in Canada

An Apology to Laura Fitton

Last week, I hosted GrowTalks in Toronto, a conference for entrepreneurs focused on metrics, marketing and growth. The conference brought an amazing set of speakers to Toronto. And personally I was excited to finally get a chance to hang out with Brant Cooper, someone I have been connected to digitally, but until last week had never met in person.

Then something happened after the conference, that put Toronto, our community and our values as Canadians in a very negative light. I am hoping that there is lesson, perhaps a “teachable moment“, around treating folks with respect and what we should do when we mess up.

Laura was wearing a dress with her company’s logo on it when she gave her talk. This exchange happened on Twitter:

twitter.pistachio.conversation

My goal is not to vilify the individual but to highlight the subtle interactions that often happen in the community that can make it more closed and less approachable (this is not the first time we’ve had a similar conversation). The goal isn’t to ostracize or vilify the individual, so please don’t start a witch hunt.

I know this interaction does not represent what my Toronto startup community is all about. My community is generally respectful of people. I believe we are great hosts when folks from out of town visit to share their time, expertise and insight with us. My community understands people like Laura and Brant are rare and valuable and have a choice in how they invest their time and when they choose to invest it in us, we’re grateful.

But I also believe a community is defined by how it reacts when folks do things that fall outside of what the community defines as acceptable. After seeing this interaction I worried that unless someone from Toronto made it clear that this isn’t what we’re about, our public silence would be seen as a statement that we think it’s OK to be disrespectful to conference speakers (or heck, anyone, for that matter). I’d like Laura (and anyone else watching from the sidelines) to understand that we noticed, and we are appalled.

Which brings me to the second part of this teachable moment. None of us are perfect. I personally have a colorful history of amazing screw-ups. Miraculously, people forgive me. I think they forgive me because I let them know I’m not TRYING to be a jerk, but sometimes I hurt people anyway and if given the chance I will try hard not to do it again. They forgive me because I’m trying to be better.

If you were the Tweeter in this particular incident there are things you could do to avoid the inevitable backlash caused by your poor behavior.  You could delete the Tweet. You could change your Twitter handle. You could remove your photo. But that doesn’t really convince anyone that you weren’t trying to be hurtful and it certainly doesn’t make Laura feel better. Apologizing does.

In the future I hope we treat our speakers with more respect and if we blow it, we have the good sense to say we’re sorry and try better next time.

  • http://twitter.com/zunaid zunaid khan

    Good on David for this post, hopefully this guy will come to his senses and apologgize

  • Orion Blastar

    I have to issue a public apology as well. I tried to find the man based on his name in the tweet. Google came up empty. I had asked questions and my words were taken out of context, edited, and deleted. I thought it was a hoax in my opinion or staged. I apologize for that. I am so sorry.

  • http://twitter.com/RobTyrie Rob Tyrie

    Great post David.thank you for taking the responsibility for calling out of the bad behavior and talking about how to make the community better. This is the only way to learn values. I want everyone to feel safe , especially those who are brave enough to be out there as public figures. Respect.

  • http://www.rocketwatcher.com/ April Dunford

    I’m really proud of you for posting this one David – I think it’s really important for the leaders in the community to call out bad stuff when they see it. It’s not about shaming the guy the did it, it’s about making sure we all understand why it was uncool so it doesn’t happen again.

  • http://yousayyeah.com Lee Dale

    It seems there’s already been a positive exchange with Laura to that effect (see attached). Now I’m wondering if the person who favourited the tweet is aware of all this.

  • http://printf.net/ Chris

    Lovely to hear one of these stories with sincere apologies all around, graciously received; that’s what we need more of, I think. Kudos for doing the right thing.

  • Fellow Traveler

    It is important to clarify, in the business world, that we absolutely do not appreciate women for their looks or their bodies, or think of them as sexual creatures. Workplace romances and harassment should never be tolerated in any office. We only value women for their problem-solving skills, their ability to take risks, and their ambition, productivity, and aggressiveness, and their ability to handle situations in a calm, reasoned, logical, drama-free way, without coming across as upset or rude.

  • http://twitter.com/Pistachio Laura Fitton

    SO classy. SO appreciated. I’d also like all concerned to know that the guy did apologize after at first taking a run & hide approach. We are ALL human. We are ALL learning. We can build a WAY better world together.

  • http://twitter.com/Pistachio Laura Fitton

    actually I know the “favoriter” and talked to him early on. he was bookmarking the tweet to be able to find it again and send it to a women speakers in tech advocate he knows. so while it appears awkward, he’s on the “rebuild our world” side of this. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/tongejonathan Jonathan Tonge

    Inappropriate, although I imagine he was giving Laura a compliment. However there are much more subtle ways to flirt. Either way, when an individual is in a professional space, you don’t drop a bomb on them. You don’t tell them wow you look so young, old, tell them they are balding, look fat or skinny, have wrinkles, call them a sexy lady or crack a joke about their home country. You first tell them what you really liked about their content (publicly) and then come up with a couple areas that you think need more focus (and maybe share that privately). I imagine the last thing a women wants is to not be taken seriously in a professional environment because that is what men don’t want either. It’s hard to get ahead and our reputations account for most of our success.

  • http://www.RohanJayasekera.com/ Rohan Jayasekera

    April’s said exactly what I was going to.

  • http://twitter.com/Eric_Halsey Eric Halsey

    As banal as these types of exchanges are on Twitter; one must STILL consider the person~the time~the place, as #Twitter IS a microcosm of life; I’ve always believed this. Further, “tweet intent” can’t be deciphered, as in the digital world, the only way a tweet can be deciphered is the LITERAL CONTENT of the words themselves, (which btw only account for 7% of an IRL interaction). Laura Fitton is pure class on Twitter, and has taught me a lot about #Twitter ~even writing a book entitled “Twitter For Dummies”~> your copy can be purchased here~> http://www.amazon.com/Twitter-Dummies-Computer-Tech/dp/0470768797

  • lolwhoops

    Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. I’ve seen uncalled-for remarks and the inevitable fallout it causes too many times, across too many communication mediums (mailing lists, forum threads, IRC channels

  • http://startupnorth.ca Jevon

    Laura you have been a huge inspiration over the years on a lot of levels and I can’t wait to get you back to Toronto.

  • Tea Nicola

    “Workplace romances and harassment should never be tolerated in any office.”

    You cannot avoid workplace romances. We spend between 25-40% of our lives at work and for some, it is the only way to meet new people. Single people are attracted to other single people. Appropriate fostering of a romantic relationship between two consenting adults who work together cannot be avoided and it most certainly should not be forbidden.

    Now, if they start sucking faces in the hallway or the case where only one of them is ‘consenting’ should absolutely be frowned upon and dealt with appropriately.

    “We only value women for their problem-solving skills, their ability to take risks, and their ambition, productivity, and aggressiveness, and their ability to handle situations in a calm, reasoned, logical, drama-free way, without coming across as upset or rude.”

    While I appreciate the fact that you are trying to treat everyone equal, I could not help but notice that this paragraph actually describes a successful male. And your definitive statement can be perceived that you only value women who act like men in a professional environment.

    Women can add a whole other array of traits to a collaborative work environment, such as compassion, intuition, risk-mitigation, actualization and gentleness and slew of other attributes, some even opposite of ambition, logic, reason or aggression. But that does not make them blubbering idiots in a professional environment and it most certainly does not make them invaluable.

  • http://twitter.com/amritachandra Amrita Chandra

    So well written, David. Thank you.

  • Weary

    Not into witchhunt but I don’t see why the offender is being protected when the offended party was named. Meir Bulua said what he hid publicly, thus he should also have apologized publicly (regardless of whether private one was also sent/not). And by deleting his tweet and his linkedIn, he communicated cowardice. …And he’s married. All-round swell guy.