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SALT LAKE CITY — Several women felt marginalized and objectified after a moderator at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit made a comment many deemed sexist — despite the conference’s message of diversity and inclusion.
Dave Bateman, CEO of Lehi-based Entrata, came onstage to introduce baseball legend Alex Rodriguez during the Utah tech community’s third annual conference Friday. Before he invited A-Rod onstage, however, he mentioned that his company uplifts women, then asked the women in the room to stand up.
As they stood, Bateman invited A-Rod onstage and asked the women to cheer for him, describing them as his “fans,” then told them to sit down and said, “Sorry ladies, he’s taken.”
Mare Simmons, an employee at a local software company and an attendee at the conference, said she and the other women around her had initially thought they had been asked to stand because the previous speaker had talked about under-representation of women and female empowerment.
“I thought, as many other women involved also did, that we were being acknowledged by a male CEO and applauded for our attendance at a conference in which we are the minority. It was also very cool to look around to see the other women in attendance and note how few of us there were in a sea of men,” she said.
“Unfortunately, Bateman had other intentions," Simmons added. "While we were standing, he brought Rodriguez onstage and instantly classified us as his fans, as if we were only there at the summit to give A-Rod a standing ovation. He objectified us, without our consent.”
Simmons instantly sat down when she realized why they had been asked to stand.
Several men around her were also surprised at Bateman’s comments saying, “What was the point of that?” and “Way to treat them like fangirls at a Backstreet Boys concert,” Simmons said. Another woman in front of her was “trying to grasp what was going on, (and) kept exclaiming,” ‘What did he just say?’”
Simmons said she wanted to leave the summit but did not want to “play into the issue of women feeling unwelcome in the tech field.” Instead, she took to Twitter, and others who had also found the comment offensive piped up.
No offense @AROD, but I didn't come to a tech summit just to hear you speak. @davidbateman I stood up to represent my gender in technology, & you demeaned that neat moment. This abrupt real-time demo on sexism in tech was included free in the price of my ticket. #SiliconSlopes— Mare Simmons (@MareSimmonsArt) February 1, 2019
“It was actually really embarrassing to stand up, thinking something of substance about women's contribution in tech was going to be said, and instead made the butt of an old, trite sexist joke. I was surprised and disappointed. Hope this can be a learning moment,” said Twitter user Mandy Williams in response to Simmons’ tweet.
Many were especially frustrated that Bateman’s comment came during a conference that sought to and was billed as an event that would highlight diversity and inclusion.
“Being there, I did find it a bit odd that the moderator asked the women to stand for the purpose of being impressed with a baseball player,” Twitter user Matt Fisher said. “These women are engineers, entrepreneurs and managers in the tech industry. I would have rather listened to one of them.”
He objectified us, without our consent.
Bateman was informed by the organizers of the event that his behavior was “unacceptable” the “moment he stepped off the stage,” according to a statement that was provided to KSL.com by Silicon Slopes Monday.
Soon after, the Utah CEO tweeted out an apology.
“So appreciative of AROD for coming to speak at @silicon slopes. I attempted to pay Alex a compliment on his rugged good looks in my intro, but delivered it insensitively. It was meant as a joke, but I understand why it upset some to whom I sincerely apologize.”
The tweet did not placate several in attendance, however, and his tweet garnered several replies.
“Your comments offended our entire @RecursionPharma team as sponsors at @siliconslopes. Men and women. It brought down the awesome community we are building here. It made it harder for us to recruit. It wasn't a joke or an attempt at humor. Your non-apology doesn't help,” Recursion Pharmaceuticals CEO Chris Gibson tweeted.
Many felt the tweet did not offer a sufficient apology to the women in attendance and also demeaned A-Rod by complimenting him on his “rugged good looks” rather than on a more significant part of his accomplishments.
So appreciative of AROD for coming to speak at @siliconslopes. I attempted to pay Alex a compliment on his rugged good looks in my into, but delivered it insensitively. It was meant as a joke, but I understand why it upset some to whom I sincerely apologize #SSTS19— David Bateman (@davidbateman) February 1, 2019
Bateman sent KSL.com a second statement Monday, saying, "There is no excuse for my tone-deaf words last week, and I sincerely apologize for them. Learning is never a straight line, and I’m working to become a better leader and advocate for gender equality both within and outside of the workplace. I am very sorry and my remarks in no way represent Silicon Slopes. I will redouble my efforts to effect change for the better, starting with myself."
Some attendees were also unsatisfied with the way Silicon Slopes handled the situation. Event organizers stopped by several breakout sessions afterward and apologized for Bateman’s comments, then issued a statement on Twitter.
"We apologize to those in attendance or who may be affected by the comments. Silicon Slopes believes in building equality, respect and opportunity for all, and the actions of the moderator did not reflect that. They were also embarrassing to our community and did not represent the overall experience of the Summit,” the organization said in a later statement provided to KSL.com Monday.
Silicon Slopes will be adopting additional standards and practices to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen at future events, the organization told KSL.com.
“Any speaker that violates our Code of Conduct will be immediately removed from the stage and will be banned from speaking at future events,” the statement read.
Some women, however, said they didn’t take offense at the comment and understood the spirit in which it was given.
“I am sorry, but this is being blown out of proportion. I was in the room when this occurred and did not read it in a negative way at all. Thank you for a great event!” Twitter user Brandy tweeted.
Simmons, however, hopes that this will be a lesson learned for the Utah tech community.
"It's unfortunate that this widened the gender gap further and strengthened the stereotypes that exist in the tech industry," she said.