‘Breeding ground for sexist bro behaviour’: One in three women report sexual harassment at tech events

One in three women experience  sexual harassment at tech events – with some conferences not even having female toilets, a study has found.

Research by Ensono, an IT provider which polled 500 women across the US and UK who went to a tech conference last year, reported a substantial increase from last year’s figures which found one in four women in the industry had been sexually harassed.

Women surveyed in the most recent research reported frequent experiences of sexism at events, with examples ranging from aggressive behaviour to gear such as projectors and screens being too high up for women to reach.

“They had women handing out goody bags, and they refused to give me one as they were for ‘businessmen’,” one woman told researchers.

Another said: “One of the organisers thought I was there to refill coffee — I was actually giving a keynote.”

Six in 10 women said tech conferences do not take their attendance into account, while the same proportion also said their firm was more likely to send a man to a tech event than a woman.

Jill Gates, vice-president of culture and people experience at Ensono, told The Independent: “Big tech conferences are often held at destinations like Las Vegas and have the historical perception of being a breeding ground for sexist ‘bro’ behaviour.

“As we see from the report, many women continue to feel shut out from tech conferences and that they are the ones who need to adapt to the culture. That’s a really sad state of affairs for where we are in the 21st century, and it’s one that will ultimately hold back women back in terms of career progression. Lack of actionable guidelines for reporting misconduct at some events leaves victims isolated, unprotected, and fundamentally afraid to come forward.

“One story that really stayed with me was from a woman that was sexually harassed quite aggressively at a tech conference three years prior. It left her feeling insecure and unsafe at tech events after that. That particular story stood out to me because it made me realise that women don’t just feel unwelcome at these events, they feel unsafe.”

She argued tech conferences have made changes in recent years but added there is “still a lot more work to do”.

Ms Yates added: “The way forward is clear. Anonymous reporting and simple, well-publicised codes of conduct need to become the industry norm, not an aspirational goal.”

Women of colour constituted an average of only eight per cent of keynote speakers at tech conferences during the last three years.

Researchers said online virtual events now becoming the “new normal” for tech conferences in the wake of the coronavirus crisis could have the positive consequence of serving as a “stepping stone” for women to get greater equality if problems with in-person events are eradicated.


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