We all know that Facebook is a company that was started by a few guys at Harvard – so any allegations of the early days of the company being a bit sexist and fratty seem to stick without much skepticism.
The latest batch of allegations stem from a just-published memoir by a former female employee of the company, who worked at the company headquarters as soon as they made the transition to California. In her book, The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, Katherine Losse details some of the misogyny she witnessed during her tenure as “employee #51.”
Among her recollections are stories of senior managers with habits of requesting threesomes with female employees around the office, and how reporting these advances resulted in chastisement from other team members.
She also recounts a 2006 trip to Tahoe that resulted in a drunken party (and the above photo) where Losse was made to wear a bear suit around the cabin because of how funny it was to Mark Zuckerberg. She admits that this was probably all in good fun, but you can see how it could look bad to the right person.
We’ve also heard reports that Zuckerberg gave an…unorthodox introduction to COO Sheryl Sandberg when she first joined the company. “Everyone should have a crush on Sheryl,” he reportedly said. “When I met Sheryl the first thing I said was that she had really good skin.”
Sexist? Inappropriate? Casual fun? You be the judge. The point is, the early days of Facebook have a reputation for leaning to the side of uncomfortable for its female employees.
But was it really all that bad?
A Facebook employee named Charlotte Willner has posted a response to all of Losse’s allegations on Quora. When asked about the truth behind Losse’s claims in her new book, here’s what Willner had to say:
I’m a woman at Facebook who was in Customer Support at the same time as Kate — she was my trainer, and I was inquisitive enough as a new hire to where she really needed that vacation to Brazil immediately after my first two weeks. Was there a rampant culture of sexism at Facebook in 2007? No. Were there sexist people working at Facebook in 2007? Yes. The book recounts a series of experiences which Kate ultimately interpreted as sexist. Some of those were likely interactions with sexist people. Others were likely more ambiguous interactions which Kate personally read as sexist. I’m not here to say she was right or wrong, because I wasn’t a fly on the wall for those interactions. What I will say is that Facebook has historically had a work-hard, play-hard culture, and that means people will be jerks to each other sometimes: not all instances of men being jerks to women are manifestations of sexism. In fact: most aren’t.
Much of what Kate chalks up to a deep undercurrent of sexism, I would chalk up to simple inattention, misunderstanding, or non-discriminating douchebaggery. Recall your first year of work. Remember all the mistakes you made which now seem obvious to you. Blush at the thought of the bold, foolish, and/or hopelessly naive assertions you made that year. Shudder with horror when you relive that first time someone called your attention to the fact that you, in fact, behaved like an idiot in that meeting or at that party. Now imagine 200 people all living that experience at the same time, while being responsible for driving this crazy thing we call Facebook. This was most people’s first job out of college — many didn’t even finish college. Of course people said and did dumb and mean things to each other — we were all learning how to work, and how to work together. There was no sexist element to that — women and men were equal-opportunity offenders.
Ask any lawyer – eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. That’s because everyone sees things through their own lens. What’s sexist and degrading to one person is innocuous to another. One thing we can be sure of is the stories about the early days of Facebook will continue to emerge – especially since they are now a publicly traded company with nearly 1 billion users.
[Via Business Insider]
[Image Courtesy Gawker]