Thousands of women and non-binary people are demanding refunds after an expensive tech conference attended by cisgender men who allegedly engaged in “sexual harassment, physical altercations and inappropriate behavior,” according to an online petition.
This year’s Grace Hopper Celebration, billed as the largest gathering of women and non-binary technologists in the world, took place in late September in Orlando, Florida. Aimed at those traditionally underserved in the tech community, the event features a career fair and the opportunity to meet face-to-face with companies and employers.
However, the event was quickly met with backlash after numerous attendees expressed outrage at the number of men in attendance and appeared to use the conference not to empower minorities in the field but to advance their careers. This included, for example, skipping various meetings on the topic of female empowerment and handing out CVs instead.
Agnes Lu, a technology industry worker working on her second master’s degree at Northeastern University in Boston, paid the $649 tuition fee to attend the conference for the first time.
she said Newsweek She was among the first participants to publicly criticize organizer AnitaB.org, writing in a LinkedIn post that she was “deeply disappointed” by the experience. The post was liked hundreds of times and shared by dozens.
“I have been looking forward to this event since moving into computer science and saw it as a valuable opportunity to connect with other female engineers and offer support in the male-dominated technology industry,” Lu wrote. “However, since my flight to Orlando yesterday, I have noticed a significant number of male attendees at the event.
She continued: “GHC (2023), named after [a] pioneering programmer [Grace Hopper], promotes itself as an event for women and non-binary people in technology. Nevertheless, there is a clear male presence at the event. It is disheartening that women continue to invest a significant amount of money to attend an event that appears to fall short of their commitment to creating opportunities for women.”
The post caught the attention of AnitaB, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women and non-binary technologists, who responded with an apology and a “public call for cis men to stop taking advantage of the opportunities” available to women and non-binary people responded.
AnitaB officials also addressed the conference participants several times and said they were aware of the complaints and the large number of male participants compared to previous years.
But the apologies failed for many.
“I involuntarily had to pay $1,299 to register for this event because so many men were taking away the limited $649 academic seats,” Varsha Ravi Varma, database coordinator at Indiana University, wrote on Lu’s LinkedIn account. Contribution.
“How is it fair that this is a conference focused on women and non-binary people in tech, and yet there are no known restrictions on other genders? I’m paying $1,299 to simply compete with men who paid half of that, even though it doesn’t even mean that to them. It makes no sense.
Newsweek AnitaB emailed several times for comment but received no response.
Lu told Newsweek that the event seemed extremely “disorganized” and that several attendees told her it felt different than previous years.
“People told me that there were a lot more men at the conference than in previous years…that this year was a lot crazier than before,” she said.
In light of the complaints, she started a Change.org petition that had been signed by over 1,200 people as of Friday afternoon. Part of the petition’s demand concerns refunds for tickets.
Lu and others also want a fuller explanation for why the event happened the way it did. This also includes transparency in advertising, as women and non-binary attendees purchased tickets with the expectation that they would be in a specific environment predominantly made up of such underrepresented groups.
While the general presence of men was not frowned upon, the petition states that the “overwhelming presence endangers the intended atmosphere.”
Lu said the event could have been more pragmatic if the men in attendance, who were primarily focused on finding work, had instead “engaged in a meaningful way with the community.” Otherwise, she said, “it dilutes both its meaning and its effectiveness.”
Tanya Goette, associate dean of the College of Business and Technology at Georgia College & State University, has attended the event every year since 2016. This year, she was one of four faculty members who accompanied 25 students.
Goette said Newsweek that there were significantly more men than usual in the career expo area and that they were apparently predominantly international students. The nameplates she saw said universities instead of companies.
Although she didn’t see any men committing any type of harassment or behaving rudely, she said her booth was far from the epicenter of the event and she was aware of complaints from other attendees.
“I firmly believe that AnitaB/GHC knows there was a problem,” Goette said. “As something like this has never happened in the past, I’m sure it was a surprise to them too. I don’t know what they’re going to do to fix it.”
She added: “In the past, the atmosphere of the conference has been very encouraging and inclusive. There wasn’t the same feeling this year.”
However, Goette is not asking for her $649 back because she believes the event organizer was not responsible for the problems. Instead, she believes the chaos was caused by those who came there solely in search of job opportunities.
“Due to potential discrimination issues, I’m glad they are [AnitaB] and not me who has to find a solution,” she said. “I believe AnitaB/GHC needs to be transparent about what they will be doing next year so that people know what type of event and career fair to expect before purchasing a registration.”
Lu said she has not heard from AnitaB regarding her petition and refund requests.
She said she probably won’t attend next year’s event in Philadelphia, not only because of the way the event was run this year, but also because it didn’t help her in her job search. She said the number of participants, coupled with unhelpful recruiters, doesn’t justify the cost.
“The reason for the petition and its distribution … is to let more people know that it is not as good as they advertised it to be,” Lu said. “My real intention is to let people know how the event turned out.”