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Leaked Apple emails reveal employees' complaints about toxic work environment (mic.com)
126 points by apu on Sept 15, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments

Absolute BS. She sent an email to the entire company about this "incident", which I'll include here (names redacted).

> 8:53:41 AM Person1: so am I the only one who thinks of the Bed Intruder auto-tune song everytime Person2 warns us of undisclosed persons in the building?

> 8:54:47 AM Person3: hide yo wife?

> 8:54:57 AM Person1: and yo kids

> 8:56:02 AM Person3: well, you're not any more

> 8:56:13 AM Person1: #winning

> 9:02:13 AM Person5: hilarious. Now the song is stuck in my head!

> 9:08:08 AM Person4: -_-

> 9:09:43 AM Person4: No

> 9:11:10 AM Person4: Could do without having songs referencing sexual assault mentioned.

> 9:12:04 AM Person1: fair enough

> 9:13:39 AM Person4: Especially joking about it. -_-

> 9:18:25 AM Person4: Does not exactly endear me to working during the day when the first thing I see is someone joking about rape in work chat.

> 9:18:46 AM Person1: my appologies

> 9:33:18 AM Person4: It's completely unacceptable, and creates a very toxic atmosphere.

> 9:36:45 AM Person1: obviously that wasn't my intention. it won't happen again.

> 9:37:24 AM Person4: Compounded by the fact I am the only woman in the [org], and I have several guys joking about it as well, in work chat.

> 9:37:32 AM Person4: It would be unacceptable even if that weren't the case.

And then claims to still not feel safe coming back to work after taking a month off due to PTSD from the above incident.

There is undoubtedly sexism in the tech industry, and we should all strive towards eliminating it. This, however, is stirring up drama in response to a joke made in poor taste.

Person 4's fascist solipsism is astounding. She has transferred the "toxicity" and "unacceptability"in her own mind onto the whole team.

A song was referred to but there was no actual mention of sexual assault. The song is not "completely unacceptable" as it is obviously commonly known and legally sold. It is therefore acceptable in the workplace, referred to as it actually was.

Person1 seems to be genuinely sorry as well. Probably person1 was fearing for his job over what seems to me to be a harmless joke.

Sending an email to the entire company instead of talking to the person in a private message is probably the height of Shame Culture. Oh and then publishing this in the news too.

It's also clear that she has listened to the song enough to know the words too. So she was happy offending herself.

Good point.

I don't know the song myself. If I worked at Apple I'd have reported person 1 for not being inclusive enough...

> It's also clear that she has listened to the song enough to know the words too.

I've never listened to the song, and the exchange in the thread was sufficient to inform me of the information that it complained about, to wit, that it was a song referencing sexual assault.

Its not like the exchange was at all subtle or opaque.

I'm aware of lots of offensive things that don't belong at work.

The question here is was what was written in that email offensive and not to be written in the workplace...

Well, this was a chatroom. I do think it's important to recognize the level of planning which goes into what someone is saying and adjust expectations accordingly.

Now that our communication tools are capturing everything we are saying in real-time, do we truly expect 30,000 people to never make a comment that could possibly offend someone else?

I do wonder if just reading a comment like this in a company chatroom (along with an immediate apology) requires taking a month off, if perhaps there isn't a reasonable accommodation that could be made here to help Danielle be successful at Apple.

How many songs do you find offensive but listen to often enough to memorize the words?

Where does it say that she memorized the words? I've never heard the song but I've heard about it and know the "hide your kids" bit. It's not like she's reciting the Gettysburg Address here.

Lots of things are sold legally and commonly known, but are still not acceptable to discuss in a workplace.

I'm struggling to think of some examples. Perhaps you could tell us what you have deemed to be "unacceptable".

That doesn't mean it shouldn't be. What is sold legally bu unacceptable to discuss in the workplace?

errr sex toys?

But why should that be inappropriate to discuss?

Thanks for posting the actual event so we can draw our own conclusions.

This reminds me of how you read a story in the news about something you know, and you just shake your head and are shocked about how wrong every single piece of it is... then you go on reading all the other articles on topics you don't know about and genuinely believe they are informative.

Really, shame on Mic for their terrible reporting on this story. There is an interesting phenomenon going on here, but I think it has nothing to do with inappropriate jokes causing a toxic atmosphere.

> And then claims to still not feel safe coming back to work after taking a month off due to PTSD from the above incident.

And this case of "i'm right and everyone else around me is wrong" is considered normal ?

This is a western syndrome of "our lives aren't in imminent danger, we don't have to think about harvesting food and information is at reach" boredom.

If this is sexist, what isn't?

This particular comment could be perceived as being insensitive to victims of sexual violence, which disproportionately effects women.

However, I can think of a lot of things that would completely avoid any chance of being perceived as offensive! How about,

> 8:53:41 AM Person1: so am I the only one who feels uncomfortable/unsafe everytime Person2 warns us of undisclosed persons in the building?

> 8:53:41 AM Person1: so am I the only one who takes a coffee break everytime Person2 warns us of undisclosed persons in the building?

> 8:53:41 AM Person1: so am I the only one who wonders why there are so many undisclosed persons in the building everytime Person2 warns us of undisclosed persons in the building?

Person1 should have just held their tongue. Both Person1 and Person4, along with others potentially, would have benefitted from the 8:53:41 AM message merely having never been sent.

Can anyone express the argument against this position?

That is the "Heckler's Veto". The notion that if an action leads to a hostile response, then that action is to blame. For example, in a civil rights march in the deep south in the 60's, police tried to argue it's the marchers fault if people riot.

Yes - had the first message not been sent everyone would have been better off. That does not mean that the initial message bears the blame for what happened.

The time that I worked at Apple was brutally hard work. If we're talking about work environment, I think many people reading that article have no concept of how difficult a job it is, how high are the expectations, and how many hours the average engineer is putting in there.

This is a very difficult job which can be extremely stressful for a long duration of time. As a society we tend to laud grueling hard work rather than recognize that it's probably the worst aspect of the work environment by far.

As far as TFA goes... it appears to be reporting on "leaked" emails telling a one-sided narrative with no attempt to validate the claims. Not to diminish the claims being made, but I think this is technically called "storytelling".

Taking it a face value though, it seems tame in comparison to other 'scandals'. I simply do not expect that people will constantly remain professional. They will need to blow off steam, and sometimes the way they do that will not be fully inclusive, or necessarily politically correct. Yes, sometimes men actually complain about their wives at work -- this is not shocking to me. I don't like that employee complaints seem to be poorly handled; all employees should be valued and listened to at least.

None of what I read in TFA I really understand to be a hostile work environment, as the term is defined. Is "toxic" supposed to be a new term to describe feeling uncomfortable or not getting the promotion you wanted? Apple's work environment is certainly extreme, but I think for reasons very much apart from gender.

> None of what I read in TFA I really understand to be a hostile work environment, as the term is defined.

Your colleagues joke that someone is coming to rape you, and you're supposed to laugh? I'm not a woman, but I can imagine a woman being really hurt by such a joke. Given the fact that 1 out of 6 women in this country are victims of sexual assault[1], I think it's a joke in poor taste, and does not belong in a workforce.

[1] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem

I'm a little upset that you took the first paragraph of TFA and mangled it into "Your colleagues joke that someone is coming to rape you."

  On a Tuesday morning in July, when men on her team began to
  joke that an office intruder was coming to rape everybody,
  Danielle decided to speak out about what she described as the
  "very toxic atmosphere" created by jokes about violent sexual
So 'Danielle' overheard a tense joke about an office intruder. After raising a complaint, the person who made the joke apologized profusely.

I'm not laughing, but again I'm really not shocked and would not expect a response to this incident beyond the apology already offered.

If the throwaway accounts posting lately are real, then it wasn't even directly about rape, it was about the line "hide your kids, hide your wife" from.. the Bed Intruder Song. Then the person apologized more and more while Danielle kept going at him for making that joke.

And then she had to take off time from work to "recover" from the incident. Sounds like someone who might be more fit for their new position than in a stressful environment around other humans.

> I'm not a woman, but I can imagine a woman being really hurt by such a joke.

So we have to treat women differently than men? Sounds a bit sexist.

No, not differently, you just need a base level of respect that allows for diversity. Various groups of people don't face the same issues as other groups of people. It's easy to be in one group, and say something that is a lot more offensive to another group due to real fear and/or discrimination, and vice versa. So no matter what group/s you belong to you need to be respectful of other groups and their challenges.

Why is the onus on me to be aware of what every sub group considers offensive? Why isn't the onus on the sub group to recognize that they are a minority and that not everyone around them has to meet their standards of what is and isn't offensive?

If you want to be respectful of everyone around you, that's what it takes--awareness of what they consider offensive.

If you don't care about being respectful, don't bother finding out.

There may be consequences if you don't, there may not be. Me, I want to be respectful, so I start with a safe neutral ground and go on from there.

But why is it a one way street? One don't they have to be respectful of me and the human inability to know everything?

you are right, it shouldn't be one way, and workplaces should actively educate what the issues are. You shouldn't be expected to just know everything, especially as it is a bit of a moving target.

because in a workspace the culture is one of inclusiveness, the onus on you is to be inclusive, I'm sorry to say, that's going to require some awareness on your part. But don't worry, it will likely just make you a better person overall.

A workplace is not required to ensure you're not offended, only that you're not sexually harassed, harrases in general, or discriminated against (if a protected class). A workplace can also not force inclusiveness.

I fear that the swing in PC culture is going to cause more harm than good for "inclusiveness" now that the pendulum has swung too far.

Exactly. Consider being an employer and having two candidates to hire. Both candidates posess an equal amount of skill, the only difference is their gender. Now you have two options: you can hire a woman and risk that she will complain about "toxic work environment" and "sexism in the industry" while tying your company name to these accusations... or you can hire a man and not worry about that at all. Why wouldn't you go for the second option? Not only you will get the same result when it comes to work, you'll also avoid the situation described in the article.

I'm not from/in the US. PC is about respecting people, I don't think we are really in danger of too much respect. The only bad rap PC gets is when people only pay it lip service. but at its core, it's about respect

Avoiding funny jokes because they might offend someone won’t teach people anything. It’ll just make them feel like they have to suppress what they actually want to say.

Most people have a thick enough skin to get over it, so the people around them don’t all have to adjust to their feelings.

funny jokes that are made at the expense of people really don't have any place in the workplace. In comedy there is a concept that anything can be made funny. So, limiting the kinds of jokes you make still leaves you an almost infinite amount of jokes to make :)

Sure, people do have thick skins mostly, but you shouldn't rely on that. Again, it's just about being respectful of people.

Yes, but that can’t be done preemptively, see? Anyone I meet could be anything—any religion, any race, even a neo-Nazi for all I know—and it wouldn’t be evident from their appearance. So should I just avoid all jokes that are at anyone’s expense? Isn’t it better to be unafraid about what I say and to apologize if a joke I made was at the expense of someone in the room and they were offended by it? I never intend to offend anyone, but I’ve also had quite a few good-natured laughs at others’ expense without any intention of demeaning them. I don’t see anything wrong with that if I apologize once someone is offended and then avoid making jokes at their expense around them.

My path of least resistance is to avoid talking to $minority. So the end result of this PC culture will be less inclusiveness.

correct, that is the path of least resistance. Culture change takes real effort

But I don't want to change the culture to one where we can't say anything for fear of hurt some special snowflakes feelings. In fact I'll fight against it.

No, not differently, [...] you need to be respectful of other groups and their challenges.

So, be accommodating in a way that means people are treated differently, but just don't call it treating them different?

10-4 loud and clear, good buddy.

Wake me up when men are raped at the same rate as women and then we can talk about treating everyone the same.

So sexism is okay until men and women are raped in equal amounts?

It's not sexism. Women and men are treated differently from basically the day they're born. Talk to some women for a change, and learn about their fears and apprehensions. You'd be surprised. Until you try to educate yourself, the Internet can't do it for you.

So equality is a list cause and your fine with that?

someone coming to rape everybody.... she wasn't singled out. Still, rape jokes are not acceptable.

>Still, rape jokes are not acceptable.

Perhaps, but it's not something that is obviously unacceptable. I would put it on the same level as making a joke about an intruder coming to bomb/shoot everyone. Certainly it's in poor taste, but that's the level of humour you find everywhere.

if that was a real and possible threat to someone, then that would be totally unacceptable as well. Pretty sure people who went through 9/11 would not appreciate that.

Thing is, it's not found everywhere, there are very respectful workplace environments. If people do cross the line it is called out and dealt with and quite quickly things converge on what is acceptable and what's not.

It’s a shitty joke. Just move on. It shouldn’t be the company’s business to legislate whether jokes are in good taste. If just one person is uncomfortable on that team, they should just be put on another team, no questions asked. An entire team shouldn’t have to adjust their speech for just one uncomfortable person, especially when just one slip-up prompts that incident being shared company-wide in a massive and petty shaming attempt.

Rape jokes are obviously unacceptable.

No more obviously unacceptable than bomb/murder jokes, both of which are pretty common.

Rape jokes are obviously unacceptable because they would violate even the flimsiest of sexual harassment policies.

Just because it might violate a sexual harassment policy doesn't mean it is "obviously unacceptable". Those policies tend to be very conservative.

In most workplaces (in my experience) people talk openly about sex and relationships, which would probably violate even these "flimsy" policies.

Sex is natural, and it's natural for people to want to talk about it. The important thing is whether you are deliberately harassing someone, whether you should reasonably know that your behaviour is abusive, and whether you stop doing it when you're told that it upsets someone. I've always worked in places where the majority of people are quite reasonable, but I realise not all workplaces are like that.

It wasn't even one, they just related to a song (which she obviously knew as rape wasn't mentioned): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12503157

Not to diminish any of the other claims but I found this one to be a bit of an eye roller -

Describing another incident, she wrote, "I was walking back to my cube from the break room and passed a group of managers exiting a meeting. The Area Manager told me to smile as I walked past." "While this is a small thing, it was notable as this is one of the most commonly reported forms of subtle sexism."

No matter how hard I try, I can't fathom how that could possibly be construed as sexist.

By asking/telling someone to smile, one is basically saying, "You should look more pleasant for my benefit." I can't see asking someone to smile being appropriate in a workplace setting unless the person is in a customer-facing role and it affects job performance. The sexist part is that it seems to happen far more often to women than to men.

Or maybe you just want to actually cheer up that person? Not everyone follows the sociopathic line of thinking you presented.

How does telling someone to smile cheer them up? Besides, you can be cheerful but not smile.

I mean kids will typically end up laughing if you tell them to smile.

> bascially saying "You should look more pleasant for my benefit."

Perhaps not.


Tone of voice and mannerisms tell a much fuller story, though.

Exactly this. Context is everything. Human communication is very nuanced.

That's quite an assumption (that it has anything to do with physical appearance).

It's equally possible that it was intended as a shorthand for "cheer up, it's not that bad" or "try to keep your chin up". Both of which actually indicate that the speaker cares about their colleague.

Sure, I can see contexts where it would be inappropriate to say but that doesn't make it always inappropriate to say.

Please read this submission: "Lighten Up": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3736037

To clarify, I can indeed see the smile comment being ill-intended or even sexist in some contexts.

I just don't think you can automatically assume ill intent. As someone with depression I've been frequently told to "smile" or "lighten up" and while it's certainly annoying (and occasionally infuriating), I know that the underlying intent was probably positive.

People who are being sexist usually don't think they're being sexist - they don't usually have "ill intent." See the first comment in that thread for someone's thought process in realizing this.

Of course. But the corollary to that is just because someone interprets something as sexist doesn't automatically make it sexist.

Given an ambiguous statement, people can (and should) judge the statement based on context, and that includes perceived intent of the speaker. Human communication is much more than just words. Context and intent absolutely matter.

IMHO, everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt when dealing with such serious allegations. Or, as they say innocent until proven guilty. I wouldn't want to work in a place, or live in a society that believes otherwise. There simply needs to be a higher burden of proof than "it's sexist because I felt it was sexist".

Can it be considered sexist to say what was said? Sure. Should it be considered sexist by default? I don't think that's been proven.

This is actually a common thing that women experience from men that are trying to passively hit on them. Except most of the time its not from coworkers, so when it does happen in the workplace, its blatantly obvious what the underlying meaning is.

Wow, I had no idea people would interpret this as sexual harassment. I say this to both men and women on my teams that look like they are having a rough day. I'll remove that from things I say.

Edit: I don't just say "Smile", usually there is more context to the conversation and usually ends with me trying to see if I can help fix the problem(if it's work related).

You should absolutely try to help cheer people up and fix their problems. Nothing wrong with that. But there's a difference between helping someone feel something and telling them to feel something.

Have you considered that it might not be a command? Human communication is much more nuanced than just the words on their own would indicate.

Where I'm from it's commonly meant as shorthand for "cheer up, it's not that bad" or "try to keep your chin up". Both of which actually indicate that the speaker cares about their colleague.

> Human communication is much more nuanced than just the words on their own would indicate.

Said the guy who further up the thread said he "can't fathom how that could possibly be construed as sexist."

Fair point. To clarify (as I've written elsewhere in this thread) I can indeed see how in some contexts it can be sexist. Absolutely.

What I meant to say was that in this context I can't see how it would be construed as sexist. Or put another way... I can't see how this statement automatically defaults to being sexist absent any other indicators.

At any rate, this kind of proves my point that it's very easy for communication to come across in a manner other than the speaker intended. So serious charges like "sexist" or "racist" should not be levelled lightly.

If you want to help, empathize: ask questions, indicate that you understand them. But statements about how they should feel will not help.

"I'll remove that from things I say".

If there is no bad intent, why should you? The answer is that a snowflake could get you fired but the rhetorical question stands.

> This is actually a common thing that women experience from men that are trying to passively hit on them.

I suspect these women are being hit on a lot less frequently than they think.

That's stupid. I smile at literally every person I walk past in my day. It's how I acknowledge them.

Not smiling at people: Telling them to smile.

Yes that part is absurd.

Because it's generally a double standard, in that the same thing is not expected of men. It goes along with the 'women need to look attractive in the workplace' thing.

While it's true, if it were a single standard, men tend to be even more coarse toward each other, so in this case, the double standard is a bit more mellow --now, perhaps some people would just have one standard and that is their standard.

Men will get the "man up", "grow a pair", "relax", "you'll get over it", "are you gonna pussy out on me?" etc.

It's a hard problem --and unless you go for rigidity in the workplace, we're always going to have regular human issues (not company issues) permeate the workplace --be it office romance, cajoling, hijinks, etc.

Maybe it is sexist, but in isolation it's just not particularly remarkable or actionable.

  sexism - noun - (2) behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster
                      stereotypes of social roles based on sex
The theory being, you're trying to impress your superiors, so your sexist response is to tell the woman to smile, and the man to look busy? However, asking your subordinates to be gracious to the boss is pretty typical.

Would you ever say that to a male colleague? Would anyone?

Would anyone?

Yup. Back when I was dealing with depression, I heard it all the time.

"Smile" and "Cheer up" are still two of the most rage-inducing things anyone can say to me. It's just one of those things about appearance I have to roll with. I also don't get to show up barefoot, with no t-shirt and just wearing boardshorts. So I play along and part of that is acting much happier and more amenable than I really am.

The main difference is that I don't have people constantly telling me this is caused by an oppressive societal structure pushing me to conform. (I mean, it is, but it's not treated as one. I'm certainly not constantly told I need to be to rejecting. By media that makes me weaker to it, and teaches me to suffer even harder when effected by those social structures.)

> "Smile" and "Cheer up" are still two of the most rage-inducing things anyone can say to me.

I'm not dealing with clinical depression but I can see what you mean. If I'm upset enough about something that it is visible, the last thing I want is someone telling me to "cheer up."

I guess I'm fortunate never to have worked with the kind of people (commissioned sales people? politicians? child molesters? I mean, I can't even imagine) who would notice I'm upset and tell me to "smile."

I guess I'm fortunate never to have worked with the kind of people [...] who would notice I'm upset and tell me to "smile."

It's not only some demanding command to modify your mood, it can be a good natured suggestion to try and keep your chin up. The person who said it to me most was my mother.

> The person who said it to me most was my mother.

Wow. If you're curious as to why some view it as a condescending thing to say to a colleague you really could start there.

edit: I'm surprised by your reply... only because it seems incongruous with the statement I replied to. interesting.

edit: I'm surprised by your reply... only because it seems incongruous with the statement I replied to. interesting.

Just because people were well-intentioned didn't make it any less infuriating. I've gotten it in the "cheer up" sense and the "be more presentable" sense and the "comply with norms" sense. Not a huge difference in how it feels, non family ones are a bit easier though.

You're choosing to interpret it one way (and only one way). What the commenters in this thread are suggesting is that the phrase is often used with genuinely positive intent.

No matter how ill advised or inappropriate you find it, I don't think you should assume intent.

At least, where I'm from this is true. Maybe it's a societal norm that varies by culture and region.

I've been told it quite a few times (I'm male). Or at least, asked why I look/sound sad/tired/whatever.

It happens to me occasionally (I'm male). Unless I'm making a conscious effort my face normally looks sad or down and people tell me to smile or cheer up. It really annoys me when they do that too.

People have said that, or things along that line to me. I've said it to others.

"Would you ever say that to a male colleague? Would anyone?"

Out of context I'd imagine your question was about something that is actually serious or significant. Unbelievable.

I have yes, but to be fair that was in the service industry.

Yes. It's called empathy, and the lowest effort way of showing something that you acknowledge their bad mood is by saying "hey, cheer up" or "hey, smile buddy!"

Not saying it's tactful but I'm not a psychologist

Maybe it's time we rethought the work environment and did away with co-ed [co-work] working environments and had all-male and all-female campuses and put a lid on human behavior infiltrating into office environments. If people can't behave themselves as well as find commonality and compromise on acceptable behavior perhaps some colleges and universities have it right and we're better off apart.

Why shouldn't people be expected to remain professional at work? Why is the difficulty of the job an excuse?

I work for a startup and I agree with this statement

I'm risking a lot here...

Apple employee here:

I only want to provide context. None of us want a toxic environment. We, at Apple, pride ourselves on the fact that we are accepting of all backgrounds, nationalities, genders, religions. I, personally, have struggled with ensuring a diverse set of folks on my team or all backgrounds. We love the fact that we're helping to lead the industry with regard to diversity. And "Danielle's" case is unfortunate.

Danielle is of course an alias to protect the original identity. And I sincerely thank Mic for doing so. In an internal chat, someone made a reference to the "Hide Your Kids Hide Your Wife" meme about something technical. But this wasn't the intention of the sender. Danielle, a gay transgender male, explained that this was an inappropriate reference, the offender apologized immediately and said that this comment was not to make fun of rape.

Danielle in this case had a unique set of circumstances that made her especially sensitive to this kind of comment. And we should all be careful about what we say. And I completely agree with her that this kind of content has no place at Apple.

This thread was meant to be forwarded to Tim Cook, but was accidentally sent to a large internal group. This is how it was leaked.

I wish Mic would release the full emails with names redacted so that you all would see what was actually said.

The lesson here is: think about what you're saying. Sexual assault destroys humans.

Actual sexual assault destroys humans. A joke less so.

Also getting offended by peoples actions, worldviews and literally punishing them for this... destroys humans.

Is your position that people should be able to say whatever they want in the work place?

No, that's not what I was saying at all.

Words do hurt, jokes can be offensive. But there is a line what you will do to retaliate.

You can brush it off and move on with your life and make the mental note, that the guy is an _ss.

Or you can go and punish him through a series of humiliating procedures which will definitely have an impact on his life, his career and possibly destroy him. You do more damage to him, then he did to you.

Is it worth to punish someone for a joke? Because if it is, then you might bring back the death penalty for stealing a can of beans from the grocery store. Or agreeing that people should commit acts of terrorism because someone made a joke about their faith?

The biggest punishment should have been that their line-manager has a private talk with the guy, or sitting down the three of us and find a common ground. Not running to the head of the company and filing for harassment.

And frankly I wouldn't want to work with a person like that. Not because I want to tell rape jokes and not because she is not a man. It's because I don't want to work with someone where I always have to be careful what I say, how I say it and watch my behavior for 24/7 to not become a target for harassment lawsuit.

Being oversensitive can make one into a toxic person as well, not just bad behavior. And because of this issue, people will avoid her, because they will be too afraid to have any kind of connection with her. And who's fault will that be? The men? Why not, it's always the men apparently.

I'm a father of two girls, I want a future with gender equality, but not the one where you force people into behavioral patterns to accommodate the system. Clearly then the system is bad. It's a relationship between the genders, we have to work together. We have to give to be able to take. Sometimes it's ignoring minor things like an inappropriate joke and sometimes is being thoughtful and not say stupid inappropriate jokes.

I hope this clarifies my stand on this matter. In a nutshell: Rape jokes are bad. Harsh punishment for a joke is also bad.

It's not what people say, it's the intention behind it.

If I say "I'm too white for that" or "my male brain cannot process that many stuff at the same time", am I'm being racist and sexist? No, because I'm just joking about my own stereotype.

If I would want to verbally assault a women, I can do that without ever referring to her gender.

The other hugely important factor is the body language and tone, that completely get lost in the reporting, I can say "I'm going to brutally murder you and hang your corpse up a tree", which sounds like a legit death threat, however, if I say this to you, it depends on how I say it.

So clearly, worrying about what people say without context is backwards.

> We, at Apple, pride ourselves on the fact that we are accepting of all backgrounds, nationalities, genders, religions.

Reads like a PR boilerplate.

Right? Like no one could actually be proud to work in an inclusive environment.

Because it is.

The real question is this: should an entire company have to adjust to a few people’s sensitivities, or should those few people have to either develop a thick skin or switch teams?

I get that the joke was made in bad taste, but why imply that it trivialized sexual assault? That’s either disingenuous or ignorant.

I'm going to remove this post. Based on applethrow2's description and the choice of "Danielle" as an alias, I assumed that they were AMAB, aka a "transwoman", aka a woman, but as DisraeliG points out one could have made the opposite assumption.

Removing this comment as I misunderstood the intention behind the above comment. It is still useful to understand the differences between the phrases trans man and trans woman:


Is it just me or is this ultra-political correctness a new and intresting phenomenon? I'm really interested to watch where it's all going.

Pretty much all jokes are going to offend somebody. You can't ask people to smile, comment on thier clothes or belongings. You can't interact causally in the workplace at all.

Perhaps we'll see workplaces where all communication is in writing and on topic.

Do we want our workplaces where people gather together as friends as they work, or do we want our workplace relationships to be strictly professional?

I think I would prefer to work in a culture where, if you don't like the people you work with, you go find a new job. You don't complain, you get over it or you leave.

(Because even telling me my jokes are offensive is a form of harassment itself.)

I don't want to work in an office where I can't make friends, tell jokes, or laugh and enjoy life. Life is too short to sit in a room full of people you dont' know, don't like, or don't care about.

I spent nearly 20 years working in a Northern Irish company in which in-office discussion of politics, religion and most sport was banned, on pain of disciplinary action. On occasion people were asked to stop bringing their choice of newspaper into the office, too, as this could be construed as a subtle political signal.

After a few months one adapted to restricting the domain of conversation without much effort, and the main problem was when we had visits from overseas staff who would stray into the verboten topics. One became adept at moving the conversation to safer ground.

Politics and religion were particularly touchy in Northern Ireland, but why sport?

I'm not familiar with the situation in Ireland but in Scotland the Celtic / Rangers rivalry has a strong religious element to it.



Wow, is that really that big of an issue rivaling _politics_ and _religion_?

The entire dialog is becoming very tiresome, especially since it seems play out almost entirely on the Internet, where you can't even tell sarcasm half the time.

On the one hand, you have decades of women and other minorities having to brush off a bunch of stupid comments or risk losing their jobs, and they're just tired of having to put up with that BS anymore. And they're right to feel that way.

On the other hand, if everything becomes political, then that's completely stifling in a free society. Taken to the extreme, it could be less free than Soviet Russia since, at least there, you know who was enforcing that nonsense and had some kind of hope of navigating it. The enforcers here are self appointed, at times faceless, and have different people taking turns deciding what the outrage of the week is.

The problem is mostly that our society is trying to move away from the old social hierarchy, which was exclusive and hurt alot of good people, but we haven't figured out what we're replacing it with.

Great comment!

I found Slavoj Zizek has a very interesting perspective on "racist jokes" as a bonding factor in _diverse_ communities https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri0qiAita4s (approx. 10m)

Not to be mean but there's more than "PC" at work here. For example, I don't talk much at work since I have anxiety among other things, so it's really hard to socialize even at work. But what makes it even worse is when people don't respect my personal space and try to get me to "open up" beyond doing my work. I know for some this annoying because we're social creatures but honestly I'm not. I prefer to be on topic so that when I go home at the end of the day I can just forget about whatever happened only to pick it up later. So, if that offends anyone that's not my supervisor I don't really care. Nor should others take offense when I don't care for their "you should open up more or smile more" comments. I won't file a complaint with HR since I know the nightmare of HR from previous jobs but don't expect me to give you my personal email address or my Facebook account name (since I don't use my legal name on it) just because we work together.

I think that attitude is perfectly fine, and hey one day you might find that you do want to go to lunch with colleagues and have a chat about the weekend.

All I'm saying is that it would be a shame if we created a work culture were that was simply not possible.

> Pretty much all jokes are going to offend somebody. You can't ask people to smile, comment on thier clothes or belongings. You can't interact causally in the workplace at all.

But not talking to someone is also sexist/racist/abelist/whatever, so you better hope you live somewhere with some interesting weather.

I spoke to a friend who mentioned that the reason all his coworkers at his small privately owned company are white was because the CEO had some pretty racist beliefs about minorities. And he mentioned that their work banter is pretty edgy as well.

Now of course it's illegal for them to discriminate like that for hiring... but I wouldn't want to work with most of those people anyways, so it's better they keep to themselves. Plus I heard that the pay is terrible there.

The idea that you can't interact casually without risking personal offense is just a knee-jerk reaction. If restricting work conversations about personal appearance, sex, gender, race, religion, rape, etc. is equivalent to eliminating all personal interactions, your conversations must be quite impoverished.

Telling you that your jokes are offensive would indeed be harassment---if you worked at a late night show or another joke-telling profession! Otherwise, no, telling you that your jokes are offensive is in fact not a form of workplace harassment.

Also, you might want to reflect on why making friends, telling jokes, laughing, and enjoying life requires you to say racist and/or sexist things at work.

Thanks for proving my point. You jumped to the assumption that I'm a racist or sexist, and you even put it in writing. Now I report you to HR, you have a black mark on your record and won't be getting your annual bonus / raise / promotion.

And hey look, perhaps I am, who can tell these days. Telling somebody to smile is sexist now apparently. "island of cannibals" is racist, but I dont know which race - all of them I guess.

Give me any topic of conversation and I'll tell you who it offends.

Why are most of these articles about harassment in the office associated with American companies? Are women from other countries afraid to speak about this? Or are American women just overreacting?

In this specific case I understand that insinuating a rape scenario — which by the way is not against women but "everybody" — in a work environment is bad, but without knowing what other toxic comments or behavior happened in the same department where this woman was working, I cannot sympathize. Knowing how sensitive are people nowadays (specially in the United States) I wouldn't be surprised if the previous comments were things like "Man, did you see [female name]'s dress today? It's so ugly". They are probably worse than this, but again, without knowing the alleged previous incidents I cannot sympathize with this specific woman.

Also, why did she quit? Why not stay and fight for the rights of her other female co-workers? If what I understand from this story is correct, the other women do not report these incidents either because they are afraid of retaliation, or because they learned how to take (or ignore?) a (very stupid) joke.

EDIT: On a side note, imagine if the genders were switched. If the people making the bad "joke" were women, and the person reporting the incident was a man. He could have reported this to the CEO but do you think the story would have been published in this website or other? I don't think so. I am glad to have worked remotely for several years, to avoid these incidents with my co-workers.

In a world where tech companies are competing desperately to secure as much as possible of a limited pool of female talent, quitting (and encouraging other women to do the same) is a pretty direct and powerful way to incentivize the company to do better in the future.

Apple gets a lot of good PR for having a relatively high percentage of female employees; stories like this damage that, and in this case, it sounds like the black mark is at least in part deserved.

As for the difference between American and other countries, some possible conclusions that don't rely on the meme that women are catty or that everyone is too sensitive (even if they sometimes are):

- There are legitimate cultural differences between the U.S. and other countries. Look at parental leave policy in Europe vs. the United States.

- You may be exposed to more U.S. media than non-U.S media.

- Protections for women and minorities in general in the U.S. are weaker.

- Many of the biggest tech companies are U.S. companies. Silicon Valley is in Silicon Valley. Non-U.S. companies often get less media exposure than U.S. tech companies.

>Why are most of these articles about harassment in the office associated with American companies? Are women from other countries afraid to speak about this? Or are American women just overreacting?

It's a change in culture and expectations. It's also class specific. Men and women in the working class have different expectations and, in my experience, women in the working class can be just as brutal as men, when it comes to harassment.

To further the cultural aspect, it's like corporal punishment in the US as a way to steer child behavior. In some places of the world it's still okay and people see it as normal but most kids in the US would see corporal punishment as something that only happens to kids in bad households and many would call the cops on their parents or strangers --this of course was not the case 50-70 years ago.

> Why are most of these articles about harassment in the office associated with American companies? Are women from other countries afraid to speak about this? Or are American women just overreacting?

There's some other possibilities too, like it's worse in America than in other countries.

As someone who's spent a fair bit of time in Germany and Switzerland, lol no.

I can confirm that several nations in Asia also don't treat women employees better than they're treated in USA. b^)

> As someone who's spent a fair bit of time in Germany and Switzerland, lol no.

I would be interested to know more about your experiences there.

That's fine, but it's completely wrong for the poster to present this as a binary choice when it's anything but.

How bad is it there? Care to share?

Nothing to share on companies, but women couldn't even vote everywhere in Switzerland until 1991.


I don't know. I haven't been everywhere, of course, but I have traveled extensively for my job, and I think American women have it pretty sweet in the workplace. If they were in Japan, for example, they'd probably be fetching tea all day and getting groped; if not at the office, on the train ride home.

I've seen women objectified and discriminated against a lot more abroad than I have in the U.S.

"It's worse in other countries" doesn't mean it can't be better here.

America is probably one of the most sexist and racist countries on the planet.

You simply don't hear about other countries experiencing these problems! Maybe some people will share personal anecdotes, but does it constantly make the news elsewhere?

If the country was truly to "most sexist and racist" do you think the events would be so newsworthy?

I think s/he is being sarcastic.

Don’t give them too much credit.

From an european POV I'd guess it has to do with fire-at-will and litigation-happy culture combined with scant labor protections for white-collar positions & low union participation. Maybe people are reluctant to raise issues until it's blatant enough that they can win a court case if they are shrugged off and fired by the employer?

In many north european countries you could take these up as a workplace bullying issue and possibly escalate to your municipal workplace safety ombudsman and/or union rep. But in most cases you wouldn't have to, your grievances would be taken seriously internally because there's the threat of escalation that won't necessarily end with the victim leaving the company.

I think that in europe we are more relaxed and nobody would not care this type of jokes. You would only tag the guy who did this joke as asshole and move on.

> Why are most of these articles about harassment in the office associated with American companies?

Most people on HN only speak English, and only read US news sources. Thus there's a natural bias away from EU or Asian sources, and towards US sources.

> Why are most of these articles about harassment in the office associated with American companies?

From my other comment : This is a western syndrome of "our lives aren't in imminent danger, we don't have to think about harvesting food and information is at reach" boredom.

Why can't we merely strive to live in a world without workplace harassment?

People who've survived sexual assault may well be experience the fear that humans have when their lives are in danger.

There are people who survived sexual assault and those who have PTSD from a joke.

Anonymous throwaway. I believe that more context for the rape joke is warranted.

At Apple, it's important to cover confidential materials when undisclosed persons are present. An employee wrote that this process reminded them of the viral song Bed Intruder [1]: "hide yo wife, hide yo kids."

"Danielle" objected to the joke because the song references sexual assault. The person apologized and promised to not let it happen again.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bed_Intruder_Song

In that case, Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" seems like a funnier joke while simultaneously avoiding the whole rape thing.

Problems like this can happen in any company and this includes Apple as well. Since Apple is one of the biggest Tech companies people are going to make a big deal about it.

But it is a big failure if managers/management fail to take actions. The immediate manager should be fired in this case since he or she failed to take any action or involve HR or upper management

Why does it seem like every time someone gets offended about something there are calls for people to get fired? There are other ways to address workplace conflicts than to put heads on sticks. As reported in this article, none of these incidents are grounds for termination- not even close.

It reminds me of any number of apocryphal-but-true-enough stories I've heard over the years, which always take the same form: (1) young engineer / machinist / programmer gets rare and unfamiliar task, and makes judgement call; (2) young engineer fucks up spectacularly, causing huge loss / damage / embarrassment, to the point of fully expecting to be fired; (3) young engineer is not fired; (4) boss / manager explains "well, either way I have to pay for the damage -- I could do that and fire you, but then I'd just have to hire someone else who could do the same thing you did next week. Or I could pay for the damage and keep you, and know you'll never make the same mistake again."

Somebody who messed up but acknowledges it as a mistake, and is therefore unlikely to repeat it, may be more valuable as an employee than a random new hire who may or may not make the same mistake again in the future.

Of course, someone who makes a 'mistake' that is in fact indicative of an underlying personality flaw or tendency towards bad judgement, is a liability and best gotten rid of. The job of a manager is to decide when a person is one versus the other.

I like how Atlassian handled an incident that was different, but also included calls to fire the engineer:


> I know the engineer responsible well. I hired him. I know the slide does not reflect his values any more than it reflects Atlassian’s, and he is as deeply sorry as we are. It was an error in judgment, but one the company shares responsibility for making.

> As Atlassian, we don’t stand behind the slide – but we stand as a team. When we do good, and when we do bad. Today, we failed as a team. We will help him learn from this, as we all must. Our engineer, our event, our issue, our learning, our growing – as a team.

What was wrong with that slide?

It specifically mentioned "[his] girlfriend". Although potentially cringe-worthy, there was no generalization. The contents could have been entirely factual.

Step one: execute the manager.

Are there any intermediate disciplinary steps that could occur? People make mistakes all the time, should we hang them out to dry on the first instance?

People make mistakes all time but having said that there are level of how bad things can be.

Personally I feel this is the worst thing you can do to co-worker.

I'm not clear on what you think the worst thing you can do to a co-worker is.

I just skimmed the article again, and it says something about the lady being in a room for meeting with a bunch of men and them all joking about being "dismissive about their wives" and that a manager told her to "smile as I walked past".

I must have missed a memo somewhere along the line. When did saying "smile" to someone become "one of the most commonly reported forms of subtle sexism."

Perhaps you were referring to something else, in which case I apologise.

> Personally I feel this is the worst thing you can do to co-worker.

How about actually raping them?

How would you know what action they took?

Danielle doesn't seem like a person I'd like to work with.

After reading the chat transcript, I would probably quit my job if I had to work with someone like her. Mentioning a song, get accused of harassment and promoting rape culture, having coworker take medical leave for a month for PTSD? Over someone mentioning a song? Wow.

Danielle probably doesn't want to work with you either.

Reading stuff like this always feels weird to me. I'm the founder of a 30+ year company and, to my knowledge, this has never happened at my company. It's possible it happened and no one told me, but given my position, I would think it would eventually come around to me (I'm the COO now).

I have to wonder if behavior like this follows from bad leadership. I'm not saying Tim Cook, given the case of Apple, but middle managers. I just cannot believe that a person above the woman in TFA didn't know about this, and just let it ride, because it was just "boys being boys" or some BS like that.

I can tell you if I ever saw or heard of anyone doing this in my company, I would crack down very quick and hard. But more than that, I think the people we have lead by example and I just can't believe anyone would ever do something like TFA outlines.

I appreciate your comment. Truly, it won't reach you, it will stay stuck in middle management.

To keep something like this from happening you need to implement training. Training for both men and women on what is acceptable "here", because believe it or not, people are not learning from their home or college environments about what you think is acceptable.

Then make yourself, or a senior HR person, available to speak with.

I can tell you if I ever saw or heard of anyone doing this in my company, I would crack down very quick and hard.

There's a reason that information doesn't make it all the way up the "chain of command".

When you say, "this has never happened at my company." I am curious what you mean by that? The article describes several anecdotes which seem to me to paint a fairly broad brush.

Never at the end of a meeting at your company has an employee joked about their spouse?

Never has someone at your company ever used a violent metaphor to describe losing a sale, or the servers crashing, or learning the release just slipped another month?

Never has someone at your company been passed up for promotion and was upset because they felt that they deserved the job?

Never has someone at your company had to interview a job candidate without proper training on how to run the interview, or proper time to prepare?

The actual transcript of the discussion that "Danielle" objected to has been posted in this thread:


I'd be interested to understand your take on this situation. Does it really warrant more than the apology that was already provided? It sure seems to me from the transcript that "Danielle" was going out of her way to find offense. ("Danielle" since not her real name)

I agree. From the TFA it seemed like it would be way worse than that. To me, that doesn't rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment.

One thing we don't know about Person4: what led up to this? Was it the last straw? Was it the first incident (she alleges it's not in the transcript, but who knows)?

Would you fire a person for a joke like this?

Telling someone to smile feels closer to trying to cheer them up than any harassment.

Don't ever do this to a woman. It's not going to cheer them up. They've been putting up with that crap their whole lives, and all you accomplish by telling them that is to add to the load of crap.

Don't do it to a guy either. I've put up with this crap and frankly you are just another brick in the wall.

People often have resting faces that look unhappy.

Or just something someone would say to someone in a hallway just to say something. People have said things like that to me plenty of times before, and I'm assuming it probably wasn't because they mistook me for a woman.

"You alright?" Or less insinuating, "how are things?" works better.

It completely depends how it is said, the tone and the non-verbals. It can be creepy and sexist as well. Some component of it is not just that it was a man vs woman but that it was a manager. Then it can feel patronizing. "Come on! Amuse me with your smile. I don't want to have frowning reports. If you don't smile, no good review at the end of the month" kind of idea

Besides cheering someone up by telling them to smile is like telling a quiet person that they are so quiet. Haven't seen that ever help except make the person even more quiet.

Even if you are friendly with the person giving the comment, it strikes me as a very self-centered thing to say.

It translates into: "I don't like seeing your face unhappy."

To which I (or anyone) might reply: "Well, I'm having a shit day and you're not helping. So... tough!"

It would be more appropriate to say nothing if you don't know the person or don't have time to ask if anything is the matter.

How often are you told to smile?

How do [would] you react to someone telling you what emotion to feel, much less to outwardly convey, regardless of what's actually going on inside you?

It's offensive and inexcusable, regardless of gender or intent.

> It's offensive and inexcusable, regardless of gender or intent.

How? It's a common everyday saying.

It's no longer a common everyday saying because it's become synonymous with the sinister sexist undertones that it implies.

It's like asking someone to "Netflix and Chill" today vs 3 years ago. At some point it may not have only meant one thing but those days have passed.

> It's no longer a common everyday saying because it's become synonymous with the sinister sexist undertones that it implies.

This is quite literally the first I've ever heard this. Is there an official list of what we can and can't say anywhere?

> This is quite literally the first I've ever heard this.

Then it's good that you heard about it now, so you don't do it to anyone in the future!

Here's some references to better understand why this is a bad thing:

* http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erika-hardison/its-important-f...

* http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/09/47343350...

My take away from this is that if something so innocuous can be considered so offensive it's much easier to avoid casual conversations with women at work entirely.

I'm a guy, and if you told me to smile or to cheer up because my resting face wasn't happy enough for you, and especially if I've had a rough day, I'd tell you to fall down a flight of stairs with a grin on my face.

This goes for a lot of that stupid shit people who barely know each other seem obligated to say at each other in the office. No one needs it. I mean just a polite nod acknowledging one's existence is fine, or maybe a "Good Morning". Let's stop all this "How are you?" with people we aren't even on a first name basis with. I mean do you really want to know the answer?

And if you don't know a person well enough to know if they're mad or they just look a certain way while they're deep in thought or rushing off somewhere, then don't say anything. It's _totes annoying_ and presumptuous. You saying a kind word while passing in the hallway is not going to magically unfuck someone's day.

Although holding doors when lugging laptop bags and so forth is always appreciated. Please continue to do this if you do. That just might unfuck someone's day a little bit.

It says more about the person who says it that they think that will cheer you up, though if you actually reacted like that it would say more about you.

If you think it's hard to avoid being sexist to women, just imagine how hard it is to be one and have to deal with this every day for their entire life!

If you think someone asking you to smile is a hardship then you don't have a hard life at all.

The "smile" factor is one of many, many, many examples of sexism that women put up with every day.

If someone is offended that often, maybe they are the problem and not everyone else.

Says who? You and a few others? Lots of people disagree so maybe you are in a tough shit scenario here.

Unless you actually have got someone fired for an innocuous comment. Then it's tough shit for them, I suppose.

> Says who? You and a few others?

Google "telling women to smile" (no quotes) should prove enlightening. If you want something more specific, I've provided two references in the post below.

Thanks for the links. I read the first one. I guess we just disagree.

I am of the opinion minor discomforts are things we have to deal with/adapt to. Especially when there is work to do. You seem to be of the opinion that personal discomforts are something that we should avoid causing as a matter of the upmost importance.

I think we have to agree to disagree.

> You seem to be of the opinion that personal discomforts are something that we should avoid causing as a matter of the upmost importance.

It costs you nothing to not say something sexist to women. So it's pretty much a no-brainer to not say something sexist to them.

> I am of the opinion minor discomforts are things we have to deal with/adapt to.

Why would you want to be the minor discomfort that people have to adapt to?

Strawman. I never said I did.

I just pointed out that you can choose to get offended by small stuff or you can just get on with things...

After all, someone saying "smile" to someone else really is small stuff.

"I am sorry you chose to get offended."

> Fed up, the woman quit her job at Apple, trading her position at one of the world's most iconic companies in favor of a job riding a bicycle.

At least it has a happy ending.

>>> "But this rape joke was the final straw: The next day, Danielle escalated her complaint about the offense to the very top: Apple CEO Tim Cook."

That isn't the route. In such a large organization, even a very very good and proper one, such issues are not to be accelerated to the CEO. If you have thousands, tens of thousands of employees, then complaints like this will and should be a daily issue (not always a rape joke, but similarly serious complaints). That's why you have HR and legal departments.

And the next day? Workplace complaints take days or weeks to evaluate. Do not ever expect answers on the order of a day. In a really horrific situation you can ask your immediate supervisors for help, such as by transferring the alleged offenders elsewhere temporary, but do not ever expect heads to roll by next business day. The more serious the complaint, the more time one must expect before action is taken.

What? If you have a grievance HR or legal is the last place you should turn to as an employee. No matter what your position is it basically starts the process of getting yourself fired.

HR's primary mission is to protect the company from its employees.

No- HR's goal is to protect the company's best interests. Sometimes this coincides with an employee's own best interests, and sometimes this goes against it.

And emailing the CEO won't? I recall some stories about the people at amazon who emailed Bezos regarding their difficulties at work..

Maybe, but Apple CEOs have always given out their email addresses since the days of Steve. What is it for, if not for greater accountability?

PR. To appear to be accepting greater accountability.

Do you honestly think Cook (et. al.) read their own email? I would be surprised if it's not filtered and triaged by at LEAST 3 levels of people before they see it.

It's there, but any rational person must realize that the CEO cannot possibly act faster than immediate supervisors. CEO will, at most, hand the immediate investigation to an underling who will then contact HR. And corporations have had employee manuals long before CEOs started maintaining a public email address.

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