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

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The Quiet Code: How tech silences with severance and fear

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.

Top comments (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

πŸ’ž

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

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moose profile image
moose

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
π’Š©Wii πŸ’–πŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™πŸ’œπŸ’πŸ’Ÿ

That's an interesting way to look at it

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moose profile image
moose

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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_hs_ profile image
HS

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 on

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
π’Š©Wii πŸ’–πŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™πŸ’œπŸ’πŸ’Ÿ

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
π’Š©Wii πŸ’–πŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™πŸ’œπŸ’πŸ’Ÿ

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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_hs_ profile image
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HS

I see too much focus on oppressing woman which is usually what they always push and I got to say it's quite unfair stance. Do you see any male oppressed for working harder than others yet not being too sympathetic towards people setting their private lives over job that has to be done? No, because no one focuses. Have you ever questioned that some of them would love as well to be with their family but have a sense of responsibility towards job and sacrifice family obligations towards it yet get under the label of not a cultural fit and being pushed by the collegues? I gotta tell you I've been working in teams where I had email proofs of how ignores and disrispected I was because I pointed out mistakes as a system architect and backend developer. Quite literally no sense of professional responsibility from their side nor respect towards my years of experience compared to a non programmer and juniors one of which was a woman (although not married nor had kids). Guess what happened, she did admit she felt oppressed a bit in the beginning. Then she left by first call to much bigger company. I left a year after. The guy that came to replace me quit couple of months after. Does this indicate something? Yeah she was the oppressor including others.

You've picked your options to be a good mother. They picked theres to not have a family or whatever. Don't yell unfair on people not adjusting to your timeline its completely unfair to all the others. If you can't make it and people say it's OK why not br happy about it? I'm removing myself from as much meetings as possible them pushing younger devs, yes especially woman into more obligations hoping they will take over my place and all because I'm hoping to expand family. Am I oppressed for picking time and letting my "carrer" go down? No, I'm picking my side as a family man and risking income. So be more just with the words and be more fair to others. They also have time issues.

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cher profile image
Cher Author • Edited on

I've hidden your reply because it's strange and out of place.

I happened to share Tessa's story (a woman) and my story (also a woman). I'm not "focusing on women". I AM a woman.

It's strange to me that you're arguing about whether or not folks have family or not. No one should be discriminated against or harassed, and no one should be oppressed into silence over those things (or other ethics violations).

I'm happy to have a conversation about Non-Disparagement agreements, but that's not what you are doing.

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_hs_ profile image
HS

Sure, I pointed out some portion of your unfairness in text and best repsponse is cancel culture. You feel "offended" because there's a slight disagreement from somene yet again mark it as "out of place". It's good to know there's no room for disagreement so I'll be sure to not ever comment on your posts.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

My post is about Non-Disparagement Agreements being used to silence employees that have been discriminated against, or have witnessed unethical practices.

I don't feel "offended" - I feel your comment is out of place because it steered away from the topic to centering yourself in a way that claimed I was doing something that I was not.

It isn't about disagreement, it's about responding with complete nonsense that has absolutely nothing to do with the important topic I'm discussing.

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_hs_ profile image
HS

And my comment was that you don't see that it's actually putting a point on a discrimination against woman. Not about centering myself but to try to make you see that there's a lot of text focusing on it and steering itself away from the topic. In any case you have the right to hide the comment and I have the right to mark the post as low quality as a bit pusing towards something that you did not intend as a topic. Not fully just enough to have my reaction to it.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

Haris, I am a woman. Tessa is a woman.

We were both discriminated against as MOTHERS, which is why I specifically said PARENTS.

Your knee-jerk reaction comes from within you, not me. I communicated my point just fine.

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nezahua91257667 profile image
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NezahualcΓ³yotl

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