No, It wasn't just about the travel

I haven’t talked about this for various reasons. From the comments I’ve received in the last week, it seems like continuing to hint at what happened rather than talking about it, and embarrassing people(myself included) has actually made the situation worse so here’s a collection of everything that happened from my point of view.

The First Blog Post (Early March)

So let’s begin with a blog post I published back in March.  The version there right now is not the original.  Originally, I had included a case study based on a conversation from Twitter about the low number of women who were applying at Gradle, Inc. I thought I was helping by showing that it wasn’t just a problem with Gradle, but in the entire community and trying to think of reasons why the numbers might be so low. Within 45 minutes of posting it, I had three different people harassing me via various communication methods about how it might be viewed as an attack on Gradle, Inc.  I had a lot of respect for the members of the Groovy community working at Gradle, so I really didn’t want that. In order to meet all of the requests from the Gradle team, it would have required a major rewrite of the blog post and more rounds of review some of which I didn’t agree with. Frankly, I didn’t want to do that, so I just removed all mentions of Gradle Inc.  It was easier.

One positive thing did come from it. It started a serious conversation with one of the tech leads, Eric Wendelin, about what Gradle Inc could do to change their gender diversity numbers including contributions to the Gradle Build tool.  I didn’t want to send them another general list of blog posts about what the other companies do. I spent a lot of time constructing a well thought out email with several specific points including people to contact, specific initiatives to try like diversity tickets, and an idea to work with women in tech groups to organize a Gradle Build Tool hackathon.  The response I got was understandable. Funding was a bit tight right now, but it seemed like some of the other items might be doable.

Since the blog post was about why women don’t apply to work at Gradle Inc, of course, I was asked why I hadn’t applied to Gradle when I was looking for a job. I have, on several occasions, been asked personally to apply for engineering jobs at Gradle, Inc by various people.  Although I’m well-connected and prominent in the community, there’s still a lot about the Java ecosystem I don’t know. I've spent most of my career on Groovy and Grails and mostly around creating APIs. The whole goal of going back to school was to give me a firmer basis of understanding for general software engineering.  I really don’t feel qualified to work on Gradle full-time and working on such a public project would probably mean getting the hate mail and death threats that are often sent to women in such roles. I have enough issues in my personal life. I really can’t handle any more of that bullshit.

tl;dr I wrote a blog post about how there were no women at Gradle, Inc and was silenced, but started a backchannel to try and fix things in other ways.


Just a few days prior, I had submitted a pull request to add a new groovy application template to the Gradle init plugin, and it had gotten some attention from the Gradle team.  I was asked to submit a talk about how to contribute to open source projects like Gradle. At the time, I knew that I was going to be starting something new either a summer job or new full-time gig so I didn’t think I could go.  I suggested other women speakers, but only one was a Gradle contributor, and she had already been contacted; the others were known for giving talks about contributing to open source, in general.  I heard from multiple people that a more general talk wasn’t really what they were looking for. Gradle Summit was just for serious technical talks. I disagreed, but what could I do? *shrug*  I had dismissed the thought of going to the conference. And in the end, I’m no John Engelman or Dan Woods. I’m really not a Gradle “build guy” in the words of the Gradle Summit Keynote. I was a developer who just used the Gradle Build tool and contributed that one commit. What could I share?

tl;dr I was asked to submit a talk for Gradle Summit, but didn’t feel qualified and recommended other women to speak who were rejected.

Background Daemons

During the weeks that followed, my PR was merged, and things in my personal life were a bit tumultuous. While a student and Fulbrighter at the Technical University of Denmark, I had experienced problems with sexism and anti-American sentiment from profs and other students and dealt with a bunch of bureaucratic idiocy.  When I struggled to find a job for the summer to pay for it, I decided not to continue for the second year of my master’s degree.

I started looking for full-time work; first in Denmark and then more globally.  I am an American so I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work anywhere in the US without a problem and getting a work permit for most countries in Europe is pretty easy for me.  I had some problems finding a job in Denmark because many companies required fluency in Danish in order to apply and I had really only taken the first two modules.  It was rather discouraging and caused a lot of arguments later because many people told me that I still should have applied.  But, anyway, in summary, I was dealing with a lot of personal shit in Denmark.

Next, I put out an announcement on Twitter and got several leads for US based jobs.  I applied for some and found some very bad fits at various Silicon Valley companies. Overall, I was pretty depressed after dealing with horribly sexist recruiters. I had the opposite problem too when I started interviewing for jobs I wasn’t qualified for because they really wanted a woman on the team.

Although I’m pretty confident, after all of the criticism and negativity, my self-esteem took a pretty big hit. I withdrew emotionally and started searching for a smaller company that was doing things I was already familiar with.  In the end, I went forward with Zenjob. We had been talking about just a summer job and then I switched to a full-time contract. I’m only a few weeks in, but I’m still very happy with that decision. :) No one is perfect, but it’s nice to have a team that respects my opinions and listens to me.

tl;dr, With school, the move, preparing for GR8Conf EU, and several other GR8Ladies initiatives that have recently come to fruition, I was very busy and dealing with a lot of stress.

Submitting a Talk (Mid April)

After I had decided to move to Berlin, I was freaking out a bit. I’ve moved a lot, so I know the drill. It’s a lot of work and a lot of the same stuff; I didn’t want to commit to too much. I knew that I didn’t have any time after the end of my exams before Gr8Conf EU and I was starting my new job the next week.  It would take some time to recover.  During negotiations with Zenjob, I asked about conferences, and they were (and still are) very supportive, but as expected, two weeks after starting wasn’t the best timing, so I brushed it off again.

A little while later, I saw Gradle Summit had reopened the CFP, and this time I thought seriously about submitting something.  The move was going much more smoothly than I had expected and school had calmed down at the end of the semester.  Maybe I could fit preparing a talk into my schedule? -- Especially if it was something I had already done and could reuse some slides.  I also saw that the plane ticket from Berlin to SF was only about $500 which made my flight cheaper than some US based speakers. Hopefully, I thought, that would make it more likely for me to be accepted. I asked my boss again, and he said yes! I couldn’t make it a whole holiday/vacation and be gone for weeks, but I could leave for just enough days to get to and from the conference with a day each way to recover from jetlag. That was reasonable.

I consulted with some friends and Women in Tech groups to help make the decision.  One person suggested I give a talk about documentation since I’d been talking about Spring REST Docs for the last year. When giving the talk, I usually received some questions about how the Gradle parts work, so I thought maybe it would be useful to give a talk on just that aspect of it. Over the next few days, I planned out the talk with some of my support networks and was genuinely excited for the talk.

I wasn’t completely sold though, knowing that Gradle Summit was part of the No Fluff Just Stuff (NFJS) conference series.  I’m really not a fan of for-profit conferences, and I have throughout my public speaking career, mostly worked with nonprofit conferences like GR8Conf.   Most run great shows at a fairly low cost and that make their events accessible to diverse groups and communities. That’s a cause I can support. However, I had never applied as a speaker or attended a NFJS conference because I find the conferences to be a bit inaccessible to most regular developers. The high entry cost, lack of sponsors, and fancy venues are just really not my style.  However, based on prior discussions, it sounded like Gradle Inc had a little more control over the Gradle Summit, and maybe it would be different.  If I were going to change my mind, at least I would have a really nice fully paid trip.

tl;dr My situation changed, I could go now, and had a talk topic for which I felt qualified.

Acceptance and Waiting (End of April)

Fairly soon after submitting, I got an email about posting slides from the automated system for NFJS.  I assumed that meant I was accepted, so I reached out to Jay Zimmerman (head of NFJS) first, but got no response and heard from Eric a little while later. This was a bit of a communication problem related to the conference, but it was an understandable one.  The process from there was pretty straight forward; I was onboarded and added to the conference website.  However, looking back, it was kind of strange that there was no mention of the hotel or flight arrangements. Some conferences hire a separate agency, but usually, in the acceptance email, there is at least a notice about when to expect the information.

Meanwhile, I was getting excited to go. I haven’t been back to the US in a while, and I have actually never been to Silicon Valley. I was starting to figure out if I could visit some of my friends I haven’t seen since college, bring back some stuff I was missing in Europe, etc.  To make sure the talk was going to be in good shape for the Summit, I scheduled myself a practice run at the local Groovy user group in Berlin.

Shortly after the lineup was announced and the rejection notices sent, I received an email from a local woman who had been rejected. She felt hurt by the way the notice was worded. She emailed me asking if there were problems at Gradle, Inc and also noted that it was suspicious that I was the only woman speaker out of 40+ for the conference. She wondered if it was a part of the GR8Ladies mission to point out such things.  Being the only woman for a conference of this size was a bit strange, but I knew that in her case, the rejection was not a gender issue (and she knew that too).

The lack of women speakers is a tough one. Several women who normally speak about Gradle were unavailable this year, and so I reassured her that I had been working with Gradle to try and make things better in general.

I, of course, let Eric know about this conversation so that we could include it in our other talks and make sure it didn’t become a public spectacle.  It was just more of a notice for next year type thing.  Additionally, he let me know some private information that I won’t share, but it showed that they really did try to get more women speakers from early on.

tl;dr I was accepted, but there were some communications snafus even early on and shortly after someone complained via email about the gender ratio of the speakers.

Rage Quit and Cancellation (Mid May)

Some time passed, and I was preparing to start my new job.  My new boss was excited that I would be speaking at such a high profile event and kept asking when I would be away.  Since I still hadn’t heard anything about a travel agent or booking the flight and hotel, I reached out to another Gradle developer who recommended I talk to Eric again. That was honestly the best thing that was said through this whole thing. I’m glad he didn’t contribute to any further confusion.

I spent a lot of time trying to make sure that I could answer any potential questions correctly and that my code examples were up to date and done the right way.  I was also getting a bit nervous.  Like I said before, I’m not a “build guy,” I’m really just a dev and on several occasions, the Gradle files I have written have sometimes been corrected behind my back via stealthy commits. Only later would I find out that I had done something the wrong way.

I got an unusual message from the conference indicating they could not afford to pay my travel and hotel accommodations. I became physically ill.  I knew it not to be true, and after pursuing it further, it became clear they weren't WILLING to cover my expenses.  Here I was trying to battle my imposter syndrome, and the conference and organization with which I had really been trying to help get on track, just told me my time wasn’t worth anything to them.

Countless studies have shown that women are compensated less at work, but this also applies to events outside of work like conferences.  On average, women don’t get as much of a training budget as their male counterparts, and on average, conference organizers offer women less for things like honorariums, travel, and accommodation.  Although Gradle probably didn’t mean it this way, this is a major hot button topic.  I was dealing with so much other shit at that time; I didn’t need anyone telling me I’m not worth it.

The thing that really made me upset though was the way it was all worded.  They said they couldn’t afford to pay for speakers and asked me if I could afford to pay for the T&E myself.  For me, words like ‘afford’ are highly charged.  Yes, I can afford to pay for the travel and accommodation costs, but why should I? And why do I have to prove to you that I deserve to be treated like the rest of your speakers?  I’m contributing my time to creating content for your for-profit business in my free time.

I don’t have the luxury of working for a company that pays for my travel. That money comes from my salary. I’m a bit of a spinster. I’m a single person; I have few friends, and I am estranged from my family, but my time is still worth something, and I have other things I want to spend my salary on other than more work! Additionally, travel and accommodation aren’t the only expenses of going to a conference. There’s time off from work, travel to/from the airports, food, drinks, and so many other things.

And if we want to discuss why the conference can’t “afford” to include travel and expenses for the outside speakers how about we also talk about the other things the conference DID decide to spend money on like a fancy venue and swag.  Saying you won’t cover T&E for speakers and then spending money on other extravagant things is really irksome (This is one of my main issues with the Grace Hopper Conference too).

My first response was to say I was done. I would never have submitted a talk and wasted everyone’s time if I had known that the conference wasn't going to cover my expenses.  The response from Gradle Inc was to offer me part of the travel costs. At this point, I was really upset.  I don’t like negotiating. I know it’s a flawed process and disproportionately screws over women. And for an offer, it was an insultingly low one.  The plane ticket was only a small part of the total expenses. Staying at the conference hotel, a Crowne FUCKING Plaza, would be much more expensive than the plane ticket.  Even getting a different hotel nearby, on such short notice, would cost more than I’ve ever spent on a hotel room in my entire life.  At this point, I was completely done, and rage quit the conference Slack.  I sent an angry email expressing my frustration, canceled my meetup presentation, and announced on Twitter I would not be attending.

I didn’t go public with it at the time and just said it was a ‘misunderstanding’. I was a bit embarrassed over the whole thing honestly. I probably should have checked earlier in the process to make sure my assumptions were correct. I also got a bit emotional in the emails and didn’t want every word and action to be scrutinized, in particular, my personal life.  Yeah, I could have held out a little longer and waited for them to counter until they found a way to pay for the expenses, but honestly, I was just done with the whole thing.

If they really wanted me as a speaker, it could have gone down differently. Instead of asking if I could afford to pay for all of the travel expenses myself, perhaps ask if I have a travel stipend at my job or mention that they value me as a speaker and that they will see what they can do to cover my expenses as everyone had expected.  I understand that there was a lot of confusion around this issue and it wasn't any one particular person's fault.

tl;dr Gradle Summit told me they wouldn’t pay for my expenses in a very offensive way, so I rage quit.

The last 5 Weeks

So I’ve been mostly silent about this since it happened. I never wanted to make a big deal out of this and have my whole life and character analyzed.  Then, I saw Bridget Kromhout, a super awesome advocate for women in tech who I know from when I was living in MN, tweet about a conference that had an all male lineup. I was wondering if she was talking about Gradle Summit seeing as two of her coworkers were speaking there.  When I contacted her privately, she hadn’t even heard about Gradle Summit.  Her surprise was also strange because she was one of the people I recommended very early on in the process.  If I hadn’t realized it already, most of the ideas I suggested were ignored.  I really tried to help and realizing none of the work I had done had made a difference was also frustrating.

Gender diversity at conferences is a topic that Bridget is very passionate about, so she went to work. She contacted several of the speakers on the list she knew personally, and one responded nearly immediately. Her co-worker, Andy Wilkinson was a speaker at Gradle Summit this year and someone I was familiar with as he is also the team lead for the Spring REST Docs project.  One of the worst parts about not getting to go to Gradle Summit was not getting the chance to meet him in person.  As Bridget and I both knew we could be ignored (as we had been before), we were happy when Andy tweeted this which gained a bit of attention and has several replies.  Evidently, I had been so quiet about my departure that most people hadn’t even realized that I dropped out of the conference. Not that one woman in 40+ speakers is ok, but having none at all is indeed suspicious and embarrassing.

I still didn’t say anything other than to thank Andy privately.  Then, when Ken Kousen suggested that the only reason I didn’t make it was for a scheduling conflict, I was furious. It wasn’t just a scheduling conflict! I still didn’t want to make it a big thing just days before the conference; at that point, there's nothing anyone could do. I responded minimally on Twitter, and then members of my support network suggested I write this post.

However, even my minimal responses caused a bit of anger.  Again, I was criticized publicly and privately for saying something. Although the responses started with admitting they fucked up (a big step forward), they still didn’t understand the rest of the problem and denied it had anything to do with my gender.


I’m happy to report that Gradle Inc did take action. Even before the conference, they were working on communication within the company to prevent some of the issues that happened with the conference this year.  More specifically on the diversity topic, they have hired a diversity consultant. I received personal apologies from several Gradle Inc employees including the CEO. Although most of the apologies were just about the conference communication, hopefully working with the diversity consultant will help give everyone a better understanding of how the things they say and do affect women like myself and the others who have contacted me.

I have work to do too

Becoming more inclusive is a journey that I have to go through myself. I could consider myself a bit of a hypocrite, and I try to catch myself anytime I say “guys” instead of more inclusive terms like “everyone.” I also realize that names including GR8Ladies can be restrictive and not inclusive to everyone, especially since the work I’ve done recently has expanded beyond just gender diversity for cis, hetero women, I will have to rethink the name and messaging of the organization going forward.


In conclusion, a bunch of stuff has happened in the last three months.  I’m not just upset because a conference decided not to pay for my T&E.  The words that we use and the way that we treat people in the community matters.  Sexism is much more complex than sexual harassment or denying someone based on gender.  It is also about the determination of one’s worth and using language and practices that alienate women.  It’s about people not listening when I talk, but thinking it’s a good idea when a man mentions it.  It’s when people don’t believe me when I say there’s an issue and I have to justify every tiny little thing making this blog post over 4000 words! Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, but it’s hurting our communities, and it needs to change.

I’m glad to see that Gradle Inc is working towards changing their culture to prevent this type of thing from happening again, but it will take time to rebuild my trust. Just with the company though. It’s not like I would ever recommend switching to Maven ;) And, of course, this isn’t a problem with Gradle, Inc alone; gender issues are systemic problems that happen all over the tech industry. It doesn’t take much searching on Google to find countless others and indeed much worse examples of problems with gender diversity. And if you think your organization is exempt because no one has reported harassment or discrimination, that doesn’t mean anything. I’ve heard from countless women who have experienced horribleness and never reported it because they didn’t want to go through what I expect will happen to me next. Everyone can benefit from an ally workshop or diversity consultant.  Hopefully, in 10 or maybe 20 years from now, this won’t be as much of a problem. Until then, I’ll continue trying to help make our community more inclusive even if that makes a few people, myself included, uncomfortable.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

    I've learned a _lot_ from our conversations and the separate ones sparked by this ordeal. The biggest lessons in my mind (overall, not just Summit) are:
    * It is okay to seek help for improving diversity, even if you don't think there's a problem. Many respectable organizations get consulting and help for this. I did not really internalize this until now.
    * The amount of things you have to consider and deal with just to get to this point is enormous. I know we read about challenges, but not feeling able to work at on a high-profile project just because of harassment... I have no words.

    I hope working with a diversity consultant will help us take effective steps to change this situation so that you and others like you feel like they have a safe place to do good work and benefit millions of users at Gradle Inc.

    I know this isn't your main point, but I take 100% personal responsibility for the way you were informed about the conference travel policy. You were not given context, and my communication was complete crap. There are no excuses, you deserved and deserve better, and I'm very sorry about it. We learned a lot from that immediately and were able to communicate much better, I think, with other speakers. I hope in time we can earn your forgiveness.

    There are other specific things in this post to address for sure, but overall I hope you'll keep the conversation going because I know I, for one, am learning a lot. Thanks again for sharing.


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