Women at (HR) Conferences


Have you been following the controversy surrounding Rebecca Watson? She is a blogger — deeply involved in the feminist and skeptic communities — and the co-host of a podcast called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

Rebecca attended a conference where she was propositioned by a man in an elevator. This happened right after speaking to a group of colleagues about the ways in which they can make women feel more included and comfortable within a community that is predominantly male.

So Rebecca made a video and shared the story. And she very nicely told her male audience — Hey, please don’t be like that elevator guy.


  • Don’t proposition women at conferences.
  • Don’t proposition women in elevators.
  • Don’t view every encounter with a woman at a conference as a chance to get  laid.

And in a community of critical thinkers and evidence-based scientists, you think they would understand her core message.

Treat women like colleagues, not sex objects.

Except that her message is now lost in a mix of controversy and stupidity that accompanies every serious issue on the internet. Tons of people weighed in with opinions, including Richard Dawkins. He basically told Rebecca to shut up and stop complaining because women in the Muslim world have worse problems (FGM, rape, sharia law).

Dawkins. Really? Thanks for nothing, buddy.

So I’ll tell you a few things I know from being a woman who attends 20+ Human Resources conferences a year.

  1. I welcome the opportunity to share a hotel room with female colleagues because it guarantees that someone knows whether or not I get back to my hotel room safely at night.
  2. I will often check into hotels using my maiden name — or just my first and middle name — if I know that certain men in my industry are attending the same conference. And I have blocked calls to my hotel room because I have been called at 2:30 AM and asked, “Whaddya doing? You wanna hang out?” (That’s not creepy. No.)
  3. At a recent conference in Las Vegas, a male attendee asked if I could get him some cocaine. When I asked him why he thought I could do such a thing, he told me, “You seem like a cool girl.” Then he asked if I wanted to have a suite party.

I told my husband about the cocaine incident and he asked me, “What’s a suite party?”

How the hell should I know? I think it’s really just a code for ‘let’s hook up in your room’ but I’m not sure how the lingo works, these days.

Anyway, it might be the physical/psychic distance from spouses — or maybe it’s just the alcohol — but I work with men in/around the HR industry who  should know better. It’s like all of that mandatory HR sexual harassment training is thrown out the window.

So I thought it would be a good time to remind my male colleagues that

  • no matter how much time we spend together,
  • and no matter how much we drink,
  • and no matter how flirty I might seem,

there is only one reason why I am attending a Human Resources conference. It’s part of my job. And I’m talking to you because I’m getting paid.

Really. That’s it.

There is no chemistry between us. No connection. I’m not buying what you are selling. And neither are the other women of various ages, shapes, and sizes who feel uncomfortable with your advances.

I know this is America and you are wholly within your right to flirt with people. And I do know people who met and fell in love at HR events. I just think it’s tacky to think of professional conferences as an opportunity to meet & hook up with chicks.

And I think your text messages are gross and inappropriate. Why is the burden on me to tell you to knock it off?

Just knock it off, asshole.


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