There are no women in this conference

A conference organized online had to include several participants. However, these women do not exist. They were invented with AI. This is the subject of this week’s #Règle30 newsletter.

This article is taken from the #Règle30 newsletter, which is sent every Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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Gergely Orosz writes one of the most popular newsletters in the tech industry, The Pragmatic Engineer. He is therefore the type of person who is often courted to give speeches at conferences. Last week, he noticed something strange in one of those invitations. The event in question, DevTernity, featured several participants, but the official program did not include any speaking on their part. Worse, one of these guests simply… didn’t exist. His profile picture was AI-generated; his professional experience was false.

Upon digging a little, Gergely Orosz realized that this was not the first time that the conference had used fictitious women. “ Many big names in tech now refuse to participate in events if there are only men on the program“, explains the engineer in a thread published on X/Twitter, where he details his little investigation. “ I guess creating fake women is an easy way to attract them. »

The organizer of the event defended himself, claiming that it was a bug, and that the fake profile was just a testing tool for his site. He then justified the presence on the program of women who were not really participating in his event, explaining that they would have canceled their presence and that he would not have had time to remove them from the site.

One of them, he said, would even have joined the organization of his event. Julia Kirsina, also known as Coding Unicorn, is a popular influencer on Instagram, where she has been sharing IT development tips to her 115,000 followers since 2019. Except that it could also be a fake account, tells us this article from 404 Media, which highlights the disturbing similarities between his publications and that of the founder of DevTernity. As I write this newsletter, the true identity of the woman in the photos is still unknown.

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Diversity in tech, transformed into a marketing issue

To understand all the issues in this story (already absurd, without looking too closely into its details), we must remember that the digital sector loves conferences. Some are designed to be publicized among the general public, in order to inform them of the latest developments in the industry: CES in Las Vegas, Apple keynotes, etc. Others (the majority) are less known, because they are primarily aimed at professionals, to discuss their technical practices and network. In recent years, and with the help of the 2020 confinements, these events have been quite criticized for their ecological impact and their often prohibitive prices. They are also criticized for their lack of diversity.

Unsurprisingly, these events are very male-dominated (even those dedicated, in theory, to women). The cause is an IT industry dominated by men, but also other obstacles that make an inglorious situation worse: sexist behavior, non-inclusive communication, lack of solutions regarding childcare, disregard for certain skills considered as less technical, an unfortunate tendency to invite friends or only “ stars » middle, etc. If you want to delve deeper into the subject, I recommend that you watch this conference given by Sarah Haim-Lubczanski and Cécilia Bossard during DevFest Nantes 2018, then read this very concrete guide offered by Manon Carbonnel.

Above all, the story of DevTernity is a good illustration of the evolution of the treatment of diversity in tech, a theme now well integrated by the industry, but which prefers to transform it into a marketing issue rather than really changing its practices. The lessons of this distressing affair can also be applied to everyone, even if you are not in the habit of pretending to be a developer on Instagram in order to promote your conference at 800 euros per entry. .

It is always good to remember that women’s self-censorship is an invention of men. And that the reflex of refusing invitations to 100% male events is certainly laudable, but it is not enough. Is this woman the only guest among five, ten, twenty men? Is she white? Do we only make her talk about topics related to her identity, sexism, racism, etc.? Do we constantly interrupt her, do we value her expertise, do we make her talk at all? Besides, does it really exist?

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