Yoast is a big fan of diversity. Despite of that, our company faced some rather unpleasant tweets in the last few weeks. In this blogpost, I have written down how I personally feel about that: as a CEO, as a woman and as a wife. The message I would like to send is that I am hopeful we can create an atmosphere at conferences that is friendly for all people, regardless of their gender. I am hopeful that we achieve this together – with everybody in the tech industry- one step at the time!

For all of you who do not know what I am talking about: during our YoastCon conference there was a tweetstorm. Some people send out old tweets that Joost de Valk, our founder and one of the owners of Yoast had sent before we founded our company. The tweets contained some film material from SEOktoberfest and some replies to tweets Yoast sent to women. To complicate matters even further: Joost is also my husband.

It is hard to describe the nature of the tweets. I don’t want to make it bigger nor smaller than they are. Check out the #yoastcon on twitter if you want to form your own opinion.

Joosts’ twitter-handle was the @yoast account back then. Our company did not exist, but the twitter-handle did exist and was used by Joost personally. I really can’t say anything to defend the tweets Joost sent out back then. In this post, I do want to stand up for myself and my 105 wonderful employees who all feel terribly hurt by this.

Yoast has a female friendly atmosphere

Yesterday, Gisele Navarro wrote a nuanced piece about the tweetstorm and the things that happened next. I totally agree with Giselle that the SEO industry was not welcoming to women ten years ago. And although some things may have changed, I still think that the SEO industry has a long way to go. I also think that the problem is much bigger than the SEO industry. I know of many conferences that host promotional models (or booth babes, but I prefer to use the term promotional model). Formule 1 stopped hiring promotional models only last year. I want to thank Gisele for her nuanced piece. She points out important issues and I totally agree with her that we should make the SEO industry and the world beyond that more female-friendly.

Irony is that at Yoast, we’ve been actively trying to improve the position of women. Not just recently, we have been doing this for a number of years. As a company, we have actually been rather vocal in promoting more women to speak at WordCamps for instance. We have been coaching women in our company, trying to help them in their career. Due to our recruitment policy, half of our staff now consists of women. Besides that, last year, we have opened a Yoast diversity fund . Our diversity fund covers expenses for all women (not just Yoasters)  and members of other traditionally underrepresented groups. We cover travel expenses for those who do not have money to go to a conference they want to speak at.

I stepped up as CEO just a few weeks ago. One of the first things I announced was a project that would empower women within Yoast to make sure that our company is as female-friendly as possible.

We have had two previous YoastCons, we never had any promotional models there. That being said, I do think that we had too few female speakers at the first two editions, and we really tried to improve our gender diversity in the lineup in the last edition.

Joost de Valk is not Yoast

Joost has made mistakes. He apologized, as he should have. But he is not the same guy as he was 10 years ago and most importantly, Joost de Valk is not Yoast. We have over a 100 people who work for and represent Yoast. Yoast is owned by four of them (me, Joost, Michiel Heijmans and Omar Reiss). Important decisions were always made by the four of us. Our entire company felt attacked by the tweetstorm. Some of our speakers and some of our employees have been harassed on twitter. We have a very close team. They’re the very best. I consider them my friends. We were all hurt. We really don’t understand why the company Yoast is being attacked, why the #yoastcon is being used for something the person Joost did 10 years ago. Our company and our company culture is nothing like the tweets imply.

Some of the tweets suggested that the reason behind this attack was to show the hypocrisy behind our company. That Joost is not really a feminist, but just acts like one. That hurt the most. That would mean that I am only a puppet. I am not a puppet. Everybody who knows me, knows I am not a puppet. I am much too bitchy to be a puppet. I may not be a big name in the SEO industry, but I am a real good CEO. I am a terrific leader. I am not CEO because I am a woman, I am not CEO because I am married to Joost de Valk, I am CEO because I am the best person for the job.

I am also Joost’s wife

And then there is another reason why I am hurt. I am also Joost’s wife. Joost and I do not have an open marriage. You will all understand that I was not particularly happy with seeing the footage and the tweets. It hurts. I did know about it,  because I know my husband. None of the women to whom the tweets were sent felt harassed by the tweets. I, however, do feel hurt. But we’ll get through that.

I don’t think I am a bad woman or a bad feminist if I choose to be with Joost. It hurts when people say that. I love him and I am proud of how Joost has grown in the past 10 years. He’s so much more than his mistakes. Even back then. Thirteen years ago, he was the man that instantly applied for a part-time job when we were faced with an unexpected pregnancy. I was working on my PhD and made significantly less money. That never mattered. Since then, he has always worked part-time and took an equal part in taking care of our 4 children. He’s my very best imperfect friend.

Let’s learn from this

Let’s learn from this YoastCon-tweetstorm. Let’s take the message out of all the tweets and trolls. Let’s empower women! Next time I attend a conference with promotional models, I will ask the organizers or the sponsors why they choose to hire them. Let’s discuss this with sponsors and organizers. Let’s talk to them.

I will keep addressing the matter of strong female role models on stage. Let’s mentor women who work in our companies. Let’s help them achieve their aspirations. Let’s make sure that we address the importance of (gender)diversity in talks at conferences. In the past year, I have been applying at WordCamps with a talk about gender diversity. I would like to speak up more about this, also at other conferences. I am terrified of doing so, especially after what happened at YoastCon, but I will speak up anyway!

Let’s applaud companies that change in the right direction!  Let’s be positive and hopeful for a better future… Let’s do this!

Join the Conversation

22 Comments

  1. I only saw bits and pieces of the twitter-storm, after the fact, but it certainly seemed to be nothing short of a hatchet-job, promoted by someone who had an axe to grind and invented a narative to try to make Joost and Yoast look bad. In my opinion, it said much more about the character of the instigator than it did of Joost of the company.
    As you say, Marieke – you will move past this. And the attention it drew will probably make your company and your marriage stronger. Certainly, those of us who know Joost or who have worked with Yoast realize the truth.

  2. The thing that bugged me the most about this was that it almost hijacked the awesome YoastCon atmosphere. I agree that the tweets should have been addressed, but not in such a confrontational, attention seeking manner.

    Thank you for the thorough explanation of the whole situation, and smooth sailing in your CEO role!

  3. I can’t imagine the complexity this holds for you. Sending good vibes, strength, light your way.
    -fellow CEO, wife, mother

  4. Well said, I support you in your taking the reins in the leadership roll you are a natural at, Joost for the dynamic leader he has become, and Yoast, for the incredible SEO driving force all 4 of you with your team family have created.

    All those of us whom indevor to lead, are just willing to show how much imperfections we have sooner or later, it’s about how we grow, learn, try to give jobs, products, solutions to our communities… I find myself in good company in just knowing all 4 of you, your team, and how you chose to lead today and tomorrow, I hope to do as well at my time at Crowd Favorite.

    Cheers

  5. Spot on Marieke. Thanks for writing this up. I’ve known the company for some years now and there is no other company I’ve found more inclusive. You all rock.

  6. Thank you for sharing Marieke, and congratulations on your new role as CEO!
    Yoast Con was the first SEO conference I attend and it was a great experience. The timing of the tweets, the fact that they were taken out of context, and that some of them had to be “promoted” says a lot…
    Yoast is a great company with great people, wishing you all the best.

  7. Addressing what was referenced above about “promotional models,” I’m always quite offended when men come to the WooCommerce booth and think they’re complimenting me by saying things like: “Wow, I didn’t expect you to be articulate and have such deep knowledge of your products.” Um, what? Basically they think all I am is a booth b!tch.

    I understand we are all in a state of evolving. We all have the potential to be inclusive, open minded and respectful. But let’s be honest, there is hypocrisy amongst those who present a public view of supporting women, but privately they do not deep down.

    Offense is taken, not given. All we can do is to keep on a path of positivity, education and empowerment. 🙂 Sending good vibes to you and everyone at Yoast!

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Promotional models help set the image that women are only in a conference because they look nice and not because they actually know something. That makes it extra hard to be taken seriously at a conference.

  8. Thanks for speaking out, Marieke. It’s good to learn of the initiatives Yoast (the brand) has been undertaking in the pursuit of gender equality. And you are 100% right in that we have to allow people to grow, learn, and change. Onward and upward!

  9. I don’t work for Yoast but I have worked with several female Yoast team members over the past 2 years, as volunteers during WordCamps and in the MakeWordPress Marketing team. In addition to that I have gotten to know both Marieke and Joost personally. And yes, that is 2018-2019 Joost, not 10 years ago Joost. I have attended YoastCon and did not feel unsafe or unwelcome for a single moment. And I know from conversations with several gals working for Yoast how this company encourages to grow and thrive. Even in 2019, a lot of companies can learn from that and will hopefully be inspired by that. If you want to experience in person what it feels like to work with / for Joost, I warmly invite you to join the MakeWordPress marketing team as a volunteer.

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