A case study in online harassment: The Black woman in tech earning £130,000 a year

This is a guest post by Abadesi Osunsade, founder of Hustle Crew, a careers community on a mission to make tech more inclusive, and co-host of Techish podcast.

I found myself in an intense debate last week with my friend, podcast co-host and fellow diversity entrepreneur Michael Berhane. The topic was a Twitter war we found raging in the Black Twitter community.

Yasmin Taylor, a 27 year old dev ops specialist, recently published a Medium blog, shared in a Twitter thread, about the steps she took to find herself earning £130,000 a year (US$160,000).

“Yes. I am 27 and I am earning six figure, £130,000 to be exact.” — Yasmin Taylor

Her account, which shared everything from useful certifications and tools to sample interview questions, quickly went viral. A number of aspiring engineers and tech professionals thanked her for sharing such a detailed playbook of success. But as she answered questions on her Twitter thread, clarifying part of her story, and filling in any blanks her Medium post didn’t cover, the tone of interested parties quickly went from positive and affirming to toxic and abusive.

Some vocal young Black female professionals active on Twitter but not in the tech world called her out for showing off. They accused her of lying. Someone even went as far as contacting her employers to see if she was in breach of her contract by taking on the additional projects that brought her annual income up to the sum of £130,000. Taylor has since deleted her Twitter account as a result and spoken of the turmoil she faced on a recent episode of the podcast “The Last Three Digits”.

As Michael and I discussed this, he said, “This backlash is why I don’t share my successes online. I don’t want to draw any negative attention to myself.” 

This upset me. There are so many barriers to success that could be removed completely with the right information. Given the data illustrating both the gender pay gap and the ethnic pay gap it feels urgent for accomplished high earning professionals from underrepresented backgrounds to share their playbook for attaining such lofty goals. On a personal level, of course I want to share practical advice to help others succeed. But I don’t want to open myself up for abuse or worse. Curious to hear more opinions, I asked other Black women in tech what they thought of the backlash. I was surprised to learn that most agreed that while the intention was admirable, the execution was misguided. Money is a touchy subject in most cultures, including ours. Instead of broadcasting figures to the public, one friend suggested, a safer bet would have been to share that level of detail on a 1:1 level with relevant people who ask for that help. There are certainly merits and risks of being transparent about career success and compensation online. I for one won’t stop sharing my career tactics transparently on social media because to me it feels like the most effective way to drive change, but I wonder about this question.

What’s the cost we pay for online haters? What started as a valuable narrative of a young professional's impressive pivot into tech became an attack on a woman who simply wanted to encourage others to make the same leap of faith in the industry as she did. An opportunity to learn and grow descended into a war. 

I want a world where, as individuals participating in social media, we don’t have to think about the harassment we expose ourselves to any time we share something online. Unfortunately, as Taylor’s case shows, we do. And the cost isn’t just borne by the individuals who are beaten back by online abuse. It’s all of us who no longer get to benefit from what they have to share, or others too afraid to speak candidly.