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.
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!