It was meant to be a week for women in tech—but this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration was swamped by men who gate-crashed the event in search of lucrative tech jobs.
The annual conference and career fair aimed at women and non-binary tech workers, which takes its name from a pioneering computer scientist, took place last week in Orlando, Florida. The event bills itself as the largest gathering of women in tech worldwide and has sought to unite women in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. Sponsors include Apple, Amazon, and Bloomberg, and it’s a major networking opportunity for aspiring tech workers. In-person admission costs between $649 and around $1,300.
This year, droves of men showed up with résumés in hand. AnitaB.org, the nonprofit that runs the conference, said there was “an increase in participation of self-identifying males” at this year’s event. The nonprofit says it believes allyship from men is important and noted it cannot ban men from attending due to federal nondiscrimination protections in the US.
Organizers expressed frustration. Past iterations of the conference have “always felt safe and loving and embracing,” said Bo Young Lee, president of advisory at AnitaB.org, in a LinkedIn post. “And this year, I must admit, I didn’t feel this way.”
Cullen White, AnitaB.org’s chief impact officer, said in a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, that some registrants had lied about their gender identity when signing up, and men were now taking up space and time with recruiters that should go to women. “All of those are limited resources to which you have no right,” White said. AnitaB.org did not respond to a request for comment.
Tech jobs, once a fairly safe and lucrative bet, have become more elusive. In 2022 and 2023, tech companies around the world laid off more than 400,000 workers, according to Layoffs.fyi, a site that tracks job losses across the industry. Tens of thousands of those cuts have come from huge employers like Meta and Amazon, and some firms have instituted hiring freezes. The layoffs have been particularly brutal for immigrant workers, who have been left scrambling for sponsorship in the US after losing work.
The controversy at the Grace Hopper Celebration shows the fallout of those job losses, as women and non-binary people still struggle to find equal footing in an industry dominated by men. Women made up just a third of those working in STEM jobs as of 2021, according to the US National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.
As job cuts bite, all prospective tech workers have become more desperate for opportunities. During the conference, videos posted to TikTok showed a sea of men waiting in line to enter the conference or speak with recruiters in the expo hall. Men and women are seen running into the expo as a staffer yells for them to slow down.
Avni Barman, the founder of female-talent focused media platform Gen She, says she immediately noticed “tons” more men and a more chaotic scene this time compared to previous years.
Barman was at the conference to host a meetup. During and after the conference, she heard from a number of women who were sad and frustrated after. “This is a conference for women and non-binary people,” Barman says.
Nelly Azar, a student at The Ohio State University studying computer science and engineering, attended the conference and saw long lines of people waiting to speak to employers. That was entirely different from 2022, they say, when they attended and saw few men.
Azar says they could talk to only two of the companies they were interested in because others were inundated with applicants. Long lines zigzagged outside the entrance to the event’s expo hall. The frustration was palpable. This year’s conference shows “not only how fragile our spaces are, but why we need them more than ever,” Azar says. “Now is one of the most important times to advocate for gender equity.”