Java Day Istanbul – Attaining a more gender-equal speaker’s lineup

Elif T. Kuş —  24 March 2022 — 4 Comments

Some of you who are following Turkish software developers on Twitter might have come across some Tweets about Java Day Istanbul and could not make much sense of it. This blog post is for you and for those who want to learn how to run an effective Twitter campaign to convince an organization to take on responsibility for gender-equal representation.

How it started

On March 11th 2022 Selin Tunç tweeted “It is the year 2022, there are still software conferences that consist of men only. All the talk we do around March 8th and the visibility of women is falling on deaf ears 🤦🏻‍♀️”. 

A discussion started on that thread. She did not mention the Java Day Istanbul Twitter account, and it was not evident that the criticized event is Java Day Istanbul. The next day on March 12th, 2022 at 16:22 Alp asked whether it was the Java Day Istanbul event and at the same time he mentioned the event’s Twitter account handle together with the Tweet that Selin was actually criticizing. 

Is this the event? @javadayistanbul

The criticized Tweet which was quoted by Alp can be seen below:

On March 12th 2022, Gülçin Yıldırım Jelínek replied to the above Tweet that shows the speaker lineup with the Tweet below.

And she wrote another derisive Tweet that says “Wohooo a new sausage fest :)” Sausage fest is an expression used to point out the gender imbalance in favor of males in a gathering or event.

How it escalated

After one day of Selin’s Tweet and three minutes after Gülçin’s Tweet, Selin received a reply from one of the event organisers, namely Hüseyin Akdoğan.

Hüseyin said “Believe me, the number of women speaker applications is very low, we could not yet get a confirmation from the few applications we got in touch with.”

Selin replied “This is really very sad, but changing this is the responsibility of all of us. I hope you get confirmation from the people you got in contact with. If it is still possible to submit applications, I am ready to do my best to help.”

Hüseyin replied “It is still possible to submit applications. We, as the technical committee, are sensitive on this issue, but our sensitivity is of no use if there are no applications. I understand the women developers’ sadness and find it justified, but to be honest I think they do not take sufficient action for it.”

Gülçin replied “If you were really sensitive on this issue, you would think hard about why you are not able to reach the women in this community. You are taking the easy way out by saying there are no applications.”

Hüseyin replied “Since we do not have a gender-focused discourse and action for reaching the community, I do not think the problem is not being able to reach women. In addition, I think that the actual convenience is your attitude and I think this attitude makes this situation you are complaining about permanent.”

And finally Hüseyin said “Many women speakers took part in Java Day Istanbul until today, we gave seats to some names by stretching our quality criteria from time to time to ensure your representation. I do not think I can overcome your prejudices but this is how the situation is.”

This last Tweet escalated the whole discussion. 

In summary Hüseyin says that there are not sufficient applications and there is nothing they can do about this as an organization and women developers are not playing their part and they are not working on it. They discriminate “in favor of” women in applications to make it possible for women to speak at their conference. 

As on to his first point, the lack of representation of women is not only the responsibility of women, but it is the responsibility of everyone in the software ecosystem. This is an issue of the society at large. Gender inequality affects all genders in the society. That’s why we have to fight for it all together. Moreover, as event organisers you have the power to influence people. This power brings you responsibility. First of all, you have the responsibility to perceive this power. Secondly, you have the responsibility to be aware of what you are giving way to and what you are hindering with this power.

In his second point Hüseyin says they positively discriminated women suggesting that the women that they accepted before were not competent enough. This is a typical argument by discriminating men and women. This assumes women who sent proposals would likely to have a lower quality of content and if their paper is accepted it is due to their gender, removing all the expertise and achievements of the women on the technical subject.

This led to many discussions. On one side many people were saying that positive discrimination should not exist, and that this is unfair, on the other side tens of women started to share their stories of their unfair experience at their workplace. 

I find the first group of Tweets that are against positive discrimination ridiculous, because there is almost no positive discrimination in Turkey. All the stories I know are stories of negative discrimination. So here the discussion is about something that does not exist. I interpret this as the fear of the loss of privileges that men have been enjoying for such a long time. Don’t worry we are not there yet. 

The second group of Tweets were by women who shared their experience of discrimination through their life. We have been running workshops where we share our experiences of discrimination at the workplace since last year. We have heard many of these stories before. They are so similar, which gives the impression that this is actually systematic. I was still shocked by many of them. 

This was the first escalation.

After these Tweets Selin started to look for women speakers for the conference over Twitter. There were people getting in touch with Selin within two days.

With the support of Evren Tan, one of the founders of Turkey Java Community, and Java Devrel Sharat Chander, who was contacted through him, the announcement reached wide audiences and women software developers started to apply for the event.

Many people reacted to Hüseyin’s Tweet on stretching (loosening) the criteria. On March 13, Meryem Alay challenged the organization committee.

She said, “I am curious, is JUG Istanbul going to keep this person within their community? And I am curious, are the women in the community staying there with this person? And I am also curious, the speakers, who are meant to speak at the event, are they still going to give their talk?”

Meanwhile, many women from the industry, from outside the industry, and male allies were supporting the discussion in many different threads. Such as Emir Karşıyakalı, Armağan Amcalar, Güven Atbakan and Necdet Yücel. I am sorry for the ones I skipped. There were actually so many supporters this time. I am deeply humbled.

The breaking point

The next day in the same thread, someone that is not from the organization team replied to support Hüseyin. He wrote several Tweets. But one stood out, and caused outrage from many people.

Yusuf Demirci replied to Dilan: “Ms. Dilan if the positive discrimination in the software industry ceased and true equality was established, you would be unemployed. Some of my sentences might sound audacious but this is the truth”.

This was the breaking point, and many people who were only following the discussions joined it and condemned his statement. As you can see, the Tweet was quoted 336 times, and most of them are condemning it. 

The discussion concentrated on positive discrimination even more after this Tweet. Many more women shared their stories of negative discrimination and the unfair conditions they went through. 

The discussions also lost focus on the Java Day Istanbul event. 

The event organizers were criticized. Their reluctance to take responsibility and blaming women on top of that caused tens of trolls to attack women who criticized the event organizers. By trolls I mean social media accounts that use a nickname and attack people rather than contribute to the discussion. 

The event organizers kept their silence throughout the evening of March 13th. So it was time to level up the game. 

Levelling it up

Büşra Yüksel Özcan wrote to one of the speakers. 

Gülçin made a general call to the speakers and tagged them in the replies. Also sponsors were tagged in replies.

Some speakers replied and some did not. Shai Almog came up with another proposal. 

Also, Nicolai Parlog was not in favour of the all male lineup. 

The first semi-apology

On March 14th around 18:00, the Java Day organization committee got in contact with Selin. They said that they would make a statement. They wanted to increase the number of speakers, and they wanted recommendations and support for doing that. They said that they were really sorry about how the events unfolded. They also asked Selin if it is possible that we do not mention the speakers on Twitter. She offered to put them in contact with Gülçin. But they did not reply to that.

On the same they around 22:30, they broke their silence and made a statement. 

Java Day Istanbul, did not display a gender-focused approach to speaker selection; the same quality filter has been applied to everyone during speaker selection. If we have given the opposite impression, we apologize.

We condemn all the views that see women as inferior or insufficient. We ensure you that we will show the maximum effort to assure equal opportunity as we did in previous conferences in previous years.

We understand the sensitivity that you shared with us. With your support we aim to organize a conference that Turkey will covet both with respect to content and with respect to speaker diversity as we have done in previous years. 

The apology begins stating that they did not do anything wrong. And apologize for the possibility of having given the wrong impression. Then they make a general statement about gender equality, and finish it saying they have always been sensitive to speaker diversity. This statement does not accept that what their committee member wrote was wrong. It does not show any sign of taking responsibility, and it also shows no sign that they are going to do anything differently. It states that whatever they do, they do it right. 

Meanwhile, Iyzico silently retracted its sponsorship of the event. We observed that Microsoft also retracted sponsorship, but we could get no direct confirmation.

The apology

On March 15th around 12:00, Altuğ B. Altıntaş contacted Gülçin. Altuğ started the conversation with an apology. They talked and Gülçin gave feedback and laid out what needs to be done for them.

Then on March 15th around 22:30 came a very well written apology that was based on Gülçin’s feedback. All concerns were addressed. They admitted that what was done was wrong. And they apologized.

In the last few days, as the committee of Java Day Istanbul, we got quite important feedback on how we handled the representation of the targeted audience and speakers. We view this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to grow ourselves in terms of diversity and inclusivity.

We made a mistake by sharing a full male lineup banner in our announcement and following this event, we do not agree with the comment [from another committee member] of “the quality criteria [filters] applied on women speakers”. In that respect, we realized we need to put in extra effort into gender equality and the representation of underrepresented groups.

As the Java Day Istanbul Committee, we are aware of our responsibilities and started a process of reaching out to more women developers and other underrepresented groups. We believe this process will shed light on many ongoing discussions and will move the Turkish software development community forward with all your contributions.

We condemn all the views that see women as inferior or insufficient. We would like you to know that the [social media] accounts that targeted women developers are not part of our organization.

We sincerely apologize, firstly to women software developers and all the other developers as Java Day Istanbul committee. We also announce Huseyin Akdoğan is no longer with the organization committee.

Moreover, Hüseyin Akdoğan wrote on Twitter that he left the committee because the organization and the committee got hurt because of him. And he apologized to the women that were hurt by his statement. But the statement was not about all the women who talked at Java Day in the past and all the women who applied.

In the next days, they also deleted the controversial Tweet.

How was it different this time?

Women from Kadın Yazılımcı, ran similar campaigns before. You can find another one that we wrote in English at this link. Several things were different this time. 

First, there were many people joining the discussion, and there was a tremendous amount of women sharing their experience of discrimination. The awareness of inequality was lower in previous years, or we could not reach those people. We had many male allies who supported us without stealing the spotlight with very good arguments. There were also many women who joined the discussion who were not from the field. 

Second, there were many trolls attacking women who were Tweeting. They were quite numerous.

Third, the apology from the organization was written very well. It was an exemplary text of an apology.

What did we learn?

The takeaways for us from this event are as follows:

1. Build connections:

Many people were involved in the discussion, and lots of them are people we met through our own events, their events, software events in general and Twitter. We have been meeting with some of them occasionally, we cooperated in events we organized or they were people who have worked for years together. We have been building these relationships for years, and coming together and working for the same cause for years. And seeing them join the discussion feels empowering.

2. Voice your criticism

Write them even if you do not think they will change their mind. There are other people watching the discussion. And you actually want to convince them to join your cause, and pressure the other party when they refuse to fix their error.

Except when it is a social media account that does not have a real name. Then it is just in vain. Blocking is probably the right strategy in that case. We should probably also consider taking legal action for those kind of attacks.

3. Be direct and factual with your criticism

Write your criticism in a direct and factual way. Point out what is wrong and write what you want them to do. Hold them responsible for what they did. 

You do not need to do it privately. On the contrary, what they did was public hence the the criticism needs to be public. That way other people can see and learn.

4. If they do not accept their responsibility, escalate it

What escalation means will change from situation to situation.

In this case it was:

  1. Get in contact with speakers. These days few speakers are OK with an all male lineup.
  2. Get in contact with the sponsors. Again many companies are sensitive on diversity issues. They will not like to be associated with such an event.

Get in touch with any personal contacts you might have among them. Tell them why you are doing what you are doing. 

This might not always work. Sometimes the company might choose to smear you instead. Remember that companies consist of people. If you have connections within the company, call them up and tell them why you do what you do.

5. Escalate it to the global level

If the organization has any ties with a large corporation or has a global presence, escalate it there. It has worked this time, and it has worked in the past.

6. Be open to direct communication

If the other party wants to communicate with you, be open about it, and explain what you expect to happen to resolve the issue. 

7. If you reach your goal, accept the apology

This is not a war, nor a fight. We are running the campaigns to attain an outcome. If the other party listens to you, accepts what they did was wrong, and they apologize for it, accept it. 

The end

Kadın Yazılımcı quoted their apology, and wrote

We congratulate Java Day Istanbul for owning the responsibility by taking into account the criticism from us and other circles! We will move forward in unison until equality is established!

The discussions were grueling for many of us. On the positive side, there are many more women motivated to do something about gender equality. We already organized a few meetings, and I am looking forward to these expecting them to result in good deeds.

We have been in this for many years. We are aware that this is a long road to go. We will continue to go forward and challenge the people within the industry to go forward until the playing field is levelled.

I’d like to thank Gülçin Yıldırım Jelínek, Ayşe Bilge Gündüz, Selin Tunç, and Emir Karşıyakalı for their input, again to Gülçin for the translation of the second apology text.

In addition I’d like to thank Yaşar Safkan for editing and correcting the English mistakes in the text.

Elif T. Kuş

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Bu günlerde Cloud Infrastructure Engineer adı altında Scala Developer olarak çalışıyorum. Geçmişte mobil ve web uygulamları ile uğraştım. Python, Java, C#, Objective C, Android ve iOs ile kod yazdım. Lisansımda Kimya Mühendisliği okudum. Sonradan öğrenenlerdenim.

4 responses to Java Day Istanbul – Attaining a more gender-equal speaker’s lineup

  1. I wish you’d also posted answers that politely explained the situation. There were people trying to calm down and let your community understand that it was the initial confirmed speakers.

    You just blamed organizers directly without reading any comment. Only Selin provided a constructive feedback, which is the positive attitude that everyone should maintain to solve the problems.

    • Elif T. Kuş 25 March 2022 at 10:02

      Sezer I wish you’d read answers that explained what’s wrong and what needs to be done. And I’d wish you’d read more on gender equality and why it is important to have women representation. This issue is not only about the speakers, it is also about the single post which showed a subset of the speakers.

      As far as I’m concerned there was no blaming, there was constructive feedback even though it might not have been in the tone of a caregiver but someone who is fed up with all this and doesn’t want to see this to happen over and over again. You’re expecting empathy, but how much empathy are you putting in? Please also learn how to concentrate on the content of the message rather than the tone of the message.

  2. Utku Sertlej 25 March 2022 at 09:35

    İ am very happy to see that shouting about this gender discimination in our it industry . There are a lot of successfull women in our domain. We have to show how powerful we are. İ want to ve a part of it. To stop those guys we have to take action together on those platforms. İ am in. İ can help whatever i can do. İ am a player in that industry as a women for 21 years. İ have beden a lot of bad ne good histoey with men in this industry. İ am ready to work for stopping those kind of negative people.

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