of her choice to work, despite the fact that her husband was able to scale back at his job to spend more time parenting. Let’s reverse the situation and say that she had instead scaled back to spend more time as a parent, while her husband pursued his career more aggressively. If her son was still having issues, would his father take on that psychological burden and say, “This must be because I’m working too much.”? Why do we do this to ourselves, mothers? Why do we assume that an issue in our family life is somehow caused by our pursuit of a career? And why do we assume that scaling back would fix it? I’m not saying that the presence of a mother (or father) isn’t valuable to a child — it certainly is. But, it’s also not a guarantee that one’s child will progress through life without rough patches.

Women is not synonymous with mothers. The title of Slaughter’s piece is "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All" which, as written, presumes that until a woman has children, she hasn’t achieved it "all." The subtext being, "Working women, you haven’t achieved it all unless you also have a child. Mothers, you haven’t achieved it all if you don’t also have a career.

Women, Humans, or Parents?

I dislike that this argument is presented as a “woman” thing. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” would be better titled, “Why Any Human Being Could Never Have It All, And Still Can’t.” That this is directed specifically at women is telling; it’s because this concept of working AND being a good parent is still seen as primarily a “woman’s issue.” It assumes that a woman’s default role must be as primary caregiver, and that in order to pursue a demanding and/or time-consuming career is an “extra.” And that’s because this is still a prevailing cultural norm that women and men have internalized despite decades spent fighting against it. If a kid gets sick, everyone assumes that it’s mom that will go home from work to care for him. We don’t need to think that way anymore.

More importantly, this article is not about women not being able to have it all — it is about mothers not being able to have it all. That’s a subtle, but important, difference. The title, as written, presumes that until a woman has children, she hasn’t achieved it “all.” The subtext being, “Women, you haven’t achieved it all until you’ve had a child. Mothers, you haven’t achieved it all if you don’t have a career.” That sentiment chills me. And it’s why I return to my first point: “having it all” is about choosing what “all” means to YOU. Everyone else, and their opinions about it, can sod off.


I do agree that society needs to change. We need to redefine what it means to “have it all.” We need to start expecting more out of fathers. We need, as women, to stop taking on such a disproportionate amount of the physical and psychological burdens of parenting. And employers need to think in radical new ways about how to create environments that support people — not just parents, but people. We have the technology! There’s no reason why we can’t think more creatively about how and when we work. We don’t all have to be in a cubicle from 8am-6pm. We can work remotely, we can video conference, we can do a million things that help people pursue their careers on a more irregular, personalized schedule that doesn’t sacrifice the quantity or quality of their work, and integrates with whatever other life goals they have, whether it’s traveling around the world, having kids, or training for a marathon.

That being said, as James Joyner pointed out in his blog post, “Why Men Can’t Have It All, Either”:

“All things being equal, those willing to put 90 hours a week into their careers are going to get ahead of those willing to put in 60, much less 40. While there is any number of studies showing that working too many hours is actually counterproductive from an efficiency standpoint, there nonetheless is a rare breed of cat who can keep up a frenetic work schedule for years on end. And those workaholics are simply more valuable to the company, agency, or organization than those who clock out at 5. That means that those of us who choose to prioritize our children are going to get out-hustled by those without children, or those willing to let their children spend longer hours with a partner or childcare provider.”

That’s never going to change. Sorry. So, yeah — if you want to excel a job that requires (or encourages) 90-hour workweeks, and you also want to have kids, you’re going to have problems — probably personal, familial, and professional. That’s not a flaw in feminism or in you — it’s just a basic limitation of the 24-hour day.

Informational Interviews

We recorded a podcast (#32) on this topic, but I think it’s handy to have a written guide for this kind of information as well.

So here you have it: the Geek Girls Guide to a kickass informational interview.


Get Noticed

  • It’s totally appropriate to use Twitter (or a message via LinkedIn) to make yourself known to a professional that you’d like to have an informational interview — in fact, that’s sometimes the best way to stand out. But follow up with a more formal email if they bite on your offer via Twitter.
  • Email is also a good option, but it can sometimes be hard to get a response (depending on how much email the person gets).
  • Want to really stand out? Try snail mail; people don’t get much actual mail anymore.
  • Be clear about what you want. “Will you have coffee with me?” could mean a lot of things. Do you want to be friends? Are you asking me on a date? Ask for what you want — and not just an “informational interview.” Say something more specific, “I’d like to learn more about project management.” or, “I’m looking for input on my portfolio.”


  • Ask for 30 minutes. Getting an hour of someone’s time might be a challenge. But, if you can get an hour…sweet!
  • If you can get the person to meet you offsite, do it! They’ll be less likely to be interrupted by co-workers. To that end, if you shoot for a meeting at the beginning of the day the person is less likely to be distracted by the day’s work.
  • Confirm the meeting a day or two before. Don’t be discouraged or deterred if the person has to reschedule; it happens.

Do Your Homework

  • In an informational interview, YOU are interviewing the person you’re meeting with. In a job interview, THEY are interviewing you. So, prepare!
  • Google the living hell out of the person you are interviewing with, and the company the work for. Don’t be creepy, but dig deep. The more you know about what they do and how they got there, the more you can ask questions that are relevant and thoughtful. It may even reveal connections or common interests you weren’t aware of!

Interview Day

Show Up Early

  • If you are meeting someone for coffee, get there an hour early. I’m not joking. You want to be the first one there, so you can buy the person their cup of coffee. This is a critical piece of etiquette! Even if the person refuses your offer to pay — at least you’ve made the offer.
  • If you’re meeting someone at their office, try to be 10 minutes early. That’s early enough to show you’re serious, not so early that it’s awkward. It also doesn’t cut it too close; you want time to take off your coat and organize your thoughts. Whatever you do, don’t be late.
  • Play it safe. Assume that the route to your destination will take you twice as long as it usually does. If that means you end up sitting in your car a block away for 20 minutes just to kill time before the interview, so be it.

Have an Agenda

  • Have a list of questions that you want to ask the person. And not generic questions, either. Be thoughtful; you’ll make an impression.
  • Bringing a notebook and pen is an easy way to make it clear that you take the interview seriously.
  • Watch the clock: if the person agreed to give you 30 minutes and the conversation is still rolling along at 28 minutes, give a courtesy time check. “Do you need to go, or would it be okay if I asked you just one more question?” or, “I don’t want to take too much of your time, and I see our 30 minutes is nearly up.” You can set your phone to vibrate when there are 5 minutes left so that you know it’s time to start closing the conversation.

Close Strong

  • Thank the person for their time.
  • If you got something helpful out of the conversation, tell them.
  • Hand them a business card.


Follow Up

  • A tweet, an email, a paper thank you note? I’d recommend all three! Include a business card with your thank you note, too — why not?
  • It’s okay to try to connect with the person via LinkedIn afterward, but include a personal message, “Thanks for the informational interview on Monday. Your advice about project management was really helpful to me. I’d like to keep in touch, do you mind if we connect here on LinkedIn?”
  • I’d advise against trying to friend the person on Facebook; that just feels too personal. Twitter and LinkedIn are a better bet for staying connected to someone you’d like to stay connected with as a mentor and possible future boss!

That’s it! What do you think? Did I miss any critical informational interview advice?

Email Extensions

A while ago, geeky reader Lorelei from Seattle wrote to ask, “Does the type of email you use matter (yahoo,gmail etc)? A tech guy on NPR seems to think it really says a lot about a person. Thoughts?”

Here’s how I personally feel about this:

1. Your email prefix means more than the extension (e.g. lorelei@ vs. sexygirl27@). Whenever possible, use your name or some variation of your name for your email address. If possible, avoid numbers. Numbers just seem outdated and less professional. If you have an old “unprofessional” email address, go ahead and keep it for personal stuff. You can set up a new one to use for more professional communication.

2. The extension might mean something to some people, but it means less than the prefix. The only extension that seems really outdated is  @aol. @gmail seems more current. @msn, @hotmail and @yahoo are just sort of…whatever.

I think the geekier you are, the more those extensions “mean” to you in the sense that you may pass judgement on people based on them. But reallly? I don’t think I’d refuse an interview to someone just because they had a Yahoo email address. I may, however, think twice if their prefix is krazzygurl1980@. (Man, I hope that’s not someone’s real address, but it probably is. I’m sorry in advance for using you as an example! I’m sure you’re a nice person.)


Lifehacker brings up a good point in their post: there are times when what’s most important is to have your own domain. Like my address @meghanwilker.com vs. my address @gmail.com. If you own a small business, it adds to your credibility to have an email address at your own domain instead of one through a free service.

Again, it depends on your audience. Most muggles could care less about what kind of email address you have, so if you’re selling teddy bears on eBay it probably doesn’t matter. But, if you’re looking for venture capital in Silicon Valley, it’s a different story.

Hope that helps! Now let’s just hope krazzygurl1980 doesn’t come after me…

Podcast #3: Social Media for Job Searching

In our third podcast we talk about some ways to think about social media for job searching. It’s more exciting than it sounds! (Not really, but just go with it.)

Listen Online

Click the cute little button below to stream the audio in your browser window.


Think about three things:

1. Using social media (blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) as ways to generate content about yourself that exposes your smart, savvy brain to potential employers (or people that could help you find potential employers).

2. Using social media to build and expand your network. Find and reach people in your industry that you previously would have had no access to. (Like, on Twitter: follow hashtags for events that are attended by the people you are trying to reach. I mentioned #mimasummit as an example.)

3. Do your homework! You now have NO EXCUSE for showing up to an interview not knowing about the company and the work they do. Set yourself apart from a field of applicants by knowing, and caring, about the organization you’re interviewing with.

MIMA Summit: Notes From the “Closing the Gap” Session

Last year, Nancy and I hosted a conversation about women in Interactive (I can’t remember what we called it. I just remember the original title, “WTF: Where the Females?” which they revised to something more innocuous).

Last Monday, Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt) and I hosted a discussion at this year’s MIMA Summit titled, Closing the Gap: A Discussion About Diversity. This year’s conversation was, quite rightly, expanded to cover issues beyond just gender. It was designed to be a group discussion, but in preparation Dave and I put together an outline. (You know, just in case everyone got all Minnesotan and didn’t ask any questions.)

It was a great session. I would have loved it if the crowd would have been standing room only, but we at least filled all the seats (especially considering that we were up against sessions like @scottmonty from Ford). And, frankly, I wasn’t entirely surprised — there are plenty of people who’d rather talk about something else, plenty of people who feel like there is no lack of diversity or that — if there is — it’s not really a problem (seriously, I had someone say that to me the other day). Those who did show up brought some great insights.

So, here’s our outline along with some notes and commentary. (Shout out to @whitneytaylor for being our volunteer note-taker and to @ivan_nunez for being our Twitterhost!) Also, was great to meet @jaredlukes, @carlos_abler, @melshirley and @kdfindley in person! (There were lots of other people there, too — if you’d like a mention, drop me a line. I didn’t get to talk to everyone one-on-one!)


  • How many people know about Geek Girls Guide? About Flashbelt? Have been to Flashbelt?
    • Most people in the group had heard about the Flashbelt thing (which you can read about here, here and here.) Carlos Abler made a fantastic point during the course of the discussion, that shocking events help you realize what other people are feeling. They help you learn empathy by looking at how and why a person — or a group of people — felt a certain way. He also said that events help you take a postion on an issue, opening up conversation, rather than just starting the conversation out of the blue, which can be harder. Amen, Carlos! This is a great point. For me, the absolute best thing that came out of the Flashbelt situation was the conversations it has opened up.
  • Who’s here today? Developers? Marketers? Designers? IAs? Facebookers? Twitterers?
    • There was a good mix of job titles in the crowd: developers, designers, project managers, IAs — we ran the gamut.
  • How long have you been in the industry? 0-5, 5-10, 10+
    • Again, a good mix of people with a broad range of experience.
  • How many people consider their workplaces:   1. very diverse    2. sort of diverse     3. not diverse
    • Most people considered their workplace “sort of” or “not” diverse. Not surprising, since we’re talking about an industry that lacks diversity and we’re in Minnesota (which, according to 2007 government stats is 89% white).
  • Let’s talk ballpark stats
    • We talked about how hard it is to get overall stats for the interactive industry as a whole. Most stats focus on the dearth of female developers. Other parts of our industry, like designers, writers, information architects, etc. may be more diverse but it’s hard to know.
    • Dave found a fan-freaking-tastic set of stats from A List Apart which shows the industry as overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white. While most of the respondents were developers, there are many other job titles represented in this survey.


  • What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Race, Gender, Age, Disabled?
    • One conversation that came up around diversity was age. One point being that this can be — like advertising — a “young man’s game.” Meaning, the hours and demands can be crazy. Someone brought up the salary issue (women right now make about 78 cents to every dollar earned by a men) and that, in this economy, both young people and women can be seen as desirable beacuse they are willing to work for less. Someone wondered what the industry will do with the “baby boom” of developers that hit an age and don’t want that lifestyle anymore?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does it affect your work, the quality of your work, the quality of your work life?
    • One person mentioned that a diverse team can lead to richer work.
    • We asked everyone why they came. One person pointed out that ours was the only session talking about the people working in Interactive rather than the products or technology. I think this is a great point, and one I’d like to bring up to the folks over at MIMA. Future Summits should include more conversation about the culture of our industry.
    • Somebody else brought up that we work in an irreverent industry. One point that I made is that, while I think issues of diversity and equality are incredibly important, I would hate to see our industry become overly politically correct-ified. If that makes any sense. I love working in an industry that is not formal or stuffy; so, how do we maintain that culture AND be inclusive? I think it’s a happy medium that is difficult, but possible, to find.


So what can we do as individuals  in our own lives to encourage and foster more diversity around us?

  • Mentor (be one, get one)
    • Encourage people in your organization to get involved with mentorship programs, especially in mentoring kids or young professionals outside of our usual networks. @melshirley talked about how her company (a mentoring company) matches executives with kids they would otherwise not encounter. 
    • So, how can we expand outside of our usual networks to reach out to kids (or other adults) that would benefit from our expertise? How could we open the door for a person who otherwise may not know much about the industry.
    • More outreach and introduction to the industry as a whole, for the younger generations (in schools). @KDFindley made a wonderful observation about how more of us should be getting into the schools; it’s unlikely that guidance counselors are even aware of the careers that we have.
    • Carlos stated this as “Create an empowerment model for kids rather than fixing broken adults.” Another person in the group wondered if shifting the talk to empowering kids brushing off the issue now and hope they will fix it tomorrow?
  • Raise boys and girls the same (don’t reinforce stigmas or misconceptions intentionally or accidentally)
  • Subtle environmental things – jokes, holidays, heroes, villains
    • This is a personal peeve of mine. I’ve been known to make my friends and family really uncomfortable if I hear them make a joke that I think is insulting I will say, “That’s not funny.” and walk away. (Wow, I’m making myself sound like a lot of fun at parties, aren’t I?) Most of what we encounter in our daily lives are not “shocking events” but small things that we may not even be conscious of. We should all start being more conscious.
  • Get involved with local programs, start programs, start a blog, become a resource
  • How can you push a diverse culture upwards towards your employers? (encourage corporate sponsorship of something – start something – interns)
    • “Everyone wants this issue to resolve on its own, or not at all. Know where you’re at and live it.” said Dave.
    • “Acknowledge that other cultures and groups have different ways of doing things. Our attitude should be, ‘Here are the tools, do it on your terms.'” Ivan talked about his experience as a person who speaks both English and Spanish and how he’s had people respond to his Spanish tweets with, “English, please.”
    • Dave made a great point, which is that we can’t force the 50/50 thing, but we can work to remove all barriers to entry so that a more fair representation (by gender, race, etc.) would be possible.
  • How do we make working more flexible, we have the technology?
    • This was my point, and one I believe in quite strongly. We are still a new industry, and the access and expertise we have with technology means that we shouldn’t feel constrained to fit into these old business models. As an example, most of the points at which women tend to drop out of the workforce could be mitigated by a more flexible workplace. As a personal example, when I had my second child (which is a point at which many women stop working because of the additional responsibilites of a second child, along with the daycare costs which can sometimes exceed their salary), I presented a plan to my company to institute a Babies at Work program. My son came to work with me several days a week up until he was 6 months old. When I went back to work with my daughter, I worked from home one day a week for the first 6 months. We have the technology! Let’s start using it to create the inclusive, flexible workplaces of the future. There is ROI there, I swear it.


Minnesota High Tech Association –  http://www.mhta.org/
Minnesota Computers for Schools – http://www.mncfs.org/
Minnesota MentorNet: A Statewide E-Mentoring Partnership – http://www.mentornet.net/
The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps – http://wip.technologypower.org/about/
SeniorNet  –  http://www.seniornet.org/jsnet/
Center for Children and Technology – http://cct.edc.org/
Internal Drive Summer Computer Camps for Kids – http://www.internaldrive.com/
Digital Media Academy – http://digitalmediaacademy.org/
Finding Ada Lovelace –  http://findingada.com/
Girls in Tech  – http://girlsintech.net/
Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications – http://www.mnwc.org

If you have more thoughts on the session or resources to add, we’d love to hear them!

Thanks for coming. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being you.


A Response from Hoss Gifford and a Follow-up by Dave Schroeder

Dave and Hoss sent us the following letters this morning. We hope that everyone who has been involved takes the time to read them.

There is one important note that we feel compelled to add to the discussion at this point: We do not condone or endorse the negative, vitriolic and, in some cases, violent direction that many of the tweets and comments in this discussion have taken. Our intention was to start a public conversation, not to threaten anyone or make them fearful.

There has been lots of ugliness in this conversation. We don’t support that, but we can’t control the conversation. We’ve tried to do what we can to keep it productive and positive. The good news is that a vocal discussion is taking place that indicates that there may be a positive impact beyond just the Minneapolis community. Thanks to everyone who has contributed constructively to the discussion.

Read Dave’s letter >

I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.

I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well.  I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt.  Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees.  The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him.  I take full responsibility for this.  I exercised poor judgment.  I admit to my mistakes. read more >

Read Hoss’s Letter >

On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected. read more >

Dave Schroeder: A continuation of my comments and apology regarding Hoss Gifford’s talk at Flashbelt.

I feel compelled to say something that may not make sense to some people. In my heart I know I have to say this. I suppose it’s PR suicide.

I try to be a person of integrity, and accept responsibility for my actions. I can’t live with myself if I don’t act accountably to everyone involved in this situation. And that means some accountability to Hoss as well.  I’m very distressed by the degree of demonization being aimed at Hoss as a result of his presentation at Flashbelt.  Again, I do not condone offensive content and I don’t want it presented to my attendees.  The content was inappropriate. I knew enough about his presentation style to be held accountable for booking him.  I take full responsibility for this.  I exercised poor judgment.  I admit to my mistakes.

However, I can’t in good conscience just leave him out to there to burn at the stake as he currently is. It would be easy to let him be the sacrificial lamb and for me to try and save my reputation.  Perhaps all I’ll do is end up on the stake with him, I can handle that, I deserve that, but I can’t live with myself if I don’t put all of my cards on the table here and represent my complete feelings on this matter to everyone, about everyone.  My reputation should be tarnished, I made serious errors and I accept the repercussions.

I’ve known Hoss for a few years. I’ve had good, respectable fun with him.  I like him as a person.  He has a sharp mind.  He has a good heart.  I’ve included comments about his person from the beginning.  For those who find that unimaginable, I suspect you don’t know him personally, or outside for the buzz around his presentation at Flashbelt.   I believe that whether you know him or not, everyone’s opinion on the content of his presentation is valid.  REPEAT, all opinions are valid whether you were there or not.  But certainly some opinions are more informed, and are more aware of the actual content than others, and it makes sense to give different degrees of consideration to these opinions.  Several people who were in attendance have posted their views on the session. I encourage you to find and read their posts, simply to be as informed as possible.

Finally, the calls to incite hatred and cause physical harm to him are simply absurd to me, and to a real degree dangerous.  Comments and calls to action of that sort are unsophisticated and unproductive.    Imagine if people had access to social media during the Salem witch hunts or the era of McCarthyism.   Would we have burned more witches because of Twitter, or would we have stopped it sooner because of Twitter?  I’m not talking about the cause of the mob here; being a witch or a communist is not equatable to Hoss’ presentation.  The offense was committed for sure.  But the way in which the public carries itself in response to any controversy is worth reflection.

*One amendment to my first response and apology; I referred to Hoss’ content as offensive and misogynistic in my apology.  Now that I’ve had the chance to talk with more people who attended the session.   I believe that it was offensive, but misogynistic (hatred of women) is not correct.  I know Hoss well enough to know he’s not a misogynist.  If I thought that about him I would never have booked him. Accurate language is very important.

Hoss contacted me Saturday. We spoke Sunday. I can assure you his taking this seriously as well and feels badly about the effect of his presentation.

Dave Schroeder
Flashbelt Producer
[email protected]

Letter from Hoss:

On Tuesday 9th June I gave a presentation at the Flashbelt conference that contained some content that some of the audience found offensive. It was wrong for those people to have been exposed to this content without their consent. For this, I take full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies to the audience members that were affected.

In order for people that were not present at the presentation to develop a more informed opinion, I have posted the content of my slides and sites I linked out to at http://hossgifford.com/2009/flashbelt/.

I would like to point out that, at the time of writing this, I have received considerably more positive feedback on my Flashbelt presentation than negative – if you exclude those who did not attend the presentation. This affirmation includes female attendees going out their way to stop me at the conference and thank me openly for my presentation. I have received no emails, phone calls or any other form of direct contact with any negative comments.

It’s also worth noting that in the couple of days I spent at the conference venue after my presentation, not a single person approached me to express any concern about any part of my presentation. I attended presentations and the organised evening events making myself very visible, and yet nobody complained to me.

I can be crude and my presentations can be risqué but I am neither sexist nor a misogynist. I am concerned that my presentation is being described as being loaded with both. Not guilty. I have a strong willed wife and two young daughters – I wouldn’t last two minutes with the merest hint of misogyny. That said, my presentation could definitely cause offence to some people in society, and I have never tried to be to everyone’s taste.

To quote Courtney Remes, “It’s all about context. This was not the right context for Hoss.” She’s absolutely right. It was a mistake for my presentation to feature as a keynote presentation at Flashbelt – even if it had been labelled as having adult content as some have suggested. With the benefit of hindsight I should have suggested a less prominent spot, or even an evening appearance at a bar venue. Either way, there will always be people that feel there is no place for a presentation like mine, as there will always be people that would like to ban lewd comedians and violent video games.

I do, however, owe one further apology. But first some context. I spent the the morning leading up to my presentation in Fairview hospital ER being treated for a broken hand, which was splinted (still is, as I type this), and I was given a strong pain killer called Vicodin. I gave my talk while heavily under the influence of Vicodin, and as a result of this poor judgement I was looser with my language than I would normally have been, but the content of my presentation went ahead as planned. One statement I made, that if you are easily offended then f*** you, was wrong, and out of character, and I apologise to everyone that attended my presentation for this. If you get the opportunity to listen to a recording of the talk you will hear me stumbling for something to say as I resort to the profanity. I would not have made this offensive statement if I hadn’t been non compos mentis.

My conference presentation has evolved over the last 8 years based on both the direction my work, and crucially, the feedback I get from my talks – and I get a lot. Prior to this talk I received zero complaints regarding offending any members of the audience. I accept this is no guarantee that nobody was offended, but I can only work with the feedback I receive. The irreverent side to my presentations historically received the most praise and I reacted accordingly by increasing the level of banter.

The more raucous my presentation became, the better the feedback I received and in turn the more conference organisers invited me to speak. When a conference invites me to speak they know my talk will be as risqué and entertaining as it is informative. Flashbelt is no exception in this.

Indeed, I performed the exact same presentation two weeks earlier at the Flash on Tap conference in Boston, with a great deal of positive feedback, and more than three quarters of the presentation was made at conferences in Brighton, Belgium, and Germany last year – again with universally positive feedback. Now I have feedback of another nature and I will absolutely take this on board.

But try for a second, if you will, to put yourself in my shoes.

You’ve been making conference presentations that have brought positive feedback for many years and Flashbelt initially seems no different. But all of a sudden there is a massive backlash against your appearance, a backlash full of inaccuracies and exaggerations – what we call tabloid journalism in the UK – a type of journalism where facts needn’t be checked if they can bring in readers. Do you start posting a defence, pointing out the inaccuracies, and try to get people to see sense? Or do you do what I did, and read everything that’s written on the subject and wait for the dust to settle and tempers to cool.

The problem with waiting is that the mob gets restless – they are out for blood. Consider reading the cry for you to be set on fire, the cry for you to be waterboarded. Consider, as I had to yesterday morning, what to tell your wife when she doesn’t want to open the blinds in your house for fear that someone is waiting out there to cause you harm.

If Flashbelt had booked an adult comedian for the conference who had caused offence would you be set on destroying their career as a comedian, and work on a witch hunt to destroy their day job while you were at it? All because they did what they do, but in the wrong context.

It may seem perverse, but I am delighted at the quantity (if not the quality) of dialogue that this has initiated around the subject of equality in the developer community. I would love to see more female speakers at conferences, as I know of so many phenomenally talented women in influential positions (just look at the Flash Player dev team for example). But don’t forget how many fabulous female speakers there already are. In the Flash community I have yet to see Veronique Brossier, Niqui Merret, or Stacey Mulcahy give a bad talk, and Flashbelt this year was no exception. But until now I’ve never really thought anything of them being girls, they were always just talented peers.

Where do we go from here? I suspect this isn’t the lie-down-and-kick-me apology that the lynch mob is looking for and some will continue their mission for blood. These are the people that wrote tweets and comments with the line “I wasn’t there but…” in them. We all know the ignorance of people who use the lines “I’m not racist but…” and “I’m not sexist but…”.

There is nothing I can do to stop these people from putting their energy into destroying my career. If that’s what you feel would be most productive in achieving your goals then there’s nothing me or anyone else is going to say to slow you down.

To those of you who are using this eruption of attention to address the real issue of gender equality within our industry, I salute you. I encourage everyone to take part in the dialogue and to help make a tangible difference in the future. If you feel there is anything I can do to help, then post a comment – I read them all.

In addition to my apologies I have some thanks to give. First and foremost I’d like to thank Courney Remes for making a stand and going out on a limb to initiate this whole dialogue. Hopefully in the future, this won’t be considered ‘going out on a limb’. I’d also like to thank Dave Schroeder for being the utmost professional by being both supportive and accountable. Flashbelt really is one of the best conferences in the world and it’s all down to Dave – don’t let this incident put you off. Thanks also go out to Nancy and Meghan for providing a home f
or this discourse, and helping keeping things on topic when the lynch mob started to get out of control.

Perhaps my biggest thanks, however, go out to the people that also went out on a limb and posted a more rounded account of what went down. In the heat of the moment when the accusation is misogyny, it could be construed that to ask people to rationally consider the situation is to condone such behaviour. Thankfully there are enough level headed people out there to realise there is usually more than one side to a story. You know who you are – I am in your debt.

Once again, to Courtney and the other men and women in the audience that took offence to my presentation, I apologise unreservedly. I really do hope we can now turn this into a debate that creates a positive outcome.

Hoss Gifford.
Glasgow, June 15th 2009.

We’re In This Together, by Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker

Read Courtney’s letter

Well. My letter-turned-blog entry sparked some responses. A lot of them. I’m heartened that so many people have been so overwhelmingly supportive — but I also knew there might be some disagreement and debate. This is a normal part of any serious conversation about complex and important issues, though, and should be expected – and encouraged. By sharing my experience, I hoped to make space for this conversation, to open a dialogue, to help give voice to an issue worth speaking about. read more >

Read Dave’s letter

I want to assure you that I’m deeply upset about the presentation given recently at the Flashbelt Conference by Hoss Gifford. I’m disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen and I accept responsibility for it. I apologize for it.

His presentation included several offensive and misogynistic elements that I do not condone. I realize as the creator and producer of this conference I have the sole responsibility for the content presented and in this instance I have clearly failed to live up to my own standards, and the standards expected of me by the attendees, our industry and the general public. read more >

Read Meghan and Nancy’s letter

This is not a crusade against Flashbelt, an attack on Dave Schroeder or an attempt to lump all men into a tongue-waggling wolf-whistling boy’s club. This isn’t about anyone’s delicate lady ears not being able to handle the word fuck.
This is a specific account of a presentation at an event that — sadly —  is an example of behavior and attitudes toward women that are not as uncommon as you might think. read more >

From Courtney Remes (@totage)

Well. My letter-turned-blog entry sparked some responses. A lot of them. I’m heartened that so many people have been so overwhelmingly supportive — but I also knew there might be some disagreement and debate. This is a normal part of any serious conversation about complex and important issues, though, and should be expected – and encouraged. By sharing my experience, I hoped to make space for this conversation, to open a dialogue, to help give voice to an issue worth speaking about.

There has been some talk about how this conversation will ruin Flashbelt, about campaigning against men, and about how I was calling the flash community a “boys’ club.” Those are not and never were my intentions. Outside this Hoss incident, I love Flashbelt, otherwise I would not have kept coming back. Over the years, Dave has continued to bring to Minneapolis some seriously talented and inspiring people and I support his efforts. And he has also taken responsibility for the Hoss booking and is very open to discourse and new, positive action. Let’s get those things clear. I also want to point out that this is also just not a “women’s issue” – it’s a community issue. I know that a lot of the men in the audience were as stunned as I was at Hoss’ keynote and felt that it was totally inappropriate in that context. All of us would have preferred to have had our imagination sparked, our minds invigorated, and our love of creative work confirmed and encouraged. Hoss stole those classic Flashbelt moments from us – and replaced them with an energy and dynamic not becoming of an intelligent, forward-thinking group of people.

This is an opportunity for us to step back and ask some important questions of ourselves: When a person or organization creates an environment that appears to foster a “boy’s club” mentality, how do we react – and make sure that it doesn’t happen again? How do we value our differences without isolating or ostracizing?  How do we rise above the divisions and name-calling – and spend our energy on healthy discourse and forward-thinking actions (and the creative work we love so much)? It’s up to us to decide: what sort of dynamic do we want to create, within the Flash community and in any professional environment?

This is an opportunity for Flashbelt – and for all of us – to take this to a higher, more positive level. We don’t need to be tripped up by something like this or collapse in on ourselves. We’re smarter than that. And there are a lot of us – Dave and Flashbelt, Geek Girls, and everyone who has been touched by this incident. How can we keep this conversation from disintegrating – and, instead, transform it to good use? back to top ^

From Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt), Flashbelt Director

I want to assure you that I’m deeply upset about the presentation given recently at the Flashbelt Conference by Hoss Gifford. I’m disappointed in myself for allowing it to happen and I accept responsibility for it. I apologize for it.
His presentation included several offensive and misogynistic elements that I do not condone. I realize as the creator and producer of this conference I have the sole responsibility for the content presented and in this instance I have clearly failed to live up to my own standards, and the standards expected of me by the attendees, our industry and the general public.

Gender issues in general and in our industry are of great importance to me. I consider myself a feminist and don’t hesitate to say it. I want our industry to be a place where all genders and races work together in a respectful, supportive fashion. That has been my M.O. since day 1 and is not just a wake up call brought on by this instance. Working together, men and women can elevate their skills, creativity and successes. The ultimate goal of Flashbelt is to aid every attendee in their desire to further their professional skills and knowledge. I want men and women to mingle, talk shop, have fun and geek out. Allowing a presentation to create an atmosphere that hinders this scenario is tragic failure on my part.

Off color jokes and boys’ clubs exist in the workplace and it’s not cool. These things can add up to create an environment in which women feel like outsiders, or on unequal footing with their male co-workers. As for suggestions along the lines of growing a thicker skin, or leaving if you don’t like it, I don’t accept that rationale. It’s flawed. I know many women that do this in order to cope, but it’s not a solution. Inappropriate behavior needs to be addressed by everyone in the room. And in my opinion, it’s not all that hard to just be a good person and get out of your old ways. I think some men have a tendency to default to poor behavior because it’s what they’ve known, and provides and easier way to connect with other males. It’s low hanging fruit. You don’t have to be that clever to be a “guy’s guy”. On the flip side, I know several women who can swear like truckers with the best of ’em, and who will whoop your booty in a game of agency dodge ball. There’s really a lot more common ground between men and women than we sometimes see. So I encourage you to take minute and assess how you fit into this issue, what you believe and how others around you carry themselves. I’ve been very fortunate to work with great teams of men and women over the years and when those teams operate in a respectful, supportive way, they really rock the block. And it’s more fun for everyone. I should add that I know a lot of men in this industry who feel the same way as I do about this. In fact, I would suggest that the majority of them do. If you follow the social media buzz you’ll see several of these men commenting on this issue. It’s one of the reasons I love my job and this field. There really is a great cross section of creative and interesting people around us doing great things, in respectful ways.

I started the Flashbelt conference 6 years ago in Minneapolis with a mission statement: The mission of Flashbelt is to bring together new media designers, developers and enthusiasts to share knowledge, inspiration and build community. Since the first event I have been the sole organizer and producer of the event. I’ve been able to gather together some of the most exciting minds in the field and present them to my attendees. I call them my attendees because I think of them as my responsibility, and my friends. I pride myself on the presentations I’m able to arrange and beam in the encouraging feedback I get every year from them. This event is my baby. I pour myself into it. In Minneapolis I’ve arranged 14 workshops and over 180 presentations. Nothing like this has happened before. This is a blip — a big blip that I will not soon forget. And again, it’s one that I take full responsibility for. But I hope that my overall track record can serve as better indicator of my ambitions and agenda for the Flashbelt conference.

I want to personally thank Courtney Remes for her blog post and having the strength to address this issue. She and I know each other via the conference over the years and I would like to directly apologize to her for subjecting her to this presentation. We’ve been speaking and I’m saddened to hear about the effect the session has had on her, as well as some of the follow up comments coming out online. She’s a cool person and I commend her for speaking out. This is a subject that requires further conversation and hopefully this can be a point of ignition that results in some progress around this issue. (By the way, she mentioned to me that’s she not thrilled to be in the spotlight because of this and I encourage you keep that in mind. She’s rightfully, genuinely concerned and not just putting stuff out there to rant or see how many hits she can get. She’s good people.)

Courtney along with Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker of the GeekGirlsGuide.com and I had a meeting on June 12th to discuss things and I can safely say that we are all on the same page. Nancy and Meghan are nice, supportive people and I think what they’re doing with the resource for women online is wonderful. I’m thankful they have been open to hearing me out and have offered to help assist me in setting the record straight, and posting this letter. They’re very fair and I appreciate that. A lot of energy and buzz has been brought on by this event. We will be working together to guide that energy in a pro-active direction.

Attendees. I certainly owe every attendee at Flashbelt this year and over years an apology for this as well. They’ve been a wonderful group of people and I failed you by delivering conference content well below the level you’ve grown to expect and deserve. I will be messaging all 2009 attendees directly with this same apology. For those male and female attendees who have sent notes of support I appreciate it. I encourage you all to get involved with this discussion. You are very important to me.

Sponsors. I also apologize to the companies and individuals that have sponsored and marketed at Flashbelt over the years. They expect to be associated with a good event that enhances your image and visibility and benefits your customers. I failed to deliver that this year. In no way should anyone hold these sponsors responsible for this situation. They have been great partners over the years and their involvement allows Flashbelt to be the great event that it is. I value their support and regret that my judgment has failed them in this instance. Thank you for your continued support.

Speakers. It greatly saddens me that the big buzz about Flashbelt this year is focused on one individual when I know that the other 39 speakers delivered excellent presentations. They put countless hours in to preparing for their talks. They’re brilliant and I’m very fortunate to have them participate in my little event. I encourage everyone to search twitter @flashbelt for tweets that took place between June 7th and 10th to get sense of what attendees had to say about the other sessions they we’re witnessing at Flashbelt. These speakers deserve to be in the limelight at this point for their awesome presentations. I’m sorry. You know I love you.

How did this happen?
There is no long exhaustive answer. I made a terrible error in judgment. I knew there was potential for this to occur and I blew it. And for that I deserve to on the hot seat for this. Hot seat accepted. Which I think raises a good point about the gender issues addressed above. Even a guy like me, who knows what is appropriate and what is inappropriate can be lazy at times, or even appear to be in a mild coma when inappropriate behavior occurs. It’s important keep your own values close and online all the time. I’ll certainly be working to improve thi
s aspect of myself.

Hoss Gifford. I feel that I have failed Hoss, too, by not addressing some of his inappropriate behaviors. This is another piece of the puzzle. Sometimes we let people we like get away with doing or saying things we don’t like, but eventually that hurts everyone. So it’s good to speak up when you see anyone going down the wrong path. That is respectful as well. Hoss is a person like all of us, and all of us can change if we want to, and can learn to see things differently. If he’s open to it, I will certainly take time to work with him on these things. Abuse him if you must, but keep in mind that there is a heart and soul there as well. I’m not defending his presentation; I’m just saying that his presentation is a part of him, not all of him. I believe that it’s better to help people change their ways than to push them farther back into a corner and if he’s open to talking about that, I’ll participate.

Now What? What’s done is done and we can’t go back in time. How I wish I could. We can only move forward and attempt to use this event to make some change. I will personally work out a more formal way to vet and qualify speakers and their content. This egregious error on my part will not be repeated. There are a lot of good brains out there following this and I am open to your suggestions as well.

Moving Forward.
In an attempt to take advantage of the energy that has arisen around this issue, with assistance from Courtney, Nancy and Meghan, I will be organizing and sponsoring a meeting event focused on gender issues in our field. Hopefully this will occur within the next few weeks. Please stay tuned and get involved.

Once again, I am deeply saddened by what has transpired. I take this very seriously. I accept complete responsibility. I will work tirelessly to make Flashbelt the event that people have come to expect. And it will not be an event that in anyway condones behavior that is inappropriate. I will not let you down again. Please accept my apology. back to top ^

From Nancy Lyons (@nylons) and Meghan Wilker (@irishgirl), Geek Girls Guide

This is not a crusade against Flashbelt, an attack on Dave Schroeder or an attempt to lump all men into a tongue-waggling wolf-whistling boy’s club. This isn’t about anyone’s delicate lady ears not being able to handle the word fuck.

This is a specific account of a presentation at an event that — sadly —  is an example of behavior and attitudes toward women that are not as uncommon as you might think.

Does it happen overtly every single day? No.

Does it happen more than it should? Yes.

Should it stop? Yes.

Are there men who aren’t anything like this? YES! And many of them — including Dave — have expressed their dismay at what happened.

Are there plenty of successful, geeky women who don’t let things like this slow them down, or stop them? YES! We consider ourselves among them. We know for damn sure Courtney is one of them. We love our jobs. We love our industry. We love our geeky male peers who treat us as equals and who agree that crap like this is not okay!  But the expectation that we should not be angry over this is offensive. Using words like “lynching” or “jihad” or “crusade” doesn’t move the conversation forward in any way.  There is no point to anger without action.

We’re saddened that the discussion has, for some, devolved into inflammatory exchanges. That’s the nature of social media and things have taken on a life of their own. But, we’re not sorry that we said something about it. Accepting things with silence and a smile is not okay.

Our hope in posting Courtney’s experience was that professional women and men would rally against this sort of behavior, just like they have done.

We couldn’t very well have the discussion without calling out the event and the event’s producer.  We do not apologize for that.  But we do admire and appreciate Dave’s courage in being willing to step up and work with us to move the conversation in a positive direction.

To his credit, Dave responded quickly to this and admitted making a big mistake. Everyone needs to recognize that it is difficult to publicly admit to a mistake and we know he feels lousy. We are standing up with him here to talk about how to channel this energy into something positive.

If you are angry about what happened, great. So are we.  But, please turn those feelings into some positive action or all of this will have been for naught.

Dave offered to host a panel discussion about this in Minneapolis. Later today, we’re going to try to launch a separate page on this site for people to submit additional ideas to this discussion.

Where else can we go from here? Here are a few ideas; pick one of these, or come up with your own!
– Dave offered to host a panel discussion about this in Minneapolis. Think about attending or speaking.
– Support organizations that encourage girls and women to get into — and to stay in — technology careers.
– If you are a woman with an established career in this industry, reach out to those who are younger than you and pull the next one up. Embrace your expertise and submit yourself for consideration to speak at events.
– If you are a man, don’t tolerate this kind of behavior from your peers. Speak up in defense of your female peers, whether they are in the room or not.

We started the conversation, but we can’t control it. The situation has raised a rat’s nest of complex issues, which we can’t solve in 140 characters or less.  But talking about them can hopefully increase understanding on both sides and make things better for the next generation of little geeks coming up in the world  — girls and boys alike.

No doubt, next year’s Flashbelt conference will be richer, and more rewarding, because of the dialogue we’re having today. back to top ^

Prude or Professional? by Courtney Remes

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

Today we received the following email from a respected colleague outlining her experience at a recent Flash developer conference in Minneapolis.  We asked for her permission to post it here in the hopes of sending a very strong message to the conference organizers and sponsors, but also to the Interactive community at large.  It’s hard enough for women to be taken seriously in the technology space.  Certainly, there are plenty of successful, celebrated women here.  But when we hear about situations like this we realize that, in spite of all the progress we’ve made, we still have such a huge fight ahead of us.

Don’t get us wrong, we are not women who can’t handle off-color humor, or provocative messages, or even erotic digital art.  But each of these has its place.  Paying for a professional conference and being subjected to this kind of content is infuriating.

Let’s talk about the content: was it reviewed by the program’s producers?  If so, they failed.  If not, they failed.

As managers of a Minneapolis-based Interactive shop, we know the Flashbelt demographic is largely young, white males (in fact, we saw many of them at the Flashbelt afterparty at Nye’s Polonaise Room last night).  Is this the standard we’re setting for them as professionals?

If, after reading this post, you find this as abhorrent as we do, then do something about it.

  • Contact the event organizers and make them aware of your concern over this kind of content being celebrated at their events.
  • Contact the event sponsors and tell them how this impacts your impression of their products and services.
    • UPDATE (6/11): Dave Schroeder, the Flashbelt organizer, has been very responsive both privately (via emails to us, Courtney and others who have emailed him directly) and publicly (with an open letter on the Flashbelt site).
    • UPDATE (6/12): Dave Schroeder, Courtney Remes, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met this morning and had a great discussion. We’re working together on a united response, which will be posted here as soon as it’s done. This has obviously touched a nerve with a lot of people. Let’s keep the dialogue going, and let’s keep it positive and respectful. We finished our response! Read it here.
  • Comment on this post and let it serve as a petition.
  • Tweet about this and use the hashtag #prosnotprudes.
  • Digg this and let’s make a statement.

“Boys will be boys,” is not an attitude that professional men and women can afford to support anymore. And, Courtney, thanks for sticking your neck out. We’re grateful that you’re willing to share your story.

WARNING: The following contains graphic descriptions and words that some may find objectionable. It’s not safe for work, children, grandparents or small animals.

Ok, so, I want to share this experience with you and get your take on it.

I have been attending only the afternoons of Flashbelt this year because I didn’t want to take the full days off — and because in years past (I think I’ve been to at least three others) the afternoon keynote is totally mindblowingly talented and innovative and has provided me with that out-of-the-ordinary experience that temporarily removes you from your everyday routine and inspires you to be more creative.  In short, I wanted to be inspired.

Yesterday’s afternoon keynote is this guy named Hoss Gifford — I believe his major claim to fame is that viral “spank the monkey” thing that went around a few years back.  Highlights of his talk:

  • He opens his keynote with one of those “Ignite”-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman’s lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say “drink me,” with Hoss’s Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.
  • He later demos a drawing tool he has created (admittedly with someone else’s code) and invites a woman to come up to try it.  After she sits back down, he points out that in her doodles she’s drawn a “cock.”
  • Then he decides he wants to give a try at using the tool to draw a “cock” (he loves this word) — and draws a face, then a giant dick (he redraws it three times) that ultimately cums all over the face.
  • A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also “If you are easily offended, fuck you!”
  • And then, to top it off, a self-made flash movie of an animated woman’s face, positioned as if she’s having sex with you, who gradually orgasms based on the speed of your mouse movement on the page.

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded and easy-going person, but I was shocked that this was considered appropriate material for a conference about innovative developments in the world of flash and the greater creative field.  And that I’d paid to see this.  And that a number of people laughed at his jokes — perhaps because probably 90-95% of the people there were male.  Having been a computer science major in college and a programmer for the last 9 years, I’m using to being the minority in these sort of development environments, but this was the first time I really felt like it was a boys’ club.  A boys’ club where “girls” could hang out, but they are ultimately considered nothing more than objects of sexual gratification.

I checked Twitter (hashtag #flashbelt) to see what the responses were.  Here are some notable remarks:

  • Fonx is reading the #flashbelt rants on Hoss offending the ladies w/ a few swear words & a penis drawing – r u really that prudish & sexist?
  • nthitz lol @hoss69 “If you are easily offended, fuck you” #flashbelt
  • livenootrac Ladies of #flashbelt , I am sorry for the Hoss preso, but in the flash community he gets a pass, kinda like Don Rickles – that’s just Hoss.
  • CujoJpn @livenootrac And there were many ladies at #flashbelt who were offended by Hoss’ Preso some were thick skinned and took it as is.

So, if you didn’t like it then
a) you are a prude – and sexist (?)
b) fuck you
c) suck it because Hoss gets a pass here in the boy’s club known as “the flash community” and
d) you are a wimpy girl who isn’t strong enough / man enough / “thick-skinned” enough  to deal with it.

Uh?  Aren’t we in 2009?  Do we have to “deal with” shit like this still?  I just did a “Mad Men” mini-marathon the other day and one of the common themes is men being total dicks to women and women crying in the bathroom because they can’t speak out about it.  I remember thinking “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t live then.”  And yet you can see the backlash you get if you speak about this sort of thing, NOW.

Since yesterday I’ve been thinking a lot about this, the psychological and social and gender things involved, what it means, what to do about it, etc.  I did immediately write to the director and creator of Flashbelt — and he apologized and said he and I were on the same page and wanted to talk to me about it more.  But I also felt like I wanted to continue a conversation with other women like you, get your take on it, find out if you think I’m just being a baby and too sensitive or what.  To me, this is totally unacceptable.


P.S.  I forgot to mention Hoss’ subsequent tweet on the subject:
Some hated it, more loved it – girls AND boys. Apologies to those offended, but I’ll take raw emotion over indifference any day. #flashbelt

P.P.S.  And finally, this was my favorite tweet (from another woman in attendance):
dlicht Thanks for the Tweets on Hoss’ presentation tonight…they serve as a good filter on who NOT to give my phone number to! #flashbelt

Courtney Remes, Geek

Courtney Remes is creative strategist with more than a decade’s experience in the interactive world.

Before starting Arrowplane, Courtney co-founded Synthetic Kit, where she was Principal and Senior Developer for four years.  Courtney also served for several years as Web & Technology Chair and Co-Vice President of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA), one of the country’s largest and most active IMAs.

UPDATE (6/12): Courtney Remes, Dave Schroeder, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker met on Friday, June 12 and collaborated on a response to this issue. Read it here.

UPDATE (6/15): Hoss Gifford responded. Read it here.

Using the Web at Work, by Andrea Vogel

The Geek Girls were recently asked “Is it safe to log into my mint.com account from work?  I never have time to work on the budget at home, but during lunch is the perfect time.” This question, along with its sister query “Can my employer read my personal email if I am accessing it from my work computer?” and twice-removed-illegitimate cousin question “Is it OK to surf porn at work?”, is one many of us never had to consider when beginning our careers. Placing whispered personal phone calls to a date or a doctor, sure. Surreptitiously reading City Pages under the desk, of course. But only in the last decade has personal usage of company technology become such a serious issue – one often resulting in employee termination, lawsuits, identity theft and more.

The purpose of this article is to outline the answer to this question on four levels: rules, reputation, ruin and reality:

1. Rules. What can and cannot legally be monitored, accessed and/or forbidden by an employer (as it pertains to technology only – I’m not going to comment on the political propaganda hanging in your cube or the micromini that should have been retired when you were 17. Not in this article, at least.)

2. Reputation. Even in company settings with more lenient policies, consideration of your professional reputation is important and often overlooked. If non-work-related online activity is affecting the quality or productivity of your work, it’s time to curtail it. Similarly, if you are visiting “questionable” (read into this however you wish) sites using company technology, your credibility and integrity could be affected within the establishment.

3. Ruin. As in financial: Identity theft. PIN number swiping. Rare, but unfortunately feasible and a serious issue to address.

4. Reality. Situations in which it is most likely alright (highly caveated that you are not to use this article as your defense if you get busted) to disregard the policies and guidelines from points 1, 2, and 3 above.


Without exception, it is completely legal for an employer to monitor an employee’s online activity and information on a computer that is provided by the company. During working hours, after working hours, data saved to a “private” folder on the hard drive, emails sent from a work-provided email address, and even emails sent from a personal email address using said computer.  This information is all legally accessible by the employer – even if it is password-protected.

Even after an employee leaves a company, the employer is within its rights to access and review activity and information from said employee’s computer during her tenure. This 2008 Techdirt.com article reiterates the fact that “anything on the computer is fair game for the employer (even if it’s password protected).” Now granted, this particular article pertains to a former employee that was stealing from the employer, whereas our reader simply wants to check her finances during lunch. Night and day, right? One would think. But it is important for her to know the facts: Her financial information can and may legally be accessed by her employer if she is using Mint.com on her work computer. Even if her manager condones the employee’s taking 5 minutes to do some personal budgeting during the day, another unscrupulous colleague could very well be accessing her financial information. More on this in “Ruin,” below.

While it is legal for employers to monitor and access the activity and information noted above, it goes without saying that many do not. It’s just important to know that they can. The majority of employers I have had, as well as those of my family, colleagues, and friends, will not admonish a competent and productive employee for spending some personal time online during the work day or at home on a work-provided machine. Let’s face it: Most of us work upwards of 40 hours per week and there are bills to be paid, news headlines to be read, and personal correspondence to attend to—and just not enough hours after work to manage all of it. In addition, more and more employers are encouraging their employees to spend some time online each day in non-task-related/billable activities—social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter or company blogs being examples of potentially positive ways to gain knowledge, share information, and promote the company via nontraditional methods.

Unsure about your employer’s policy on personal use of company machines? Ask your manager, read the employee handbook, or play it safe and do it as little as possible…or not at all.


When I informed my manager that I was writing an article on personal use of company technology, he snorted and reminded me that I am on Facebook and Twitter all day. OK, guilty as charged. However,  my productivity reports and completed tasks/projects indicate that my manager’s expectations are being met even with these diversions. If this is the case for our reader as well—that her workload is not being affected by her lunchtime personal budgeting—and she is fortunate enough to work for one of the more understanding employers noted above, then her professional reputation should remain intact. However, if productivity and/or performance are slipping, whether noticed only by the employee or by her colleagues or manager, then it goes without saying that personal use of company technology needs to stop during working hours, plain and simple.

Our era of tweets and blogs also brings up another sort of reputation damage control: that of TMI (too much information.)  Employees who are using company technology to save/send/ post photos of last week’s kegger, or oversharing via status updates that can be viewed by clients or colleagues can find themselves in a world of trouble. Take the recent downfall of Ketchum VP James Andrews, who insulted the fair city of Memphis when in town to meet with his client, FedEx. FedEx employees immediately circulated the tweet corporation-wide, as well as responded scathingly. Awkward.

Be smart about the sites you visit while on company time and equipment, and what you post on said sites. You never know who might be paying attention.


If the reader is using Mint.com, a free online money management application, on a company-owned computer, then her employer has access to any personal information stored within her Mint.com account, even though it is password-protected. It is illegal for her employer or colleagues to use or access that information without just cause, of course, but it is definitely feasible and could lead to theft of finances or identity.

Think twice before accessing financial or personal information on company machines. You could become a victim of identity theft.


So, in a roundabout way we have answered the reader’s question: Is it safe to log in to my mint.com account from work? No, it is not safe – yet it is likely that if your employer condones occasional personal use of company technology during work hours, and if your productivity is not being affected, it is probably fine. Just save the porn-surfing for your own computer on your own personal time, OK?

Andrea Vogel, Geek

Andrea Vogel is a Senior Producer at Popular Front who leads teams in the development of online experiences for clients including Hasbro, Deluxe and Gustavus Adolphus University. She holds a BA in French with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Minnesota, as well as a cosmetology license, of all things.

Follow her on Twitter: AVogel75

What Do I Know? by Kristi McKinney

The following post was submitted by Kristi McKinney, who provides her perspective on being a young, geeky working woman. We love having guest Geek Girls contribute their thoughts. If you’re interested in writing an article for us, please let us know!

As society’s use of — and affinity for — technology has grown, so too has the idea of who uses, manages, and can fix our vast array of gadgets. This field, hobby, and obsession is undoubtedly dominated by men. But what about the women who do make technology their passion, their obsession, and their careers?

I can tell you that I’ve had to shrug cutely and pretend I can’t fix a problem many more times than I’ve been permitted to fix one. As a woman, I’m often brushed aside when anything technical comes up. Why? Because the stereotype of a computer geek is that they’re tall skinny guys with thick glasses, they’re antisocial and they own one of those USB drink coolers. They love WOW, Nethack, and cheese doodles. But just as that stereotype does not fit all male geeks, the gender of the stereotype is also wrong.

I’m a woman and a geek; those are not mutually exclusive. I actually know things about computers and technology.  Break out your defibrillator, a new era of geeks is upon us. We’re women and we do know what we’re talking about. For some of us, our primary occupation has nothing to do with our tech obsessions, while others are closing the gender gap and becoming wonderfully geeky professionals. I was a grad student until not too long ago. I now write web content. Though my job doesn’t require me to be coding or even anything very technical, I end up doing it anyway for a variety of reasons, but not easily. I’m met with skepticism when I announce I can fix the problem at hand.

So what does this mean for us geeky girls? It means we’re endlessly doubted and the geeky tech guys that work at our offices think we’re marginal at best. We face the same challenges that women in the workplace have always faced, but with a little extra ammo.

What should we do? Persist. The next time you can fix something, but no one wants to listen to you, try harder. Make your knowledge known and never be ashamed of it. Don’t worry that you don’t know everything. Be confident and believe in yourself; if you do, others will start to believe in you too.

Kristi McKinney, Geek

Kristi McKinney currently works at Forte, LLC, writing and managing MyWayForward.com. She recently received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota where she studied Russian journalism.  Kristi has had many geeky odd jobs over the years, including helping to write content and build web pages for the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Kristi received her BA in Communication and English with a minor in Russian from the University of North Dakota.