The struggle of women-only tech events
The tricky line of trying to promote gender equity in STEM fields.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) camps for women are not new. There are so many out there that encourage women to join STEM and give them the resources they need to succeed in learning. Despite these efforts, women in STEM made up less than 25 per cent of the workforce in Canada in 2023. From my perspective, women have the resources to complete their STEM degrees and there is already an abundance of programs dedicated to supporting women through education. The problem is entering the professional field. And once you enter it, there are a lot of other problems. 

Organizations and individuals are starting to realize this and there is a demand for more support for women after education. For example, one of Toronto’s largest technology conferences, Collision, offers “Women in Tech” tickets meant exclusively for women. The ticket also comes along with perks: significant discount in ticket price, access to an exclusive lounge, and talks catered specifically to addressing problems women might face in the industry. 

I volunteered at this conference and one of my shifts was at registration for the Women in Tech tickets. The main problem we were told to address is, if a man walks up with a Women in Tech ticket, we’re supposed to deny him entry. I struggled with this. What is a man and what is a woman? What if they’re trans? I didn’t want to make a guest feel uncomfortable and there was no proper training for the position, so I felt really lost. 

Ultimately, no one was turned away. The next day when strolling past the lounge meant exclusively for women, I noticed that it was not exclusively women. I think that the idea behind the ticket is an amazing initiative by Collision, but there needs to be a vigorous screening and training process for volunteers and other staff involved. 

Late in 2023, videos were popping up on my TikTok feed showing men overtaking women in tech events. It’s likely because, right now, the tech industry is experiencing an extreme recession and going through mass layoffs. The once promising and bright industry is quickly souring and leaving thousands without employment. With big names like Google, Microsoft, and TikTok being in the pool of companies having mass layoffs, pessimistic futures are being painted for individuals. Companies are explaining these mass layoffs with “pandemic hiring binge[s], high inflation and weak consumer demand.” While this sounds like an excuse taken from a textbook, it makes sense. 

During the pandemic, tech was being painted as a utopian industry that would always have space for you, no matter your experience level. It was a bright speck of hope during such a depressing time. It makes sense that the industry is massively oversaturated after many individuals set up social media profiles to share their journey into tech and how you could do it, too. Well, someone might want to check up on the tech influencers and see how they’re doing now. 

Weak consumer demand also makes sense. Everyone who wanted a tech solution achieved it during the pandemic. At some point, it just becomes excessive. I’m waiting for the Apple iApartment, filled with Apple from the entryway to the balcony. I think the industry blew up too fast and is now adjusting to where it should be. 

The problem is that thousands of people must suffer because of this. Enter the Women in Tech events. For some of us, using an opportunity meant for a specific group that you do not identify with is rude. But for others, it is the perfect opportunity in an industry that is throwing you out. Women in Tech events are the opportunity to get your résumé in front of recruiters. Well, why don’t they kick out individuals who self-identify as male? The event would risk facing discrimination allegations. Not a great look for an event focused on providing equity and equality. This leaves women in a place where, once again, they are being shoved aside in the industry—both figuratively and literally. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend ElleHacks, a women’s only hackathon, as a hacker! I didn’t win, but I left with free stuff and ate a lot of free food, so I still won. The event did an amazing job of keeping it exclusively for women in terms of hackers. There was a hacker who self-identified as male. He was told that he was welcome to stay for the opening ceremony and observe but could not actively participate in the hackathon. I think the situation was handled with a lot of grace and the event went smoothly. 

I overheard a story from someone at the event who worked in the tech industry about how she got passed on for a promotion at work. Understandably, she felt down about it. Then, she heard from someone that no one got the promotion. When she asked her boss about it, he informed her that it was either her getting the promotion, or no one getting the promotion. He decided no one would get the promotion. The sad part is that there are countless stories like this. 

I think that the priority for the tech industry is to stabilize and then continue to develop programs that allow for equal opportunity in the workplace. There is only so much that women can do. There needs to be accountability in the workplace from employers, too.


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