At the AtlasCamp tech conference in Berlin, Atlassian engineer Jonathan Doklovic gave a presentation on Maven, a program that standardizes projects that use Java as a coding language. Doklovic described Maven as a complaining, demanding, distracting “girlfriend.” Pretty to look at, but an interrupting harpy:
— Marko Saha (@Dmagge) June 4, 2014
Once people got wind of the presentation on social media, it kicked off a Twitter storm of anger and resignation.
— Mike Wasson (@mikewasson) June 4, 2014
— Alain O’Dea (@AlainODea) June 4, 2014
The uproar over the sexist presentation slide drew a quick response from Atlassian, the company hosting the event.
@james_welsh You’re right. This is BS. And not reflective of our company values. We’re taking immediate action.
— atlassian (@atlassian) June 4, 2014
Atlassian apologized for the slide promptly:
We are sorry for having allowed this offensive slide into an AtlasCamp presentation. The content does not reflect our company values—nor our personal values as co-founders and individuals. Quite simply, it’s not OK.
Sexism is a difficult issue for the tech industry, and today we didn’t make it any better.
This isn’t quite as egregious as the Titstare debacle at TechCrunch Disrupt last year, but the fact that nobody thought to talk Doklovic out of giving the presentation speaks for itself. The tech sector’s fraught gender dynamics aren’t exactly news. Women are underrepresented in the field, partly because of a workplace culture that can veer from dismissive to hostile. Presentations further belittling women only underline the endemic discrimination.
Maybe it should be baffling that presenters at tech conferences haven’t figured out not to be sexist onstage, but it isn’t. It’s a carryover on a prevalent attitude. Doklovic obviously thought his presentation was irreverent, not offensive. And maybe it wouldn’t have pissed off so many people if he were comparing something to a girlfriend using that language under different circumstances, but to make a point of belittling women within the context of a technology conference—where so many similar incidents have provoked discussion about the persistence of the gender imbalance and sexism in tech—rubbed salt in a gaping, runny wound.
The lesson here is obvious (don’t make sexist jokes at tech conferences) but considering that this is just the latest example of a recurring problem, it’s unlikely to sink in industry-wide.