The A List Apart Blog Presents:

We Have Work to Do: #yesallwomen and the Web

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Last week, I plucked an article from our submission inbox. It was about getting stuck in the “friendzone,” and likened women not wanting to date men to both the Holocaust and terrorism.

It was obviously ridiculous—a terrible article terribly suited to our magazine. I told the author it was sexist, made a joke about it on the ALA Slack channel, and moved on with my life.

We’re A List Apart, after all. We published “Responsive Web Design.” “The Discipline of Content Strategy.” “A Dao of Web Design.” We’re here to help you make better websites and digital products, not get bent out of shape about every stupid example of sexism we see.

And yet. Someone thought that was right for us.

I woke up Saturday morning to news of tragedy, and watched as that tragedy turned into #yesallwomen, a Twitter conversation about sexism and violence against women so large, so powerful, that most of the women I know contributed to it.

The women I know, by and large, work in tech. They’re your designer, your developer, your content strategist, your user researcher. They’re our authors. And more often than any of us wants to believe, they’re getting groped at tech meetups. They’re receiving death and rape threats for speaking at a conference. Their bodies are being made the targets of office jokes.

They’re being talked down to, fired, catcalled, harassed, abused, and raped—and blamed for it, too.

But of course, that’s not our subject matter. A List Apart is about publishing the Next Big Thing in design. It’s about shaping standards. It’s about the business of building websites.

And yet. When I look at those articles that most influenced my career (and probably many of yours), I see our mission, clear as day: to encourage a more thoughtful, curious, and engaged web industry—one that pushes past easy answers and encourages ongoing growth and learning.

Technical skills—and by that I mean everything from JavaScript to typography to taxonomy—will take us part of the way there, but they’re not enough anymore. Not now, not when we’re facing the big, messy problems that come with designing for an increasingly web-connected world.

We need as many brains and hearts as possible to solve these problems. And if we do not make this a welcoming place for people of all kinds of backgrounds—women, as #yesallwomen clearly shows, but also people of color and younger people and older people and people who don’t speak English as a first language and people with disabilities and even people who don’t think gifs are funny—then we, as an industry, will miss out. We’ll miss out on talent, on perspective, on ideas.

So we, the staff of A List Apart, are putting a stake in the ground: we will be part of this conversation, too. Sexism and discrimination and diversity are not fringe issues—not problems that should be relegated only to niche sites or individuals’ blogs. They’re mainstream issues that have found far too comfortable a home in our industry. An industry we’ve worked too damn hard to grow, guide, and collaborate with to watch it falter and flail now.

We’re not going to stop publishing articles about CSS Shapes or Sass mixins, not for a second. But as we do, we’re also going to be thinking about our responsibility to this community. And that means a few things:

  • We expect the people we publish to be respectful to their community, and we will not publish those we see doing otherwise.
  • We will be vigilant about the voices we choose to amplify, and those we do not.
  • We will actively, purposefully seek out diverse contributors.
  • We’ll be spending more time talking about sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, even if it makes some readers uncomfortable.

Most of all, we’re here, and we’re on the record: the web industry has a diversity problem. It’s got a misogyny problem. It’s standing in the way of the web we want, and we are all—every one of us—responsible for changing that.

60 Reader Comments

  1. Thank you! It’s really refreshing to see such an important culture issue talked about with such grace in a large publication. I hope that other tech publishers follow your example!

  2. Well said, Sara. You’re spot on saying that “we are all–everyone of us–responsible for changing that.” This is not just a women’s issue. It’s a *human* issue that affects us all — including our children, those who will guide the future of the web and our countries.

  3. I was about to write a comment agreeing with your article, then I read Mary Henesey’s comment above, it really says what I was going to say, but much more eloquently.

  4. This is exactly the role of advocate, ally, and champion–and, what the hell, thought leader–that publications like A List Apart should play in our industry and culture. Thank you for stating this perspective without hedging or compromise.

  5. Well said. For those who work on the web, the ability to imaginatively consider perspectives other than our own is fundamental to being able to do our jobs properly.

    For me, ALA has always been about removing obstacles to learning and improving. Whether those obstacles are technical or man made is irrelevant: the fact is they’re in the way.

  6. It’s fantastic to read sentiments like this, I have a very small daughter and I desperately hope she’ll grow up into a world that doesn’t need articles like this.

    I would like to believe that the majority of our industry appreciate that there is a problem, and that there is work to do. I think the difficulty is that nobody knows what that work is, or how they as individuals can help.

  7. So well said! And well done for making your stance and goals on this public. We are all responsible for creating the change we want to see in our industry. It’s so easy to want to ignore that fact because change is hard and uncomfortable. But our industry will only be better for it. ALA is the perfect place to see some leadership on the changes we need to make!

  8. @Will Linssen

    Sometimes, to help and to make a difference, it takes 1) recognizing that something that is done or said to another person is unacceptable, 2) pointing it out to the person who did/said it, and 3) starting a conversation about why.

    I admit, it’s hard to do but can make an impact in your every day life and the people around you.

  9. @WillLinssen Rather like the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” campaign in the US in the 1980s, the campaign for making misogyny unacceptable in tech is at least in part a cultural-message one—just as back then, at eight years old, I’d be horrified to be labeled a “litterbug” (and would summarily call out any of my peers who—gasp!—littered, though this never happened because each in turn would *never* want to be a litterbug), it needs to be Just Obviously Not the Done Thing to behave in ways that squash diversity in Web tech. Roundabout way to answer your question: I think a big piece of the work is just saying the same (supportive, anti-hatred) things over and over again, publicly, even if they seem repetitive.

    [edited for typo]

  10. Really fabulous piece. I’m so happy to see A List Apart joining with conversation with the same eloquence I’ve come to love in your posts on web design and development. It is really wonderful to see ALA taking a public stand on these problems and getting involved in the conversation.

  11. Mary I’d never hesitate to do just that. I just feel that actually there’s a larger more systemic malady, and that rather than treating the symptoms we should be addressing the cause.

    Lyza I love that idea, and I think that’s exactly what @Mary is saying. Hopefully with more messages like this, more people will feel empowered to deplore the deplorable, and the culture will shift.

  12. @Will For sure…I agree completely. But I also think that systemic change will not happen without first identifying and understanding what the problem looks like in our every day lives. When it’s thought of as one big huge issue, it’s difficult to see how anything we do could as individuals would make an impact.

  13. @Wil Linssen As an individual, you can speak out when someone says or does something sexist/offensive/etc.

    Just shifting from a defensive “Not all men.” to listening, to taking a proactive stance and telling someone “That’s not ok.” is a good start.

  14. Slow clapping! I’m all for diversity, but I draw the line at animated GIF haters. Seriously though, this is powerful writing and very inspirational.

  15. Smashingly written. I feel hopeful that this is already starting to shift a little–the biggest reaction to a speaker at the An Event Apart conference in San Diego was to the Mike Montiero slide “destroy misogyny.” There is still so much to do, but this stance helps lead the way. Thanks.

  16. Wonderful – thank you. The time where any of us can be silent on these issues personally is past and it’s great to see ALA showing this kind of leadership.

  17. Thank you for writing this. Really good to see, and really empowering.

    As a trans woman in the IT community, I’m just beginning to face and see how treatment of me will change in the workplace. It’s disheartening, but I have to try and make a difference.

    #yesallwomen really resonates to me! and I applaud ALA making such a strong and committed statement.

  18. I’m thrilled to see ALA include this important topic as part of its mission and focus. Having just the skills is of little use when the socio-cultural environment is toxic and drives people away from our field.

    I look forward to seeing future articles on these topics at ALA!

  19. Good.

    AListApart is a community leader, and it’s past time we focused on this issue. Our community, and therefore our work, will be better for it. As people, we will be better for it.

    As an old white guy, there is a lot of this I didn’t notice, didn’t understand, wasn’t around when it was happening, and more. I’m one of the too many who need this explained to me and pointed out.

    Twitter is great, but I’ll need more than 140 characters.

    I care about our community. I don’t want any member of us having to deal with this crap.

    Tell me what I need to know. Let’s get this done.

  20. This subject echos the values that established the web for us to design.

    ALA has always represented creativity, accessibility, inclusivity, and the greatest respect for the user – whomever they may be.

  21. What saddens me is that many women in our industry are thought leaders and pioneers, the exact person you want to buy a drink at the conference after party or after the tech talk; purely to talk shop and learn more. Yet, they have to be guarded, reserved, and defensive because people do idiotic things like this: groping, making off-color remarks, and threats. I can’t blame any of you for doing so, you have no idea if a guy is harmless or a sociopath. So some of this falls on fostering an environment where women can verbalize their discomfort with a person and not be shamed for it; that’s number one.

    Additionally, I think it hurts female speakers because they can’t just jump right into the boys-club conversations happening where the real connections occur (after-event networking); it’s one of the many reasons most conference rosters are heavily male. I’m quite sure that many of the terrible things said and done have occurred in broad daylight, but the majority are probably alcohol-fueled. So this isn’t as simple as putting on a proper face and being a “good boy” when you’re around female colleagues; you’ve got to change the way you perceive women at work intrinsically so that, when you’ve had a few too many, you’re not making a complete ass of yourself and adding to this dialogue in the worst way.

    Very proud of ALA for “deviating” for a bit to say what needs to be said; you’ve got my support to do it when you see fit.

  22. From time to time, and most notably once when WaSP was still a going concern, I echoed what you write here. (I’ll explain my reasons in some other time and place, if called upon.) The question I pose never changes: why SHOULDN’T we have an industry in which every protected (or likely-to-be-protected-eventually) class is represented in fair proportion?

    I’ve yet to read a fit answer to that question. I HAVE fielded multiple attempts to bait me, or disqualify the point. There are a lot of people out there who are threatened by the prospect of working with sitebuilders who aren’t EXACTLY. LIKE. THEM.

    Personally, I can’t think of a prospect more terrifying than working with a bunch of guys exactly like me.

  23. Wonderful, inspiring words! Thank you for taking a leadership role on such important issues. Dedication to a triple bottom line: standing up for diversity and social justice, excellence in creative design and serving the world by delivering new products. Awesome.

  24. Change happens when trend setters and thought leaders take a vocal stance. When A List Apart speaks, people take heed. It is great to see this issue brought to the forefront and into focus. With ALA carrying the flag of feminism and diversity it will be hard for anyone to argue these are not issues that relate to web design and development. Thank you for taking a stand.

  25. So encouraging to read this. I’ve recently joined the industry and something’s been bothering me for a few months – I recently realised it was to do with not feeling a part of the boys club in the office. Good to see a conversation starting about how we might change it.

  26. Thank you for posting this. I’m glad to see this being taken seriously in a prominent forum.

  27. Some day it will seem so obvious that this should be the manifesto for the planet: everyone deserves dignity, everyone deserves to be safe, everyone is responsible for protecting the dignity and safety of everyone else. Some day it will seem so obvious that everyone’s voice is valuable in some way and that everyone can make a contribution of some kind. Perhaps this clear statement of integrity from A List Apart will be one of the big signposts on the road to that future. I am grateful for this important stand at a crucial moment.

  28. This was an amazing read, an amazing statement. Thank you for taking this stand and encouraging and believing our community can do better.

  29. In such discussions the only thing a man can do is to reflect to his past and see where and how he behaved wrongly to women even if that were a single comment, gesture or joke…

  30. Thanks for sharing this. As a guy who will freely admit he’s humbled by the skill of so many developers who happen to be female, it seems outlandish to me to hear that some of these individuals (my professional heroes, at that) might have to suffer such harassment after all they’ve done and contributed to the community… 🙁 Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me, because when you go against the popular or established grain for the greater good, persecution comes from those who don’t like it. (I believe I can empathize with that point, given the world I live in personally.) We really do need to encourage a culture and environment free from that kind of wronging.

  31. Thank you for being a voice. It hard to understand in this day and age how sexism and discrimination continues in the workplace, churches, schools, and other institutions. Dare we be the generation that changes this?

  32. Although I understand the want to get the word out on these issues in every way possible; I’m not sure about these issues mixing in with the main RSS feed. I have a Feedly folder called “web design” where A List Apart goes and I have separate folders for different blogs that deal with social issues. I would much rather A List Apart promote other blogs and news organizations that specifically deal with these issues.

  33. I would like to give all of you (the article and the comments) a standing ovation. We have a lot to do and the only way to get it done is to realize that it all starts with each of us.
    If you want to move a mountain, you start by moving the stones you can pick up. Over time you will be amazed by how much you can accomplish.

  34. Thank for taking a stance!

    As a man in webdev I’m ashamed that our industry, which prides itself on being modern and forward looking, is often so behind on issues of equality and social justice. It’s a no brainer for me to be a feminist and view all my peers with the same respect no matter if they are women, men, LGBTQ, have a different ethnicity than me or are impaired in any physical or mental way.

    As a man and ally, I try hard to listen and understand. Instead of falling for my conditioned reaction to protect myself or other men when called out I try to listen and understand. I also try to call out other men on bullshit behavior, and make it clear I don’t think it’s funny or acceptable. Sadly, men are mostly more afraid of not impressing other men than the risk of hurting women or other who fall outside the straight cis-man norm. I’m by no means perfect and a fail a lot, but sometimes I succeed, and all those times add up. Let’s take our responsibility and do what we can to erradicate sexism, LGBTQ hatred, racism, and other demeaning and unworthy parts of our culture.

    Again, thank for this ALA. You’re showing you truly are invested in making the web better, both on the surface and for those making it happen. <3

  35. It pains me to see that in 2014 this is still an issue. Technology has come so far and everyone is so ‘informed’, but we obviously still have a ways to go.

  36. Another reason to love ALA. Making conversations and actions to solve these huge problems as MORE pervasive than those that perpetuate them seems like a big step in the right direction. Glad to see ALA is a part of that.

    Similar to Wil, I wish for my niece that she could one day become the nerd I’m covertly nudging her to be (or accountant or teacher or whatever) without being made to feel less than.

  37. @ Cary and Matthew:

    I appreciate you wanting to keep your web design and your social commentary separate, but really, the purpose of this article was to demonstrate why we believe that’s a false separation.

    Just as ALA has always covered topics related to our industry’s culture—just look at Nishant Kothary’s column, “The Human Web,” or Jonathan Kahn’s article, “People Skills for Web Workers.” At ALA, we believe that the best web professionals combine technical skills with a thoughtfulness for people—the users we make things for, of course, but also the people they make things with—our teammates, clients, bosses, and peers. We all need to gain skills for working with diverse people and building positive and sustainable workplaces. And we absolutely believe that has always had, and will continue to have, a place in ALA.

    We’re not going to publish articles solely about diversity or inclusivity—but we will publish articles about those topics when they relate to our industry, and when we think they will help people who work on the web make better decisions, and ultimately build better products. In fact, we’ve always been open to this.

    The biggest change, here, is that we decided to put it into writing, to make clear for others what we believe: that this is a mainstream problem in our industry. And as a mainstream industry publication, we are responsible for covering it.

  38. That was a wonderful read. I agree 100% that this is a mainstream problem. Glad to see more people engaged with that issue. We can and we will change this, but we need to talk and create as much awareness as we can!

  39. This was a great read, but I was terrified to scroll down into the comments section… what a surprise, though! It’s really encouraging to see so many people in the industry agree so wholeheartedly about this. It makes me hopeful that some real change is on the horizon.

  40. I have been reading ALA regularly since I started learning web development and today I’m proud to say I am a reader. It is an wonderful initiative and I hope at least the female workers there enjoy their freedom.

  41. Thanks a lot for your words, Sara. It’s important to encourage this kind of reflexions also in our industry, and to make visible problems that seem to have disappeared but, unfortunately, there are still everywhere.

  42. This post is certainly a step in the right direction, though sexism and racism is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s still classism to deal with. There is nothing quite so difficult as trying to land a job in Web Design, UX Design, or UI Design as a self-taught (i.e., no expensive Master’s or PhD in Graphic Design or any other related subject), female in a rural area who has never worked for a major tech company. I have plenty of freelance experience (though I’d rather work in a team for stable pay, stable hours, and a place to belong and code), yet none of it seems to count without the right degree and high-level college buddy connections.

    The day when merit trumps all else (race, native language, gender, age, financial standing, culture, and the bias against people self-motivated enough to learn on their own) will be a beautiful day for the web.

  43. Thank you for taking this stand! You’re spot on right that it’s a mainstream problem no matter what you do or where (I’m from the Netherlands) in this industry (and many other industries if I may say so). We’re getting accustomed to blame ourselves, look away or after yet another issue think ‘that’s just the way it is’. You have to move on right?
    Raising your kids otherwise doesn’t fight the really annoying (game and advertisement) media where sexism is magnified. This is what we see during World Cup soccer:
    Do I still wonder why my daughter (9 years old) wants to dress up like a model when she is going to play tennis?!! It really makes me sad, knowing what things come ahead for her. Your post gives me hope and I know we all can change this, starting with speaking out like you do. Thanks again!

  44. I’ve always thought of industry culture as part of ALA’s bailiwick.

    Please consider this my signature for a petition to think beyond the culture at my firm and to confront such inappropriate behaviour wherever I see it.

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