XX in Tech

Business Insider’s Sexist CTO Has Resigned, But He’s Still Everything That’s Wrong With Tech

Everybody listen up, this Executive Man is talking.
Brogrammer incarnate (Photo: Twitter)

Brogrammer ad (Photo: Twitter)

No week is really a great week to be a woman in tech, but this week has been especially terrible–and ladies, it’s only Tuesday.

Hot on the heels of Techcrunch’s Titstare embarrassment, the CTO of one of tech media’s most prolific publications revealed himself to be a hateful bigot fond of tweeting the n-word alongside boring, overplayed missives about “feminazis.”

Until this morning, Pax Dickinson was the CTO of Business Insider, and even though he’s been spewing bile 140 characters at a time for quite a while, it took a Twitter shitstorm to force his resignation.

It was this tweet, sent at a moment when the tech community’s penchant for sexist drivel is already being rightfully thrust under the microscope, that finally pushed him into the spotlight:

https://twitter.com/paxdickinson/status/377173869653549056

From there, a quick stroll through Mr. Dickinson’s tweet history reveals a hateful, ignorant creep who–in case you’d forgotten–was until this morning the technical leader of a massive technology publication. This isn’t some no-name IT consultant echoing sentiments scraped from r/mensrights. This is an executive-level leader at a well-known, venture-backed publication who has become so comfortable and secure in his white dudeness that he fears no retribution whatsoever in tweeting stuff like this:

https://twitter.com/paxdickinson/statuses/18546571881

https://twitter.com/paxdickinson/statuses/373078785744044032

https://twitter.com/paxdickinson/status/375323935018979328

Like most people championing unpopular opinions, Mr. Dickinson and his handful of conservative defenders appear to believe that tweeting sentiments such as “poors shouldn’t procreate” make them somehow brave or praiseworthy, as if they’re simply broadcasting a fundamental truth the rest of us are too P.C. or chicken to come out and say ourselves. With his finger permanently hovering above the block button, Mr. Dickinson exists in a meticulously maintained bubble where anybody who attempts to argue reasonably against his opinions is immediately silenced, allowing him to continue thriving in a world in which privileged brogrammers can tweet a loaded racial epithet free of consequence.

Mr. Dickinson is the most recent and potent example of sexism (and racism, and classism) in tech, but he’s certainly not the only one. Such a rancorous person doesn’t scale the corporate ladder–tweeting all the while!– without some sort of systemic acceptance (or at least tolerance) of his attitudes.

But Mr. Dickinson doesn’t exist in a vacuum: until this morning, he had employees and coworkers and bosses, and yet somehow he’s been allowed to spew hatred at every opportunity with only a meaningless Twitter bio qualifier protecting him: “Unprofessional opinions not endorsed by anyone respectable.” This is a man who had hiring power at a major tech publication yet felt comfortable tweeting about his distaste for women and minorities, whose behavior has been implicitly condoned by the organization he represents. And we wonder why women and minorities are so underrepresented in tech?

“You’re allowed to be racist and sexist until the Internet embarrasses us about it” isn’t an appropriate answer to charges of institutional sexism. It just sends the message: “be sexist–but don’t get caught!” which in some ways is even worse.

Mr. Dickinson has earned our ire, but it’s not enough to come down hard on him. Tweeting something snarky might make us feel all warm inside, and it’ll probably elicit knowing snickers. But will calling out one person–or even getting one person fired–really have a lasting effect on the system that’s allowed Mr. Dickinson to feel perfectly comfortable dropping the N-word on a public platform? To feel okay dismissing wholesale the experiences of women in an industry he shares?

It’s a start, for sure. But until we take a sledgehammer to the structures that shelter dudebros like Mr. Dickinson, I’ll keep getting called bitchy and unqualified and adorable on Twitter and Hacker News and probably even in the comments of this post.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com