The dangers of humour & satire in Enterprise IT

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Most of you will know what the trigger of this post is but I’l lleave that analysis for the second half of it. At first I want to talk a little about humour online in general. 

It’s a small world after all

We are living in a shrinking world. Not from a sizing perspective but being more closely connected and a lot of that is thanks to the internet. What hasn’t changed that fast (and that’s a good thing) is culture. And with that the cultural sense of humour. What I find funny may not be as funny for someone else. I’ll give you two examples out of my own experience.

Racist!

I once called an Irish blogger a leprechaun in an obviously joking conversation and he took offence, called me a racist and the company I worked for a company that hires racists. It took me a lot of work to convince him of my sincere apologies and that I had no idea he would take that as an offence

#WhenInRussia

When I was in Russia with Veeam for a team summit, I took a lot of nice pictures of their astonishing buildings but I also posted some pictures with a #WhenInRussia tag. Here’s one example. Keep in mind it’s early March and Russia is under 10 inches of snow at the time)

Funny, right? Guess what email I got on Monday from the PR-department. Now when I looked back at my timeline I noticed that although I had a series of nice pictures, the series of #WhenInRussia was (although funny to me) not that flattering for my Russian colleagues if looked at it isolated. This did not represent who they are and the image of Russia they were fighting.

Sexist Marketing 1o1

I’m a Heterosexual Type-A Alpha-male with a high level of ADHD. This is one hell of a cocktail to offend people on a daily base. And believe me, I do. But I’m also a very loving man that will fight for everyone’s right to be equally treated. This doesn’t say that I won’t laugh at a racist or sexist joke if for the sake of humour and the joke is good. I would laugh equally hard at those jokes as I would laugh at a joke about slightly overweight, swearing belgian beer drinking dudes 😉

I think I’ve set the tone here. Now let’s move to the order of the day. Yesterday Nutanix announced their new marketing attack on VCE (VMware, Cisco, EMC) Vblock. Everyone knows how I feel about competitive marketing but that’s not the point of the day. The point of the day are the videos. Basically the tone is that we have a very smart datacenter administrator that wants a date. The whole process of getting a girlfriend gets tied to finding the wrong girlfriend and they compare the girlfriend to VCE Vblock.

All in all it’s supposed to be satire and building completely on the cliches of a dumb blonde that looks truly sexy but is very high on maintenance, is complex, needs all the space she can get … the ultimate cocktail of a sexist joke. And off course the marketing people thought it was funny as hell. In fact, to be sure no-one got offended they took “a straw poll with many men and women, and this feedback never bubbled up”. The only thing that tells me is that these were not the right people to ask.

The 1%-ers of IT are women

And that’s not a good thing. And no, I am not speaking about the one percent of the US that are the richest. I am speaking about the single fact that hardly 1 or 2% of the founders of tech companies are female. As opposed to over 40% in general. And these kind of numbers go across the board in different forms. Last month for example Google released their “workforce diversity data”. These are the numbers …

Screenshot 2014 06 05 16 11 21

How many women do we see at tech conferences? In IT management teams? In IT leadership? I think we all can agree that there is no balance in the force. I do not believe in forced quota like we have in some government organisations but I strongly believe in a positive message of inclusiveness. This also means we have to rip out bad habits like booth babes (BOOOOOH) or marketing campaigns like this where the smart engineer dates the dumb blonde. Why didn’t the smart geek girl that is stuck in her datacenter all day not date the dumbass blond guy in these videos?

They got the message!

I praise where possible and heckle where necessary. Therefor I heckled this behaviour in public but I have sent my feedback in private. If you can call someone out, you can also help them understand why you did that. Within less than 24hrs the video’s are now down and I look forward to the feedback from the Nutanix management team.

I am absolutely positive no-one at Nutanix, and especially not in higher management, had any bad intentions here other than trying to make fun of VCE as such. I am also not sure that people outside of our industry, whom may not know these struggles we have, would have taken offence. In the end it shouldn’t have happened but maybe we can be happy that we yet again could bring WomenInIT under a spotlight! 

3 TIPS

  1. Know that you will make mistakes
  2. Be ready to apologise
  3. Be ready to forgive
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