As most readers already know, Yahoo recently apologized via Twitter for employing scantily clad woman as dancers, including lap dancers, at Hack Day in Taiwan. If you missed this dust-up, both sides of the issue are covered (can there really be two sides to this conversation?) in the Reuters blog post “let there be lap dances” and Simon Willison’s blog post “this shouldn’t be the image of hack day.” There are many others—just google Yahoo and lap dancing, and you’ll find them. In my view, Yahoo’s behavior here was nothing short of shameful, and its apology was both late and banal.
What does this have to do with human services and technology? A lot, actually. Much of what we do in human services is predicated on the belief that all people have the right to participate fully in the community. I spend a significant amount of time reminding people that “community” includes the online world, and I spend an equal amount of time reminding technology companies that the people we support deserve good online tools, have something to offer the technology community, and are an important customer base as well as source for future employees.
When technology companies as ubiquitous as Yahoo demonstrate that they don’t value women as customers or as employees, they are presenting a stultifying view of who cares about technology and who is welcome in the technology community. Yahoo’s apology said that this incident was not reflective of their values, and that it won’t happen again, but this is not the first time it has been part of their corporate “entertainment.” Women are an important customer base for Yahoo, yet Yahoo marginalizes them. How much harder is for us then, to get their attention regarding the needs of people on the wrong side of the digital divide?
Those of us working in the intersection of technology and human services need to have a stronger voice in reminding technology companies to be inclusive in all their activities. Please take the time to hold companies accountable to a higher standard, and tell Yahoo what you think about the importance of sensitivity and diversity in technology.