I’m part of the organiser team of the Ladies of Code meet up, a monthly tech meetup for people who identify as women or non-binary gender.
Sometimes I take on the job of a bouncer for our meetup, because I’m usually the one who doesn’t mind telling people (well, men) that they’re not welcome. Be it when I see that someone with a male name and male looking photo RSVPs on meetup.com or in person, when men randomly turn up to the event.
Of course it’s a bit of a delicate subject. It could be that someone who has a male name and looks like a man doesn’t identify as such. So my approach is usually that I google them first. If I still think they most likely identify as a man, I message them and repeat what we say on our meetup page: “This meetup is for people who identify as women or non-binary gender. If you identify as either of those, you’re most welcome. If not, then you can’t attend”. So far I’ve never had any problems with this approach. Men usually understand and don’t show up, or, if it happens at the event, they leave - disgruntled but they leave.
However last night this was a different story. Something so mindbogglingly strange happened that I felt the need to share this.
The men that didn’t want to leave
Imagine the scene: it’s 6:30pm, the meetup has just started, people keep arriving, introducing themselves, we invite them to help themselves to drinks and pizza. It’s a really friendly atmosphere, everyone is chatting away and enjoying the refreshments.
Suddenly two tall men approach me with big, white toothed-smiles. One of them drink in hand. I get the impression that they take pride in their looks and frequent a gym several times a week. Just keeping fit, you know? Let’s call them Bro1 and Bro2.
Bro1: Hi! So… we weren't sure if we’re ok to attend but we have a small fin-tech start up and want to recruit some women, so we thought we’d come here!
Me: Hi! That’s cool but unfortunately this meetup is only for people who identify as women or non-binary gender Do you identify as either?
The bros in unison: No.
Me: Well, so unfortunately I’ll have to ask you to leave because you’re not part of the audience that this meet up is for.
Bro2 (drink in hand): But we only want to talk to some women because we’re hiring women! Our goal is to have 50% women in our workforce.
Me: Sure, I understand but unfortunately you’re not welcome at this meetup. You can finish your drink but then you’ll have to leave. If I’d seen that you RSVP’ed I would have messaged you to say the you can’t come but I must have missed it.
Bro1: Yeah, I RSVPed, but no worries, I understand. We were just around the corner anyway.
Bro2: I didn’t RSVP. And we didn’t know that we can’t attend! Is it on your meetup.com page?
Me: Yes, we make it clear on the meetup page who the target audience is. Unfortunately you can’t stay.
Bro1 (starting to feel really awkward): Yeah, no worries. Let’s go.
Bro2: But we really want to recruit some women. Women were our favourite colleagues in the past!
Me: Sorry, but this meetup is meant to be a safe space for women to exchange ideas, learn new things and not be bothered by recruiters.
Bro2: But… can I just use the toilet before we go?
What follows is a relatively pleasant piece of small talk with Bro1 about what I do and about the meet up. During this conversation he tries to wolf down Bro2’s drink as quickly as possible to make this awkward situation go away.
Enter Bro2. Back from the toilet. Slice of pizza in hand!!!
Me: You got a slice of pizza after I just told you to leave???
Bro2 (confused): Yeah...
Me: I can’t believe it!
Bro2 (puts his charm on): But it looked so good! Look at it! How can you say no to this amazing looking pizza! And we came such a long way… just one for the road.
Me (explodes): That is exactly what the problem is: people like you! You think you can march in here, where you are clearly not welcome, and you think you’re entitled to everything and you can just come and eat our pizza! You are the problem! Please leave now!!
Bro2 (gets angry): But you didn’t message us to tell us that we couldn’t come here! And now you can’t just tell us to leave! I mean, I can put the slice of pizza back now...
Me (red faced): You are not putting that slice of pizza back after you touched it! Take it with you and leave!
(Hygiene was clearly still a concern for me, even in my high blood pressured state)
Bro1 (moving towards the door): It’s fine, sorry about that, let’s just go.
What follows were some half hearted apologies by the bros, then a half hearted apology from me for coming across too strong.
Finally they left.
I was so angry. And the worst thing is that Bro2 probably still hasn’t got the faintest idea what he did wrong or why I was angry with him.
However, I have to say I’m really proud of myself that I stood my ground and I was able to think of all these things to say. Phew!
What to learn from this
From now on I will implement one of those question popups that you can get on meetup.com after you RSVP. I’ll probably ask a question like “Are you aware that this meetup is for… etc etc”. I might also add a sentence in the meetup description to say that men aren’t welcome, even if they were their favourite colleagues.
Also, I guess we need to be more stringent with going through the RSVP list and before the event and messaging men to uninvite them.
And if anyone reads this and is thinking about attending a meetup which is not targeted at their demographic, please don’t go! Or at least message the organisers beforehand and ask if it’s ok to attend anyway.