Fake Women Speakers at Tech Conference? Oh my!

This story falls under the “What were they thinking” category. An online developers conference, DevTernity, was canceled after several executives pulled out after accusations that the organizer fabricated female speakers’ profiles. Microsoft’s Scott Hanselman and Kelsey Hightower, previously a developer advocate at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, withdrew from the conference. Tickets were sold for as much as $870.

Organizer Eduards Sizovs said, “It looks like someone really wanted to deliberately damage the conference.” He explained that he “auto generated” a fake woman’s profile after a female speaker dropped out. The profile was a placeholder not meant to imply a more diverse conference.

Gergely Orosz, who runs a popular tech newsletter, posted on social media that he had identified fabricated profiles of women on DevTernity’s speakers list and notified attendees. He claimed that he found fake women’s profiles for previous and future events. Women who dropped out of the conference or declined to speak were not removed from the event’s website.

The developer community saw the practice as misleading, potentially deceitful, and a step backward from their goal of diversity in male-dominated events. So far, women make up 29% of the tech workforce, according to a 2023 report by advocacy group AnitaB.org.

Almost half of the 23 speakers listed on the event’s website withdrew from the conference before the event was canceled, including Amazon Web Services’ Kristine Howard, who would have been the sole woman scheduled to speak.

“This is damaging to all women in tech, even the ones that have nothing to do with the conference,” said Liz Fong-Jones, an engineer and activist for workplace issues. “Because now we’re going to get asked, even more often, all these questions about our authenticity.”

The story boggles the mind.

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