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When you create a stupid system, don’t be surprised when people exploit it. And that’s exactly what happened over the weekend when a conference for women in tech was swamped by men who registered under the guise of “non-binary.”
The Grace Hopper Celebration is an annual conference and career fair designed to “bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.” But this year, droves of men descended on the Orlando event with résumés in hand. And some reportedly even cut lines and shoved women out of the way to submit those résumés to potential employers.
Female attendees expressed their frustration on social media.
“These men are acting like zoo animals, sprinting to the booths, and physically hurting some of the attendees,” one person wrote.
A product designer named Lily Li said the men didn’t attend the panels and seminars. Rather, they bolted straight for the job fair. In her TikTok video, she read comments from women who claimed they were bothered, harassed and even hit on by some of the male participants.
“This is a space for women in tech,” another Grace Hopper attendee said. “This is one of those few, limited resources that isn’t for you. It’s for us.”
“Chaos was the word of the day,” wrote a woman named Preeti Ladwa. “Many men, attending as non-allies, overstepped boundaries. We witnessed inappropriate comments, breaches of personal space, and a sheer lack of decorum.”
Grace Hopper Event Organizers Address Men At Conference
AnitaB, the nonprofit that runs the conference, said on LinkedIn there was “an increase in participation of self-identifying males” at this year’s event. The nonprofit noted it cannot ban men from attending because of federal nondiscrimination protections.
It got so bad, though, the organization’s chief impact officer stood up at the conference to explain that some registrants had lied about their gender identity, and men were now taking up space and time with recruiters that should go to women.
“All of those are limited resources to which you have no right,” he said.
Bo Young Lee, AnitaB’s advisory president, posted a video on LinkedIn on Friday in response to the criticism. She said the event had always felt like “a safe and loving and embracing” place in the past.
“This year, I must admit, I didn’t feel this way,” she said. “And I know that many of you felt the same. Many of you are feeling unsafe, physically, and psychologically, and you’re feeling unheard.
“We tried to create a safe space, and this week we saw the outside world creep in. This makes me angry, and it makes me sad, but mostly it makes me want to fight.”
Cool — let’s keep that same energy when it comes to women’s sports, locker rooms, prisons and other private spaces.
It is a shame what happened at Grace Hopper. But when you create a system that allows women to be marginalized under the banner of love and inclusivity, this is what happens.
And it’s interesting that a group of tech nerds — motivated by numbers and facts — is even entertaining the charade that men can be women.
Hopefully the organizers will take this lesson and make sure next year’s women’s conference is open only to women.
A wild concept, I know.