Opinion: Men infiltrated an event for women in tech – and people aren’t happy

Microaggressions are everywhere – even in 'safe spaces'

Opinion: Men infiltrated an event for women in tech – and people aren’t happy

A few weeks ago, an esteemed tech conference descended into chaos after the female-only guest list was seemingly infiltrated by men.

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is dedicated to helping women climb the career ladder in the traditionally male-dominated sector. Held in Florida, the event is named after the famous American computer scientist and mathematician – an icon in the field.

However, reports have now emerged of men attending the event on the alleged pretense of being ‘non-binary’ and therefore not technically banned. Attendees shared their frustrations on TikTok and X (formerly Twitter).

The confusion reached such a height that Cullen White, the Chief Impact Officer of AnitaB.org – host of the event – addressed it in his keynote speech.

Speaking at the event, White is reported as saying: "This is supposed to be a joyous event that centers around you. Yesterday, it became clear that there are a far greater number of cisgender men attending than we anticipated.

"Simply put, some of you lied when you registered. And as evidenced by the stacks and stacks of resumes you're passing out, you did so because you thought you could come here and take space to try and get a job. We need male allies; we need men who want to celebrate women, work with and for women. So, we welcome men in this space—to learn and support and improve."

On the flip side, some people online seemed to suggest the outrage was unjustified – asking questions like ‘How can you police gender?’. It’s true, policing gender is near impossible – however, it’s also important to create a safe space for marginalized individuals to thrive without impediments.

According to McKinsey’s recent Women in the Workplace 2023 report, over the past nine years, since the report was first launched, women, and in particular women of colour, have remained underrepresented in the corporate sector.

While the report shed light on some hard gotten gains by women in certain sectors – including technology – it also showed the impact of microaggressions. Debunking certain myths around women in the workplace, the report hit upon the long lasting stress of microaggressions – particularly their impact on female employees.

According to the report, women, and again particularly marginalized women, are much less likely to feel psychologically safe – citing common microaggressions such as others taking credit for their ideas, being mistaken for a more junior colleague and people making unsolicited comments on their appearance.

The data found that 78% of women who suffer from these microaggressions “self-shield” at work – or even adjust how they look just to protect themselves. And for Black women, they’re more than 2.5 times more likely to change their look.

Microaggressions can come in many forms (such as infiltrating a women-only event) – and are often difficult to spot. As such, and as Cullen White reminded us all, women need their male allies to stand up and speak out if and when they see something amiss. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

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