Security at Tech Conference Allegedly Told Latino Students That Their “Kind Don’t Belong Here”

Lead Photo: Reflection of male hacker coding at laptop. Photo: Hero Images/Getty
Reflection of male hacker coding at laptop. Photo: Hero Images/Getty
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When the student members of the non-profit dev/Mission got invited to Dreamforce–billed as the “largest software conference in the world”–they expected to attend some workshops, meet promiment members of the San Francisco tech industry, and maybe even make some important connections. What they likely did not expect was to be turned away by security due to having incorrect badges, and to have that rejection come with a side of contempt from the guard doing the ejecting. Unfortunately, that’s what happened, and it hints at some of the big diversity issues plaguing the tech industry.

According to the SF Examiner, the group of 20 low-income, mostly Latino students were turned away from the November 6 session of Dreamforce due to a mix-up with badges: The students were given badges by Salesforce, the company running the conference, only to find that they were different than the paid attendees’ badges. “They looked funky. They don’t look like everyone else’s badge,” said Leonardo Sosa, the founder of dev/Mission, whose mission statement says that it aims “to train untapped young adults for careers in technology so we can build wealth and prosperity in our local diverse communities.”

Upon arriving at the conference, security guards turned the students away to the badge discrepancy, despite a staffer from Salesforce, Angelica Pineda, attempting to get them inside. According to the Examiner, one of the security guards told the group that “you don’t belong here,” before allegedly saying “your kind don’t belong here.” That sentiment is seemingly echoed in the demographics of the tech industry, which–according to a 2016 Kapor Center for Social Impact study–is only 3 to 5% made up of black and Latino employees.

The dev/Mission students–who had paid their way to the conference, despite the initial promise from Salesforce that they would provide BART passes for transportation–left the conference after the experience, which soured the event for Sosa, who said he spoke out–possibly putting lucrative donations at risk–after the kids told him how being turned away affected them.

Salesforce apologized to the group, and provided them (real) badges for a following session on November 9, but this incident highlights the ongoing issues of inclusion in the tech industry. At least that’s how it felt to Sosa and the students, one of whom said the incident ruined what had started as a very welcoming experience: “I felt pretty bad about it, it felt like I was some outsider, and I was not meant to be there. I felt like I didn’t belong.”