Since the news broke that Upload was being sued by a former employee for various counts of sexual harassment & discrimination, the VR/AR community has been buzzing with opinions flowing freely. Reading over the court documents is much like watching a telenovela, leaving me both shocked and disappointed that the lead characters sank to such unfortunate depths.
The timeframe of the story breaking incidentally coincided with major progression in my personal career as a developer. Since May, I finished an immersive programming bootcamp, begun learning Unity, and upped the anti on my presence in the VR/AR community. This has led me to attending countless events, many of which have been in Upload’s new LA co-working space.
I will admit I was morbidly curious to see if there would be any changes to Upload or remarks made by their team when I attended the first event at their space after the law suit became public knowledge. My curiosity quickly squashed as business carried out like normal.
It was not until I joined the ‘Women in VR’ Facebook group, that I realized the guise of normalcy did not expand beyond the walls of Upload. I came across a post that heads of Upload had been removed from the group for breaking the policy of maintaining a safe space for women, which was followed by mainly supportive comments (a sentiment shared among those who disagreed with the group’s move was that “innocent until proven guilty” should apply).
This issue has taken more importance as I recently took on the co-organizer position for Another Reality LA (ARLA), a VR/AR Meetup, that happens to use Upload’s space for many of its events. Multiple people in the industry shared concern that associating with Upload would be bad PR, or more blatantly stated they wouldn’t set foot in the building. With this feedback I suddenly became very aware of my own reputation in the industry and caused me to question the risk of associating myself with Upload in any way.
My experience over the last year of transitioning into the tech industry has not been without challenges, as most women trying to break into such a male dominated space can likely agree. In fact, I have often been close to exasperation when a connection made at a networking event takes the discussion from professional to sexual (to the point of writing a blog post on the issue, Network & Chill?) . Yet, I my personal experience with Upload has been overwhelmingly positive. They have been a source of information and facilitator of many opportunities I have been presented, thanks to attending events they either hosted or sponsored.
Having discussed this issue with numerous women and men in the industry, I have come to the conclusion that, more likely than not, most of the allegations against Upload holdtruth. This being said, I do not feel that excommunicating Upload is the appropriate response to me made by myself or the industry in general. . .
It would be asinine to think Upload is alone guilty of treating its female employees in such a negative manner. Rather, they are simply the ones who got caught. Working off the assumption the allegations are true (to whatever degree), I do believe Upload is responsible for the misogynistic and lewd culture they are accused of perpetuating. But, if I were to boycott every organization that exhibited such culture and behavior (publicly or behind closed doors), I would be severely limited in my options. Honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath that there would be any left unless I moved to Wonder Woman’s home island, Themyscira.
I attended a DigitalLA event where VRTIGINOUS founder and CTO, Adriana Vecc, explained the goal for women (and men) in the tech/VR/AR industry should be to cultivate an ecosystem where behavior such as alleged against Upload is possible as we have collectively evolved beyond such nonsense. In other words, we should not make this partisan issue, rather we need to promote an ‘asshole free’ space. I agree with Vecc’s perspective and feel this requires evolving above the ‘us against them’ mentality.
As a collective force we can unite to make this an open discussion of what needs to change to make women welcome and safe. Much like the sit-ins of the Civil Rights time in American history, we can guide Upload to the acceptable mindset by refusing to let them play the game any other way.
Rather than blacklist Upload, I say women in the industry fill Upload’s events and space, as you can’t change the ‘boy’s club’ mentality if you leave the boy’s responsible for the atrocious mindset in the first place up to their own devices.
Additionally, I don’t see how ousting such a well known player in VR/AR industry is the necessary response when we are still fighting to break into the consumer market and for mass adoption.
Quite frankly, I do not want to watch Upload burn.
The question we need to ask is whether Upload can correct its mistakes and add value to our industry. In my opinion, the answer is yes. More so, I believe the answer is an opportunity for women and men to work together ensure that Upload’s mistake is a lesson learned by all. Our focus should be on the integration of men and women in the tech space through the celebration of accomplishments made each, not the alienation of a key player who, guilty or not, is becoming more of scapegoat for an entire industry’s issue rather than an purely individual one.
Personally, I am glad this issue was brought to light as now the pressure is on for not only Upload to do a complete re-haul on its culture and practices, but also on every other presence in the industry. As a woman looking to seriously begin my career in a role generally filled by a man, software developer/engineer, I can’t imagine any better circumstance for myself or other women programmers.
What has been an conundrum for me the last few months has turned into a valuable exercise in decision making and potential risk taking. At the risk of criticism and disproval, I have determined as long as Upload illustrates they are effecting positive change in their workplace and my personal interactions with the Upload leadership and team continue to be positive, I will walk into their space with an open mind and head held high. I am sure many of my colleagues will present great counter-stances to my own and I welcome an elevated discussion of the issue.