Geek Girl Con and the Worst Scorched Earth Email Ever

By: Jacob Lewis

I received a fun email this morning from Geek Girl Con. For you non-Seattleites, Geek Girl Con is a yearly convention that “celebrates and honors the legacy of women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; and game play and game design by connecting geeky women world-wide and creating community to foster continued growth of women in geek culture through events.” Each year I plan to take my daughters to it, and each year I forget.

In the hopes of absorbing information that would allow me to remember a simple date, I decided to read the email. Boy howdy am I glad I did that!

In summary, the email stated that several board members and staff quit over issues of racism, sexism and financial and corporate governance ethical issues. Specifically, the following:

It is with great regret that we wish to inform our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors of the resignation of the entire Convention Operations team, loss of key Founders and Board members. The Convention Operations team, responsible for all aspects of setup of our convention, Exhibitor management, security, and pass sales have chosen to leave GeekGirlCon as a result of the actions of the Executive Director and remaining Board members.

The following is the statement from our Convention Operations Team:

This action is not a step taken lightly. Many of you are our friends. Many of you we consider family. This team has a long history with GeekGirlCon, including some of us who were there at the start, and all have worked very hard to support its mission and values. We are disappointed and saddened that it has come to this. However, actions by the ED and by the Board have made the current environment one in which it is impossible for us to continue. Over the last five months, while we worked with the ED and the Board in good faith to resolve the differences, we witnessed bullying, gender discrimination, racism, misuse of charitable funds, and many instances of unethical behavior. We can no longer support this organization’s administration as their recent conduct shows a severe lack of integrity, morality, and respect for its hard-working staff, volunteers and attendees.

Effective immediately, we are resigning our positions and will cease association with GeekGirlCon.

Below you will find a few reasons driving our decision to resign.

Acts of discrimination carried out by the Executive Director in the removal and eventual reinstatement of a Con Operation staff member.

Opportunistic and underhanded voting tactics by the Board of Directors, including:

Voting on matters before seeing the evidence collected and knowing it has been collected.

Postponing vote on the removal of the Executive Director during its proposed session; instead the vote was called in an emergency meeting without the Board member who proposed the original motion being present.

Bullying of staff members and making derogatory statements to them about their mental and/or physical condition.

Dissemination of printed documents by the Executive Director that include details of private, sexual encounters, unrelated to GeekGirlCon, in an effort to discriminate against and kink-shame a volunteer.

Questionable use of charitable funds by the Executive Director.

Deprioritization of financial oversight by the Board of Directors.

Failure of the Board of Directors to provide any recourse for reporting ethical violations made by the Executive Director.

If you are an Attendee, Exhibitor, or Sponsor for GeekGirlCon 2017 and are concerned about the status of your payment, recent drop in expected attendence, or sponsorship of this year’s convention, please contact: info@geekgirlcon.com

You may also direct inquires to: Michele Domingo, Executive Director at michele@geekgirlcon.com and I-Wei Feng, Acting President of the Board of Directors at feng.iwei@geekgirlcon.com

When I read the first few sentence, I immediately rejoiced, “Hurrah! A scorched earth email! I love reading these!”

Scorched earth emails, in this context at least, are emails sent by a group within a company that has decided to leave, or in some cases, are forced out, and want to leave a swath of destruction in their footprints. I’ve read a lot of these and, in my experience, no one has ever written one where they don’t take whatever thin layer of credible cause they have for exiting a corporation, and stretch and exaggerate it to the point where it makes them look like  a colossal douche bag after receiving even a moment of  scrutiny.

Traditionally in the case of a an exiting disgruntled manager(s) a corporation will release a joint statement with the manager about the situation and simply allow them to leave under auspice of an amicable part. They will of course talk shit about their exit over via social media at a later date (there might be non-disclosure agreements involved in larger corporations, but usually not in smaller businesses or something  like a local convention). The corporation and the exiting parties may also choose to say nothing about the departure and let each go about their separate ways. But, sometimes, people exit suddenly and decide to use  a virtual megaphone to announce a giant fuck you to everyone who can hear them.

As I read more about the underlying conflict with Geek Girl Con (which became extremely heated due to reasons outlined a few paragraphs down), I began to piece together a skeleton of what I thought actually happened, and found that it was just like every single management blow up I’ve ever seen. It looks like there was a dispute within the corporation, the dispute devolved into arguing and name calling and eventually allegations of impropriety against a managing party, the dispute was brought before the board and a call was made for the managing party’s resignation (even though the majority of voting power appeared to be in favor of the accused managing party). However, instead of raising and dismissing an issue within the normal rules of governance, the majority power on the board used that power to summarily dismiss the issue; in this case by voting on the matter without the complaining parties present and without the interested party recusing themselves (whether this was a fiduciary breach or just a dick move depends on what their bylaws say). Once that occurred, even though the board member(s) bringing the allegation were likely only bringing it as a not very well thought out FUCK YOU, they now felt especially rejected, got pissed off and decided to resign. Of course, not before they attempted to burn the place down as they leave by painting an exaggerated picture of their departure in a way that most favors their position.

What do I mean by exaggerated picture? Well, here is an example from the resigning member’s statement. They alleged that they were leaving because the board insulted staff members  mental and/or physical condition. What this usually means is that during an argument someone called someone something along the lines of crazy and fat. Are those nice things to say? Certainly not. But its not as bad as calling someone a “manic hair lipped cripple inbred retard”, which would also equally fit within the scope of the above allegation. It’s all about ambiguous statements that are not so much false as overly broad as to their actual meaning. This allows the people reading the statement to insert their own meaning into the statement and take the side that best fits their natural inclinations.

I can’t even stress the mundaneness of the above scenario. This exact scenario has happened thousands of time before. Regardless of who is at fault, as with most corporate governance matters, it could have been squashed if people had remained respectful and did not try to unfairly use corporate authority. In fact, the situation ended up being so mundane that I almost immediately lost interest in it. However, thankfully not before the fun twist that differentiated it from my other experiences.

What makes this case different is that the resigning parties not only failed to stick the embittered scorched earth letter dismount, they shat their pants while doing it and then complained why nobody was applauding. Basically, they attempted to burn the place down using 100% pure weaponized stupidity. The scorched earth examples I used above are tried and true because they force the other side to have to respond in some manner. Once the other side responds, even if it is a good response against a position that has no merit, they will be seen by some as being on  the defensive. As the matter will likely never be investigated further, there are suddenly two permanent alternate realities next to each other, one where the resigning managers are right, and one where the company is right. This isn’t to say that all resigning managers bring up exaggerated grievances, but most of the time it’s just the corporate version of rage quitting.

Now, with the above in mind, do you know what kind of allegations you don’t use in these situations? Allegations that are so broad that they are misleading, and can be countered by, lets say, simply posting a picture of the people making it.  I feel pretty safe in saying that even if you believe that racism is something that only applies to a group in power using its authority on a group that is not, is entirely systemic, or applies to any person using race against another, I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the scorched earth letter in this case and  picture the Geek Girl Con resigning managers as a bunch of white people. Also, that the majority of said white people were white men. Whether or not you believe there is weight to their complaint, you can’t say that their complaint was accurately reflected in their official fuck you email.  The fact that there is now a debate in the Seattle geek community about whether white people can be the victims of racism, and whether men can be the victims of sexism, completely misses the point of their stupid statement. The exiting managers didn’t raise that issue, nor did they intend to. They kept their statement ambiguous so the readers could fill in the blank and they would lash out against the convention.

Now, Geek Girl Con released a lengthy response to the scorched earth email and its various remaining managers released their own comments and statements. As I said before, responding to these things, even if it is necessary, always puts a company on the defensive. I can’t blame Geek Girl Con for responding. I can blame them for not responding by simply stating, “these were a bunch of white mostly guys. Go about your day.” They could have immediately destroyed the exiting manager’s credibility with that statement, and have no need to respond to the other allegations. However, they did respond to them, and now there is a big debate about what is really going on behind the scenes.

After Geek Girl Con had an opportunity to respond, I would expect that the resigning managers would either own up to the fact that they attempted to mislead people (unlikely), support the position they were taking regarding racism and sexism in our society (less unlikely) or go quiet rather than attach themselves further to a position on race and gender you might not have intended to fully embrace (so much less unlikely). However, the resigning managers found a fourth option, which was to go find a nice new clean pair of pants to shat and then double down on their stupidity. They decided to speak, instead of staying quiet, and they neither backed away from their position nor fully embraced it.

However, they did say that they had friends who were POC .

While I know some people in the past have said that line in response to allegations of racism, or variations thereof based on allegations of sexism or anti-Semitism, I think we as a people have come to the point where we can all agree that it has never been successfully used as a defense in any situation. Its only purpose in our society is to parody the kind of people who would say that in response to allegations of racism, which is in itself to absurd for my liking because I didn’t believe any of those people still existed. I find the existence of a flat earth movement less surprisingly than there are a group of people in our society who, regardless of their beliefs on race, still believe that the above line is a effective way to support them.

At least I know that if I had been in their shoes, and I was in some bizzaro world where I actually had friends, and some of those friends were also POC, I would at least know enough not to invoke said friendship at that time based on…well… pretty much every single comedy or stand up special I’d ever seen.  Now, that isn’t to say I wouldn’t invoke said friendship at other times, like if I wanted to get a free snow cone or to bring outside food in a movie theater (Note: all of my scenarios are snack related and only result in making everyone around me feel uncomfortable with my presence). However, I would probably only get through “some of my friends…” before I saw the belief and credibility drain from the eyes of those around me.

So, what does all this mean. In internal corporate governance disputes, stay professional, never use small amounts of power unfairly against another person (especially if you are in the right) and keep your scorched earth letters to exaggerated ethical and financial issues (just like god intended). Also, pretty much never do what the above people did.

In the meantime, I must now face my rapidly approaching senility as I come to terms with the fact that despite reading about 40 different things about Geek Girl Con today, I’ve already forgotten when it is.

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