A Toronto woman’s live-tweeting of an alleged sexist conversation she overheard between technology executives sparked a larger dialogue about sexism in the tech industry.

Lyndsay Kirkham, a freelance coder and editor, was at Richtree restaurant at Toronto’s Eaton Centre for a birthday lunch with her young son and his father when she overheard an unpleasant conversation.

As a feminist and mother with a professional interest in technology, Kirkham said her ears “perked” up when she heard what they were discussing.

The men were talking about hiring practices, particularly as they related to women, and how their company was interested “only in hiring mature women because young women get pregnant again and again and again,” she told CBC News.

Something that particularly bothered Kirkham was that the men also discussed women in their office, predicting which would “have another one” and when each would next get pregnant.

“They were making it clear that women’s bodies were nothing more an inanimate objects.”

Being one of the only two women in a computer science class in university, Kirkham said she wasn’t surprised by the presence of sexism in the industry. It's a topic largely discussed among women in the field, but she was shocked the men were so open about it.

“I mean, I was appalled,” she said. “I could not believe they were sharing their sexism so publicly, saying it out loud... this ethos is still so pervasive that they are willing to have this conversation out in public."

Real impact

By doing so, they were also discounting the role men play in their children’s lives, as well as any young childless women, she said.

Kirkham added that while she respects privacy, a very loud conversation in public felt like something she could tweet. She began immediately venting on Twitter and was shocked by how quickly people were responding, re-tweeting and subsequently sharing their own tales of workplace or tech industry sexism.

“I think that, more than anything else, has been the biggest takeaway,” she said. “This might be the atmosphere out there, but these are the real stories [people are each sharing]. It underlines that kind of attitude that was sitting next to me is having a real impact in people’s lives.”

Despite her displeasure of hearing such a conversation, she said she was pleased that by tweeting the exchange, others began paying attention and reading other people's personal stories, as well as focusing on the "systemic" problems and speaking out.