CIO Symmetry

May 14 2012   5:17PM GMT

Dude, you’re getting a hostile workplace

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

In April, Dell’s summit in Copenhagen was emceed by Mads Christensen, who is apparently Denmark’s version of Rush Limbaugh — well-known for shocking audiences with bigoted, misogynistic remarks. During his banter, Christensen unleashed a flurry of comments that were decidedly hostile toward women in technology. For instance, noticing that most of the 800-member audience (which included founder Michael Dell) was male, Christensen said, “The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out,” and asked the few women present why they were even there. So much for breaking glass ceilings.

Danish IT reporter Christiane Vejlo reported the shocking events as they played out.

After the break Mads Christensen shares with us his whole “show” about the bitchy women who want to steal the power in politics, boards and the home. “Science” he calls it and mentions that all the great inventions come from men. “We can thank women for the rolling pin,” he adds.  And then the moderator of the day finishes of by asking all (men) in the room to promise him that they will go home and say, “Shut up b—-!” (via Elektronista)

Dell’s official Twitter presence in Denmark said, “[We] are sorry if some were offended. Dell works for women in corporate life.” Got to love the hostile workplace non-apologies that did not actually accept any responsibility for hiring Christensen.

While I am absolutely sure that Michael Dell, as well as Nicolai Moresco, Dell’s Danish director, had very little involvement in the hiring of Christensen, this is a publicity nightmare for the company. It’s important to note how Dell has responded to complaints — which is to say that it kind of hasn’t. Moresco told Vejlo that Christensen “did a good job” and  then later echoed the Twitter feed, apologizing that women were offended but continuing to assert that it was all meant to be good, clean fun.

Obviously, there were women in the audience in that Dell summit in Copenhagen — women who either worked for Dell or were invited to attend. They had to sit there and pretend that they were entertained by the promise of a hostile workplace. They had to go home knowing that Dell’s senior IT leadership approved this message. When they complained to the CEO, he essentially shrugged and said, “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”

The editorial team here at SearchCIO-Midmarket.com has been discussing women in IT a great deal lately. We’ve grappled with how to discuss glass ceilings without making women feel like special cases or unique snowflakes, while also addressing the very real problem of a hostile workplace, which is usually not as overt as that which played out in Copenhagen. Many of the successful IT leaders are uncomfortable drawing attention to the fact that they are also women as well as senior IT leaders. I can respect and absolutely understand that, especially given the barely hidden resentment that was echoed in Christensen’s “jokes.”

When we think about a hostile workplace, it’s usually not one big event but, rather, death by a thousand cuts. Just as with the debate over booth babes, it’s important that we keep talking about women in technology. They ARE different. They DO have to deal with these issues and face an entire audience of men laughing at a man suggesting that women should stick to their rolling-pin innovations. We have to stop trying to blend and disappear in an attempt to break through glass ceilings. These are unacceptable attitudes, and whether one is male or female, we should all be appalled. Continuing to sit by and laugh at the “jokes” means that we are as complicit in creating a hostile workplace as the rest of these jokers.

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