Dell Conference Moderator Fails to Amuse Women

Dell held a big international conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Michael Dell himself attended. The conference moderator was a Danish media personality named Mads Christensen. Most of the attendees were male, but there was one woman there: Christiane Vejlø. She wasn’t amused by Mads Christensen, and I don’t think you will be either. Here’s Christiane Vejlø’s comment on what happened: “Damn! I did not know the dress code was blue tie and male. I am at Dell’s big summit with Michael Dell in Copenhagen. Here we learn how to say “shut up bitch” and that women don’t belong in tech.”

Christiane Vejlø’s story appears in Dresscode: Blue Tie and Male. There she recounts what happened:

Mads Christensen shares with us his whole “show” about the bitchy women who want to steal the power in politics, boards and the home. “Science” he calls it and mentions that all the great inventions come from men. “We can thank women for the rolling pin,” he adds. And then the moderator of the day finishes of[f] by asking all (men) in the room to promise him that they will go home and say, “shut up bitch!”.

I turn pale. Not because I am personally offended. I know Mads Christensen and what he stands for and I don’t usually pay much attention to what he says. I am pale because I am in a state of [s]hock realizing that a large professional company as Dell will conciously hire someone with the well known agenda Mads Christensen has.

Christiane Vejlø went beyond just reporting on what was said. She also wrote an analysis. Using Google Translate, you get a rough idea of some of her analysis. First she described the moderator:

The chosen moderator is especially known for very conservative and strong opinions about the relationship between men and women and talk about a culture of failure to act caused by the dominance of women in society. This is what he lectures about, and which represent his brand. He is NOT comedian, but known as a controversial commentator and lecturer and a man with sharp opinions in gender debate. His speech is not built up of set ups and punch lines, but rather a provocative rant on the positions he is also known to have beside the stage. He describes it himself as “research”.

Again, via Google translate, she talks about the current attitudes toward women in tech:

IT industry is already very difficult to attract female workers. The fight is to entice more young women to take technical education and for more women to enter the IT industry. There is talk among other things the lack of role models, whether an image as a closed man’s world that repeatedly forget that women are actually half the population and thus of potential employees and customers. There has been debate about the phenomenon of booth babes (BBC) and the idealisation of brogrammers – drengerøvs programmers with a penchant for beer and just ladies. Tech company Sqoot lost all his sponsors and had to cancel an event by offering “friendly female staff” – at the bar!

I’ll paraphrase her conclusions and spare you any more of the translation. She argues that the topic of women in tech is already a sore point, and it shows a huge lack of judgment for a large multinational corporation to condone talk that encourages men to tell their wives, “shut up, bitch.”


Molly Wood from CNet shared some of the reaction and response from Dell in her article Why We Need to Keep Talking about Women in Tech. According to her article the head of Dell in Denmark issued a rather lame apology – one of those “sorry you didn’t like it” apologies. And Dell’s VP of Global Communications also spoke up saying that Mads Christensen did not reflect the attitude and behavior of Dell. Here’s Molly’s one minute rant on the topic:

Molly Wood’s CNet article also contains translations of Christiane Vejlø’s tweets during the conference. (She’s @christianevejlo on Twitter, with a stream partly in Danish and partly in English.)

Molly added analysis on Dell’s lack of wisdom, saying,

First, imagine if something like that had happened in the U.S., at an event where the CEO of a major publicly traded company was the keynote speaker. Everyone involved would be either fired or frantically apologizing, and that should be happening now.

Second, Dell in particular ought to be extra sensitive to the topic, after intense criticism in 2009 for a Netbook marketing campaign that suggested women only want computers for shopping and calorie counting. That was the same year, by the way, that Dell paid almost $10 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit from its employees over equal pay.

When last I looked, there were over 300 comments at Ycombinator Hacker News on the original article. The comments cover every aspect the topic and are great reading. I particularly liked this bit of fantasy fiction from commenter josephclooney, who said,

Picture this if you will:
Half way through Mads Christensen’s ‘spot/tirade’ Michael Dell walks onto the stage carrying a microphone. Mad’s microphone goes dead. “Well Mads, I know we (Dell) asked you to come along and speak today” says Michael “but your views about women are very, very wrong. They don’t represent my views, the views of my company, and they have no place at this conference. We’re going to have a 15-minute impromptu Q&A with Nicolai Moresco while I make sure the PR people who invited Mads here today never receive another cent from Dell, and then I’ll host the panel. I’m deeply sorry for this mistake.”


Too bad it isn’t real.

There was some reaction on Reddit.

You can follow Twitter trackbacks on “Dresscode: Blue Tie and Male” at Topsy. Here are a few tweets:





Dell Issues a More Careful Apology

Dell came along after a few hours with a more thoughtful apology on Google+. Dell said,

During a Dell-hosted customer and partner summit in Copenhagen in April, well-known public speaker and moderator, Mads Christensen, made a number of inappropriate and insensitive remarks about women. Dell sincerely apologizes for these comments. As members of our Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) know, Dell is an enthusiastic and committed advocate of women in business and IT. These comments do not reflect Dell’s company values and undermine much of the work we’ve done in support of women in the workplace overall.
. . .
Once again, we apologize for this unfortunate event. Going forward, we will be more careful selecting speakers at Dell events.

A better apology. More sincere sounding with all the right words. Does that give Dell a free pass on this one?

Because the apology by Dell was published on Google+ there was some discussion. A comment by Karen Lopez summed up the situation for me:

For those of you not getting it…no one really cares that some one person has an agenda for hating women at work. What we care about is that a vendor hired him knowing that, laughed along with him, then waited until the shit hit the fan to first to a “sorry you were offended” apology, then finally a real one.

What the Lady Said

In this day and age, situtations like this should never be allowed to happen. The fact that they do simply reinforces the fact that women in tech are not treated as equals. It’s time for the culture of men in tech to change.

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