Stop Abusing the Mansplaining Card

“Anyway: I’m a man, and I guess what I wrote is seen by some as ‘mansplaining.’ I should stay away from now on, maybe. Or stick to advocating for older workers — who also get excluded by bro culture.” — DAN LYONS

This was Dan Lyons’s Facebook response to a charge that he is unqualified to write about toxic tech bro culture for the New York Times. The person making the charge, Lily Herman, writes,

“So, what’s a woke tech dude to do? Well first, when you’re given an opportunity to speak out on these issues, at the very least give tangible credit to the people who did the work. Second, and even better, hand over that microphone and the spotlight to someone from an underrepresented group who can better talk about these issues, likely from experience (annoying, never-ending experience). Lastly, amplify that work — but take yourself out of it. You don’t need a cookie for doing the right thing or for giving someone a signal boost. If you do, that’s a problem for a whole other article to address.”

In his book Disrupted, Dan Lyons outlines the misadventures of startup life over 50. Over a decade in startups, I have worked with women, people of color (including women of color), and LGBT folk. It’s rare to see anyone over 50 — even CEOs and founders. They are very “underrepresented.” It makes you wonder if people in tech eventually get pushed over a cliff or something.

Anyway.

Apparently Ms. Herman, a woman who writes “political hot takes for Glamour,” is the judge and jury for who is “woke**” about tech bro culture. The article was edited by Rachel Sklar, who has been known to call out men in the tech industry.

Unlike Lily and Rachel, Dan Lyons has worked for the exact kind of company he outlined for the New York Times. He was hired, dealt with ageism from their staff, and was then fired. I’m not sure how much more qualified someone has to be to write about this subject. It seems ridiculous that a writer for Teen Vogue would somehow ask Lyons to “take himself out” of this discussion.

So now I’m going to write up a criticism of Lily Herman and Rachel Sklar’s article:
I’ve worked with or for at least two dozen startups, many of whom were in the IT industry. I have walked into IT conferences and counted eight women in a room of over 2oo people. After many years in tech, few would doubt my qualifications to talk about “tech bro culture.”

  1. It can be rough for minorities.
  2. It can be rough for women. Women deemed attractive versus unattractive have different sets of problems.
  3. It can be really rough for minorities who are women. They’re barely ever around. Acting beyond “token status” is sadly a liability.
  4. It can be rough for LGBT people.
  5. It can be rough for people with disabilities, or major illnesses.
  6. It can be rough for people with kids. Multiple this by two if you’re a single parent, or have children with major illnesses or disabilities.
  7. It can be rough for anyone over 40. I have literally never worked with anyone over 50 at a startup.
  8. It can be rough for timid people — even if they are brilliant.
  9. It can be rough if you code in a different language than the founder, even if your language is better for what that founder wants to do.
  10. It can be rough if you are more qualified than the founder to do his or her job.
  11. It can be rough if you work remotely.
  12. Basically, if you aren’t the founder, the original team, or the investors, it’s likely that your voice won’t matter much. That can be dangerous. Many of these founders are being trusted with millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs. The smart ones listen and cover their weaknesses, but the immature ones don’t.

Tech culture needs to change. It’s not just a “women and minority” issue. Many people in startups including men endure severe depression as a result of working insane hours towards the goal of a sale to a bigger company, deemed “the exit.” Exits are hard with inexperienced leaders.

There was a lot of investor money floating around when tech bro cultures like Uber started. This allowed inexperienced and often immature leaders to essentially grant themselves immunity. They were able to negotiate a disproportionate amount of board level power. Leaders drunk on power often make bad decisions, especially if they have little experience.

Please stop playing the sexism card, and recognize the bigger picture here. You are writing about a young industry with no unions and almost no regulation. It is also an industry that is completely misunderstood by politicians and the American public. I’m not sure what qualifies you to dictate who writes about tech culture and who doesn’t, but I enjoyed Dan Lyons’s take on it. I’m not sure why you would insist he wasn’t even qualified to write it.

If women and minorities can’t build bridges, we will never be invited to the board room table. These issues will go under the rug if we can’t even discern a friendly ally from a man who is actively working to alienate or exclude us. There are plenty of other people who want change how tech companies work, including many white men. Please do not vilify those men too.

** BTW Lily, “Woke” is a term generally pertaining to issues in the African American community. I had never seen it used to speak about women’s issues until you used it. Even Merriam Webster backs this up. I find it ironic that you, a white person, called out a “woke” white guy. That doesn’t seem very “woke” to me, but what do I know? I’m a white lady. Anyway, peace. I’m out.

Marketing and Comms Lead at Bonsai.io. Formerly at Heroku, Nexmo, and Twitter. Silly aunt to many. Occasional international spy.