(Bloomberg) -- An online developers conference was canceled after several tech executives pulled out of the event following accusations that the organizer fabricated female speakers’ profiles.
High-profile engineering leaders in the developer community — including Microsoft Corp.’s Scott Hanselman and Kelsey Hightower, a former developer advocate at Alphabet Inc’s Google — withdrew on Monday from DevTernity, where tickets were sold for as much as $870.
The event’s organizer, Eduards Sizovs, confirmed the cancellation of the event. “It looks like someone really wanted to deliberately damage the conference,” he said in an emailed statement. Sizovs earlier said in a post on X that he “auto-generated” a fake woman’s profile after a female speaker had dropped out of the conference but that it was a placeholder and not meant to imply a more diverse conference. He later removed the fake profile.
The outcry began after participants discovered fake profiles late last week when 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 also claimed to have found fake women’s profiles on the speakers lists for previous and future events. Women who had previously dropped out of the conference or declined to speak were also not removed from the event’s website.
It struck a chord with the developer community, which saw the practice as misleading and potentially deceitful, and a step backward from their goal of diversity in male-dominated tech events.
The industry has attempted to address a lack of diversity in recent years but there is still a long way to go; women make up 29% of the tech workforce, according to a 2023 report by female technologist advocacy group AnitaB.org, who surveyed workers at 40 US companies.
Nearly half of the 23 speakers listed on the event’s website on Monday night had already withdrawn from the conference before the event was canceled. That includes Amazon Web Services’ Kristine Howard, who would have been the sole woman scheduled to speak. The website now directs users to a blank screen.
Hanselman, the Microsoft executive, said on X that he had rules for participating in conferences, including that they have inclusive speaker lineups. “I was duped by the fake speakers also,” he said.
“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.”
Representatives from Atlassian Corp. and Just Eat Takeaway.com NV also canceled their appearances. David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of application framework Ruby on Rails, posted that he was withdrawing from the conference as well.
“What a strange tale. Never seen anything like this in decades of speaking at conferences,” he said, adding: “I’m out.”
--With assistance from Siraj Datoo.
(Updates to add detail on gender representation in tech industry and quote from Liz Fong-Jones. An earlier version corrected the name of the event organizer.)
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