The allegations include made-up names, job titles and AI-generated headshots. (Credit: Pexels)

When a tech conference called DevTernity first posted its lineup of speakers for 2023, the names and titles on the list appeared to be quite impressive – from a senior engineer at WhatsApp named Alina Prokhoda to a staff engineer at Coinbase named Anna Boyko. The only problem is that these women don’t exist. 

Eduards Sizovs, the organizer of the conference, has been accused of creating fake profiles of women speakers complete with made-up names, titles and AI-generated headshots in an effort to feign a more inclusive lineup. 

Gergely Orosz, author of The Pragmatic Engineer newsletter, was the first to flag the suspicious profiles. In a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, he wrote about his initial wariness of one profile of an Ethereum contributor and staff engineer at Coinbase. It was only after reaching out to his contacts at Coinbase that his suspicions were confirmed: “No such contributor,” he wrote. “No one heard of her at Coinbase now or before.”

Orosz alleged that Sizovs created the fake profiles in order to attract more high-profile executives, as “several of these heavy hitter speakers refuse to speak at conferences that have all men speakers.”

In a response in X, Sizovs claimed the conference initially had three women speakers on the agenda, but two of them dropped out at the last minute, resulting in a “worse-than-expected level of diversity of speakers.” However, he denied creating fake profiles to make up for the unequal ratio of men-to-women, and instead blamed a “bug” on the DevTernity website. 

Regardless, speakers and attendees from companies like Microsoft and Amazon promptly dropped out. The event, originally scheduled for Dec. 7, is now canceled.

Microsoft executive Scott Hanselman, who claims he only speaks at conferences that feature a diverse lineup, said he dropped out of DevTernity after feeling “duped.” He took to X to share a diverse list of 920 speakers, urging viewers to invite them to conferences. 

“I remind all tech conference organizers that there are thousands of speakers of all walks of life, genders, ages and backgrounds,” he wrote.

According to a report by The World Bank, women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields. It’s worth noting that DevTernity does not allow speaker submissions and instead scouts out all event speakers on its own. According to its website, it follows what it calls the “Hollywood Principle” of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

It is unknown how many women speakers DevTernity reached out to, but Sizovs wrote on X that “there have been 1,000s of events chasing the same small sub-group of female speakers.”

All of Sizovs’ excuses aside – and he’s given lots of excuses – women in tech are outraged at what would appear to be an inclusivity stunt. One engineer and workplace activist, Liz Fong-Jones, told Bloomberg, “”This is damaging to all women in tech, even the ones that have nothing to do with the conference. Because now we’re going to get asked, even more often, all these questions about our authenticity.”

On the DevTernity website, which features an image of five stars accompanied by the review “Excellent!” (not attributed to anyone in particular), a pop-up announcement alerts attendees that further information and instructions will be communicated shortly.