Ashe Dryden Calls Harassment in Tech, “An Epidemic”

The view from New Relic's new office building.

With a view of the Bay Bridge on one side and the Ferry Building on the other, more than 150 tech-minded people mingled over pizza, soda and beer on Wednesday night at New Relic’s office space in downtown San Francisco to talk about diversity, harassment and values.

The crowd was considerably more mixed than the demographics expected at a tech conference. It looked as though there were as many women as men – most wearing hand-written name tags that included their Twitter handle.

“Harassment is an epidemic,” said Ashe Dryden, the first of seven speakers at the event. Dryden, a developer and advocate for diversity in the workplace, has traveled the world promoting diversity and inclusivity in tech.

Visiting from Wisconsin, she connected with the recently formed Mission feminist hackerspace, Double Union, to host Wednesday’s event off-site because its new space has not yet opened.

Like others there, Dryden is preoccupied with attrition in the tech industry and cited a study showing that 56 percent of women in tech leave the industry within 10 years and never return. That number is twice the rate of men.

“That says something about our community,” said Dryden.

Defining diversity she said, “is not just ‘where are all the women in tech’.”  It means, she said, creating a tech culture that welcomes everyone.

She said businesses must work on changing an environment that can be perceived as unwelcoming.

Other speakers talked about anti-harassment policies for tech conferences, making room for transgender people in tech, and building a better workplace by tackling the culture from its roots.

Shanley Kane, another speaker, well known in the community for her web posts about tech culture and feminism, said in the last decade diversity has actually declined in the tech industry.

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