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Cover image for The Quiet Code: How tech silences with severance and fear

The Quiet Code: How tech silences with severance and fear

Cher
Principle Engineer #javascript #crystal #js #vue #css #python #ruby #react #c #games #go #swift #ember
Updated on ・4 min read

Late in the afternoon of May 24, 2021, Tessa Kriesel was informed by her leadership at Fast that the team she was hired to lead, DevRel (Developer Relations), would own Documentation. The day was wrapping up, and Tessa would follow up with direction for the direction for said documentation on the next working day.

Before she had the chance to do that, she was invited to a meeting by a male coworker for a meeting she should have been giving the autonomy to organize. This meeting was scheduled for the following day, outside of her agreed-upon working hours. She was marked as optional.

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Tessa replied that she should not be optional on the meeting (after all, she was lead of the team that owned docs, her presence should be required, and encouraged by leadership). As a mom, it's often impossible to compete with colleagues who don't have the job of being the only or primary caregiver. It's not because people who primarily give care to their dependents aren't as dedicated, or are regularly unavailable during work hours, it's because many of their colleagues, in cut-throat competition, specifically work beyond normal expectations, including outside of business hours.

At a company like Fast, where this is encouraged and rewarded, it quickly turns into discrimination.

What followed was dismissing of her concerns, including being laughed at in an email thread by the colleagues attempting to move forward without her.

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The next day, she went straight to her leadership about the toxic, hostile environment that she was working in. By 5pm on the day on May 25th, 2021 on the left coast, she was fired.

The CEO laughed at her.

She was presented an NDA (Non-Disparagement Agreement) and was offered $17,000 USD severance, which she struggled with turning down for financial reasons, but ultimately refused to accept.

Later that evening, she started tweeting about the hush money. Peter Grassi called her telling her to remove the tweets.

Tessa's not alone.

In 2017, I left a job that was a toxic work environment at World Wide Technology, Inc. Women around me were overlooked, no matter their tenure, while new developers, both to the company and the discipline, climbed the company in levels. One of the women I worked with had been there for 20 years.

One woman gave a talk on unconscious biases and the majority-male development work force snickered and scoffed for the majority of her presentation. Upon dispersing, I overheard my male colleagues discussing that they weren't real, that the discussion was confirmation bias for what could easily be explained by women's lack of interest and "different biological traits" that made them less likely to be developers. Mind you, this was before the James Damore memo.

We had a meeting everyday at 9:00am. Stand-up. It's that morning meeting where everyone stands in a circle and shares their status update. Fine.

The problem is that my commute made it difficult for me to be at the office at 9:00am. I lived 30 miles from the office, and if there was any traffic, it was impossible for me to get there before 9:30am. Why? My daughter's school started at 8:30am. I asked for the meeting to be pushed back because of this, despite that I would call into the meeting when I was stuck in traffic.

We moved the meeting to 9:15am, and I had to call into the meeting less often, but again, it still happened 1-2 times a week due to the traffic. On these days, I was always the last one to leave, as my daughter participated in an after school program. As long as I left by 5:30pm, I could get to her. I also often ate lunch at my desk, continuing to work. I rarely took breaks unless I had an emergency with my daughter.

Eventually, I was presented with a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan). We had just been given a "work from home day" the week before, as a company, and the stipulations included both that I arrive at 8:30am (which was 30 minutes before the office's working hours, and obviously outside of my availability) and that I wasn't allowed to work from home. The deal was I sign, or I quit. I refused to sign it, as it was discriminatory. They already had an NDA ready for me to sign that gave me one month's pay (~$3,000).

The NDA said that I agreed that I was leaving by my own choice, that I wouldn't sue the company, and that I wouldn't make an "disparaging" remarks about the company. I had to sign it. I had to pay my rent while I looked for another job, and I was in the middle of buying my first home.

The threat of lawsuit also terrified me. I couldn't afford a lawyer, nor did I have the breadth of knowledge or network to inform me that I had a case against WWT, not the other way around.

I ended up filing for unemployment, as it took me a few months to find a new job. WWT fought it, and I made the case with unemployment that they forced me into quitting with a discriminatory PIP. They agreed. WWT had to pay my unemployment. I should have realized then that they had intimidated me against standing up for myself. Bullied me with money I desperately needed to go against my own interests, and the interests of other parents, and especially women, in our industry.

I know it's not just Tessa and I.

And I want to #CrackTheHushCode.

Have you been bullied into signing a Non-Disparagement Agreement for severance, or refused to sign one so you could speak out, like Tessa and I? Tell us!!

Discussion (23)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I know it's not just Tessa and I.

This is almost by definition. The most vulnerable folks are probably also the most likely to not be in the financial position to do anything but stay quiet, nor are they in the position to fight against power.

It's sad and very great that you are bringing more awareness to this Cher.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

Thank you so much, Ben. And you are exactly right. The most oppressed can't speak out unless we give them the power to do so with our own privilege. Thank you for speaking up and being supportive.

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tessak22 profile image
Tessa Kriesel

I love you so much for sharing this so I don't have to. We all need to stand up for this behavior. The other people in this email thread should have stood up for me and they didn't. It's disgusting.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

💞

Really glad I saw this, even if it was a few days later than it happened.

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yugely profile image
yugely

i think about how many people died around me in the infantry. I'm going to save this article because I want to show it to young kids thinking about enlisting for this country because I want to make sure they know exactly what they are risking everything for. This.

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darkwiiplayer profile image
DarkWiiPlayer

That's an interesting way to look at it

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yugely profile image
yugely

Spending years volunteering in everything from front line combat to homeless shelters and food shelfs to see your home slow burn into the night will show you how hollow your youth really was.
Then you’re just left with disassociation.
And everytime you try again to integrate and try again, you’ll read this authors hard fought sentiment in ubiquity and your stomach drops and you’ll feel how heavy that check you cashed was.

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greenroommate profile image
Haris Secic

Honestly, these emails to looked more others trying to push her away because she's probably making them work. Not discrimatory at all, just mostly pushing her away ten trying to avoid exactly this, people saying how company X did this to women. I'm actually happy about people pointing out to shoosh money because problems should mot be swiped under the rug and yes in many ways women have been looked down to in IT and other fields but I'm seeing a lot of unfairness in purusue of justice at a workplace

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blechdom profile image
Kristin Galvin

Thank you for sharing. Glad to know I'm not alone!

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tessak22 profile image
Tessa Kriesel

That breaks my heart. Reach out anytime.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik

Sorry to hear about what happened. Both of you are very brave to speak about your experiences. I have gone through stuff over the past 20 years that I've never had the courage to speak about openly.

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jessekphillips profile image
Jesse Phillips • Edited

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think that in the USA a company can have you sign away your right to sue for discriminatory behavior.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

The onus is on the employee to prove discrimination, and usually through forced arbitration first.

consumeradvocates.org/for-consumer....

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darkwiiplayer profile image
DarkWiiPlayer

They can have you sign it, and hope you never question whether that actually means anything. Because most likely, it doesn't.

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darkwiiplayer profile image
DarkWiiPlayer

I don't quite get the whole "Sign this or leave" thing; was it not an option to say "No. Fire me or I stay."? Would that have negatively affected your chances of finding a new job in some way?

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