Adria Richards & Why You NEED Behavior Policies

Sections of this topic

    Strong policies are the only way to protect yourself from backlash over employee conduct

    You’ve probably heard about the Adria Richards “public shaming” mess already, but for those haven’t here’s a recap.

    At developer conference PyCon, well-known developer evangelist Adria Richards overheard a pair of male attendees from gaming company PlayHaven making what she took to be sexist jokes using terms like “dongles” and “forking.” In other words, not particularly appropriate, but certainly not out of character for a couple of male techies having what they thought to be a private conversation.

    Instead of turning around and asking them to keep it clean, Ricards tweeted a photo of the pair, then proceeded to ask, on Twitter, for help dealing with the situation, as well as texting PyCon staff. Conference organizers confronted the two men, and, according to a post on PyCon’s own page, both expressed regret and apologized at that time.

    Things get ugly

    Richards blogged about the situation, drawing major ‘net attention, and then things got really ugly.

    One of the male devs, a father of three, revealed that he had been fired as a result of the Twitter shaming, setting off a massive outcry. The social media accounts of all companies involved were absolutely swamped with incensed posters arguing both sides, and Richard’s employer, SendGrid, was even hit with a massive DDoS attack.

    One picture, two jobs

    Finally, SendGrid had enough, and decided to terminate Richards, effective immediately.

    The right or wrong of the situation is still being hashed out in arguments across the web, and we’ll leave that for other pages. What we’re interested in is how organizations can avoid or reduce the potentially negative impact of employee actions.

    Especially given the fluid nature of social media, norms are changing more rapidly than ever, and of course vary wildly depending on the social makeup of a group, location, and any number of other factors.


    The only way to give yourself a leg to stand on when addressing personal behavior is to establish clear, firm and legally compliant policies. That way, should an employee cross the line you can’t be accused of having a knee-jerk reaction, caving to pressure, or doing anything other than following through on the policies they knew and chose to violate.

    Don’t just slap a couple of pages in the new hire handbook and consider it set, either, we all know nobody’s reading anything in there except how many vacation days they get and what time they need to show up for work. Create your policies, back them up with education and regular re-training, and don’t forget to revisit them frequently to see if changes are called for.

    Situations like this are only going to become more common as the ‘net blurs borders, both cultural and geographical. Make sure your butt is covered, prepare employee conduct policies today.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]