There were a couple of reasons that I didn’t really want to write this post. The first is readily encapsulated in the quote: “let he who is without guilt cast the first stone.” When it comes to diversity and inclusion, I’m not lily-white and have said and done things which have come across as hostile to others. As such, am I really in a position to cast aspersions on others’ actions? The second reason for not wanting to write this post is that, frankly, it’s a little bit like putting salt on fresh wounds. That said, and as a friend often says, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. I’ve seen some things I’m uncomfortable with and it feels like my duty to call them out.

And so, an explanation: at the Cloud Foundry summit this week, there were a couple of incidents where people said and did things which either made others uncomfortable, were inappropriate or were a breach of the conference code of conduct (or a combination of those three.) One event occurred in a private Twitter group chat, which was primarily made up of conference attendees, while the other occurred on the expo floor during the event.

I have to say that, in my view, both incidents were well handled by authority figures – in the first, the Cloud Foundry Foundation, through its executive director Abby Kearns, swiftly responded to the incident and then reiterated that response when things unfortunately escalated. The foundation made a statement clearly pointing out the expected behaviors of conference attendees. In the second incident, the CEO of the company whose employee had made the comment swiftly reached out to ascertain what happened and undertook to resolve the issue.

Job done? Or is it?

The incidents showed just how tone-deaf some members of our industry can be. The party in question in the first incident was adamant that the statement was a joke and kept reiterating that people were being too sensitive about it. While the second incident, taking place as it did mere hours after the entire conference was made aware of the expectations upon attendees, showed an incredible lack of judgment.

All of this got me thinking, once again, about what my female friends in the technology sector go through on a daily basis and how often, even if an issue is dealt with, it is swept under the carpet. Unfortunately, simply sweeping an issue under the carpet doesn’t deal with it and, in essence, those who dismiss the impacts as unimportant or negligible, are as culpable as the protagonists themselves. People need to stand up and call out bad behavior – as the saying goes: If not me, who? If not now, when?

Look, I get it. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we say things without thinking. But people should feel comfortable pointing out that they found a comment, an action or a situation inappropriate. Just like beauty, offense is in the eyes of the beholder. If someone takes offense to what you said, own the issue quickly and emphatically: apologize, explain yourself, explore ways to make amends and do everything you can to put it right. And if, for some reason, someone takes action about what happened, accept that. Sure there is the dictum of natural justice but, to be blunt, individuals who are members of the dominant group aren’t exactly in a position to demand ownership of the moral high ground – sometimes you’ve just got to accept things.

I had a few conversations with Kearns about these issues – after all, she is a woman with a decades-long history in the tech sector, who better to explain the nuances. On the one hand, Kearns would have been excused for wishing the entire incident just went away – it was her show and all of this drama cast a bit of a shadow. To her credit, however, she applauded the fact that people were calling the situation out. Sunlight is, after all, the best disinfectant.

We can all learn something from the event of this week – empathy, understanding, willingness to listen and, to put it crudely, an understanding of how not to act like a dick. it’s that simple, and yet it seems to be incredibly complicated. it seems there’s still a lot of work to do in our industry.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

1 Comment
  • Jennifer Pope |

    To “explain” bad behaviour means we are wrong. Bad behaviour is just that: bad behaviour! To justify, rationalise, defend or explain bad actions is an act to brush it over or push it aside, and to make it not look awful. When we have been called on bad behaviour, especially when it is done in front of others, it is human nature to be embarrassed, humiliated or stunned, so we will endeavour to make it look not so bad to save face. None of these actions: explain, justify, rationalise or defend, will make it right!

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