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York Butter Factory slammed over “sexist” tweet

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

Start-up incubator The York Butter Factory has apologised for a tweet that has been widely condemned as sexist, with a female industry expert claiming the incident highlights the “bro fest” culture within the tech sector.


Based in Melbourne, the York Butter Factory is a co-working space for tech entrepreneurs. It was founded late last year by Stuart Richardson and Darcy Naunton.


Yesterday, a YBF staff member tweeted: “Techs are the pussy of the start-up scene, fill the club with them and the business guys will follow. Got tech chops? @YorkButter wants you!”


The tweet sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy, attracting a wave of negative reactions, with one tweeter slamming the “sexist, disrespectful, misogynistic” message.


The York Butter Factory promptly tweeted an apology for the “wayward” tweet, insisting it “didn’t mean to offend anyone” and “the employee acknowledges it was in poor taste”.


This was followed by a full-blown apology issued by Richardson and Naunton, who said the comment “in no way represents the culture that we’re trying to build”.


“The intention of the tweet actually came off the back of a meeting that was intended to break down the perceived differences within our culture and that of the pure tech entrepreneur, to make sure they felt more welcome in the space,” they wrote.


“The unfortunate result was that the message was a VERY poorly expressed [one] and has misrepresented YBF, its values and its philosophy.”


“The individual responsible for the actual tweet has been relieved of his duties representing YBF via its social channels. We are reviewing whether this employee will need to be let go.”


Richardson and Naunton reiterated the tweet does not reflect the culture it is attempting to build.


“In fact, over the past year, our primary effort has been to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Melbourne so that it is accessible to anyone of any gender or background,” they wrote.


“In future, the founders of YBF will retain all responsibilities for our social channels so that this never happens again.”


Richardson told StartupSmart he wasn't present at the meeting held prior to the tweet being posted.


“It was not a formal meeting… That tweet was not in any way embargoed, discussed or endorsed by the founders,” he says.


“I think there will be a further discussion on the matter, as we move past the issue and back to managing the day to day.”


“I hope [the tweet is] not too damaging but this can demonstrate the power of social media.”


“It has the power to be very damaging and puts the ball firmly in our court, as we move forward, to demonstrate our culture.”


However, female tech entrepreneur Kate Kendall, founder of entrepreneurial online guide The Fetch, believes the controversial tweet is a blessing in disguise.


“These kinds of comments happen all the time [in the tech industry]… It’s only when you get it in the public sphere that people check themselves and say, ‘This isn’t acceptable’,” Kendall says.


“I think it’s a culture thing, and the onus shouldn’t fall on the one employee [who posted the tweet]… It feels a bit like we’re shooting the messenger.”


“The conversation happened in a meeting – it happened very quickly and the tweet got posted. There was not just one person involved.”


“If we had equal representation in these spaces, a female would have said, ‘That’s inappropriate to say’, let alone getting to the stage where it’s worth posting on Twitter.”


Kendall says regardless of whether these comments are being made online or offline, they still show there is something wrong with the industry at large with regard to women.


“I do tend to think the tech community is a bit of a bro fest… It’s a welcoming environment to enter but it’s not an environment people want to stick around in,” she says.


“[Women are] still a long way off getting equal support and representation.”