When 18-year-old Lydia Jones reached out for career tips from a tech professional, she was hoping to make connections with a potential mentor in the industry. However, when she asked for career advice, she received lewd messages instead. In a tweet that has since been shared over 5,000 times, Jones posted screenshots of the Facebook conversation with the man in question.
Jones, who is from London, reached out to the man, an influencer in the tech industry, after seeing his posts in a startups and entrepreneurs Facebook group of which she is a member. Jones’ initial message asked the man for help getting connected with potential “startup advisors/mentors in London.” After responding to that initial inquiry, the conversation quickly became inappropriate.
“How young are you?” the man asked immediately following a message he sent about how to spend advertising dollars. Jones responded, “18?” to which the man asked, “Are you single?” Jones sent the man a succinct “no.” However, he continued to ask questions irrelevant to the conversation at hand which, just as a refresher, was tech mentorship.
“Cool. Was just curios [sic]. Does your bf not help you?” the man then asked. Jones responded that she is gay and tried to redirect the conversation back to tech and her startup writing, “My co-founder is male.” The man, however, very clearly did not get the hint and wrote back, “Oh that’s cute!!” Then, he sent a message that said, “Are you quite open about your sexuality?” If you’re following along at home, you can check off "patronizing commentary", "ignoring discomfort," and "questioning sexual orientation" on your Female Harassment Bingo Card.
Nevertheless, the man persisted, writing, “So men don’t turn you on at all?” That question prompted Jones to respond, “I thought you was [sic] a businessman?” Again, the man did not get the hint and wrote, “Haha I am” with a heart-eyed emoji. “I’m also a human being too right?” He continued.
Mashable reached out to the man for comment. He confirmed that he did send Jones those messages but continues to defend his behavior. After admitting to asking Jones about her sexuality, he said:
“In the end I didn't say much else because I found out that it wasn't appropriate to ask her even though she said she was open. I understand how the digital and text word can be misunderstood but if this was said in person it wouldn't have been a big deal.”
He added that Jones blocked him without explicitly telling him what about his line of questioning she didn’t find appropriate. “Very mature,” he wrote to Mashable. “Richard Branson said all publicity is good publicity so I'm glad she's spreading my brand around. I haven't committed a crime here,” he continued. Funny he brings up a quote about there being no bad publicity and yet spoke to Mashable only under the condition of anonymity. (Cue chorus of one million thinking face emojis.)
Jones also spoke to Mashable about the “overall vibe” she gets when talking to people in the industry. She said she senses people are reluctant to “help females and especially someone aged 18.”
This kind of harassment is unfortunately an all-too-common reality in many workplaces but especially for women in STEM fields. Almost one in three women have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to a survey from earlier this year. One study from April found one in ten women in tech experience unwanted sexual attention at work. Another project found nearly 60 percent of women in tech surveyed had experienced some form of unwanted sexual advancements.
The struggles women in STEM fields face are not limited to sexual harassment. You likely heard about the anti-diversity Google memo which got an employee fired. The memo cited fundamental differences between men and women as the reason for lack of female representation in tech rather than external circumstances like sexism. However, it is exactly because of this kind of sexist ideology that causes women to drop out of STEM subjects at a significantly higher rate than men. However, a recent research has found a promising solution to that last problem: female mentorship.
People responded to Jones’ Twitter thread not only infuriated by the man’s behavior but with advice for Jones on where to find mentors. A few even offered themselves up as advisors for Jones and other young women looking for industry connections. “In my opinion, this vibe won’t really change until we have a female founder / CEO of a platform on the same scale as a Airbnb or Twitter,” Jones told Mashable. “But it should not have to be that way for women to be heard.” Calling out this kind of inappropriate behavior is certainly a step in the right direction.