Employee writes AVFM to defend Oblong Industries

Yesterday Robert O’Hara penned a news story about a company in California, Oblong Industries, which has segregated parking areas for employees by sex based on the erroneous idea that women are more prone to being victims of violence than men, and thus should have a parking area closer to the main building.

Today I received an email from Pete, who says he is an Oblong employee and who indeed wrote me from an Oblong email address. I wanted to share this with readers, as well as my response to it. PE

Hello. I’m writing in response to your recent article about discrimination at Oblong.

First, some introduction and disclosure.

I’m a male employee at Oblong. I manage the web site and noticed the link to our page in the analytics this morning. I haven’t spoken to management and these comments are my own.

I’m no stranger to discrimination against men. 5 years ago, I learned my wife was having an affair with my boss. Despite my best efforts to keep the family together, she filed for divorce and took full custody of our two children. Despite her reckless behavior, the law sided with the mother. The incident soured my professional career. I left the company, and my children now live with their mother and my former boss. I was not an absent father, but extremely close to my children and their upbringing. It’s taken some good counseling to move forward, but I’m good now.

My initial reaction to your article was shock. I admit, I did not find the parking policy offensive when it was announced–ignorance on my part I see. Regardless of safety/distance, it’s clear the policy is flawed, but definitely not enough to merit this kind of public backlash. Had the issue been raised internally (and there are many clear ways for that to happen), it most definitely would have been changed without incident. No one is ever in danger for speaking out here.

You should more fully understand this company and how it really treats its employees (male or female) before speaking out so heavily against it.

I have worked here for over two years, and of all the companies I’ve worked for (these include ad agencies, design studios, large software companies, and large universities), Oblong is the last place I would associate with discrimination. It is the most human corporation I know. Employees are treated like real people. Vacation and health benefits are above average. Parking and bus passes are paid for. There are 6 spaces in front of the building that are clearly open for anyone in particular need: late for a meeting, parking after dark, ankle sprain or other issue, wife expecting a baby, etc. These–which are far closer than any others–are almost exclusively used by the men who work here.

We eat together 3 days a week——food prepared by a male chef who makes some of the best food I’ve eaten in LA. We hold weekly all-hands meetings where everyone is allowed a voice in open forum. Employees *frequently* call into question company policies, great and small. We are encouraged openly to voice our opinions on even the most sensitive issues. Management has an open door policy (and is comprised of both male and female officers). They are thoughtful, humble, empathetic, and the antithesis of oppressive.

Not long after I started working here, my CEO learned that my children were coming to visit me in California (a rarity for me). He immediately offered his own home to me and my kids so that we could be closer to the beach. That’s the kind of management that runs this company.

Surely, there are better examples of discimination you could bring to light than Oblong. We are a young start up building meaningful tools. It is the kind of company your group should want to succeed. Come and visit our lab. I’d be happy to take your around myself and show you what it’s like here. It’s more like a home to me, and the employees here are like family regardless of gender, age, race, or other affiliation.


My response:

Hello Pete,

Thank you for writing regarding Robert O’Hara’s story on the parking policy at Oblong Industries.

First, let me express my sympathies concerning the circumstances of your divorce and the impact it had on you and your children. As you might imagine I hear countless similar stories in the course of my work. Each one is personal tragedy.

I am thankful to hear, though, that at least you are being given important support by company management. In that respect I am pleased but not at all surprised to hear that Oblong is a great employer, demonstrating otherwise good values and treating their employees as valued, equal members of a team sharing a vision of growth and prosperity.

I am sure that many of the principles guiding Oblong Industries are quite similar to those embraced by A Voice for Men.

Be that as it may, Oblong being a really great place in some respects does not and should not exempt it from criticism where it is due. This is particularly true of criticism that speaks directly to the core values of equal and fair treatment regardless of sex or other distinguishing factors that have long been the source of discrimination in our society.

With all respect to your well reasoned, articulate and moving defense of your company, the rationale that we should not treat such a blatant example of sex discrimination as a news story, and that we should not take issue with it, falls completely flat on me.

Wrong, is wrong Pete, and we don’t correct wrongs until we start pointing them out.

There have been countless excuses through history of targeting groups for different treatment. From separate water fountains to blanket exclusion from different kinds of employment our culture is replete with examples of treating people differently based on one particular identifying characteristic or another. Many if not all of these unfortunate customs were based on misguided but nonetheless prevailing ideas of decency and propriety. Your egregious treatment in family court was a supreme example of this kind of bigotry in action. The harm that you and your children endured was based on the prejudiced idea that their mother deserved special treatment.

All of these forms of discrimination are wrong and they all ultimately cause damage. This is no less true for Oblong Industries.

As with most or all other forms of class discrimination, the rationale for justifying the Oblong parking policy was erroneous in the first place. It is men, not women, who are at greater risk of experiencing violence on all levels in every area of our society. Thus the policy itself is a perpetuation of stereotypes and disinformation which benefit one group at the expense of another. All of Oblong’s admittedly good deeds do not change that, nor do they issue a pass for Oblong to ignore its own mistakes.

I appreciate your good words in informing me that Oblong Industries is the kind of environment where employees can speak up about any issue that concerns them without fear of reprisal. However, I must also point out that we first learned of your company policy from one of your own employees who was not comfortable speaking up or being identified by us. Perhaps the spirit of openness is not as pervasive at Oblong as you might believe?

At any rate, I do want to thank you again for writing, and for speaking to the issue at hand as well as for the acknowledgment of error in the policies at your company which clearly discriminate against male employees and extend undue privilege to females. Now that we have a shared understanding of the basics, we at A Voice for Men will wait to see if Oblong Industries corrects its mistake, and more fully joins a society standing against sex discrimination, or if it will settle for the complacent acceptance of a bad and unjust policy.

Kind regards,

Paul Elam
Publisher, A Voice for Men

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