The Max Planck Institute for Mathematics at the University of Bonn hosts workshops such as 'Young Women in Harmonic Analysis', 'Young Women in Geometry' and 'Young Women in Mathematical Physics' biannually, I think.

I am very interested in attending such a workshop as they are seldom found within the topics I am interested in. However, the title of the workshop begins with "Young Women". Moreover, the description on their page states that "the workshop provides a platform for female graduate students and postdocs in mathematical physics..."

Now, before you lambast me for even considering it, note that they also write "everybody is welcome to attend the workshop. We encourage all participants - male and female".

My worry is that male participants are technically permitted so that they do not break any discrimination laws and that if I were to attend such a workshop, I may find myself in the awkward situation of being the only male there facing the scowling looks of my female contemporaries.

Thus, my question is: can I apply (from a common sense, ethical, moral, situational point of view...because technically, I obviously can)?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 19:13

15 Answers 15


Yes, you should attend if you want to.

From their site, the point of the workshops is giving women a "platform...to present their research".

In other words, the point is that the speakers are women, not that everyone present is female. I would expect there to be plenty of men in the audience (And if the point is to empower women, surely they are more empowered when they can share their work with everyone, not just other women).


"We encourage all participants - male and female"

There is no need to look into it further than that. They encourage you to come and you want to go. I don't see any reason why you wouldn't want to apply.


Yes, you are definitely welcome to attend. Looking at previous workshops in the "Young Women in..." series, you can see from the photos that some of the participants appear to be male.

  • 46
    This is an excellent empirical answer to the question.
    – Tom Church
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 21:59
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    That said, it appears that most of the male participants are from Bonn, so perhaps there was no travel funding for them. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 3:13

Not only should you definitely go if you would like to, but you and other readers can use this as an interesting moment (and this is not meant as an attack on the original poster in any way) to reflect on the fact that women have experienced this 'but won't I feel like the odd one out' kind of feeling ever since they were first "technically permitted" at math conferences and technically allowed to get mathematics degrees, be mathematicians etc. (I work in geometric analysis myself, actually)

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    good point, and politely made.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 19:45
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    I once unknowingly took a class with the expectation that it was a psychology based class based on the description and even my advisor thought it would be good for my degree. It turned out to be something completely different. I ended up being the only male in this class and even the teacher was female. I spent 99% of the time sitting quietly as most of the time the women went on a man-hating rant which was usually followed by "well let's ask our only guy in the room of his opinion" in which I would try to find the most neutral way to not poke the beehive. I don't regret the experience (cont)
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 22:09
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    as it helped me to understand how others might feel when they are a part of the minority or the only one to represent their whatever. I do admit though that I remember exactly nothing from the class since it was more geared for nurses and the medical field in general (at the time I was getting a degree in criminal science). I am just glad I was able to make it out without upsetting anyone!
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 22:11
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    But I feel like the odd one out in almost any gathering :-)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 2:01
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    @ggiaquin Oh goodness me yes! "And what does our lady engineer think of this?" Probably the same as you, actually, but of course it's different with ovaries.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 7:28

There are two kinds of workshops organized for women.

A. One kind is a place where women can build confidence, for example, by presenting to an audience where there will be lots of supportive women in attendance. Men are welcome here if they go into it with an attitude of wanting to support the mission.

B. The other kind is aimed specifically at just women. There are specific reasons for organizing this kind of event. Perhaps historically there have been problems with sexism and/or actual gender violence at mixed gender, but male dominated, events. This kind of workshop could be organized as a stand-alone, or within a larger, mixed gender conference.

Whatever the ground rules are, they will be announced. The workshop you're interested in clearly posted their ground rules, because they didn't want any misunderstandings, and because supportive males in the audience would be an asset to the event.

Thanks for asking! I hope this is just a first step and that as time goes on, you'll (a) hesitate less about contacting the organizers with a question, and (b) learn more about gender issues in science. I believe that as women get better integrated into traditionally male fields, those fields will benefit from a healthier gender balance.


I wouldn't say it would be awkward. On the contrary, it would be very pleasing for the organization commitee that the workshop has reached beyond their targeted audience despite the title.

Of course, by audience I should clear out that if you're not in the field, it would be awkward even if you were a female. But they organize a workshop to encourage female students to present their work, and a male (clearly invited in the web page) supporting them is great, in my opinion.


I think the other answers cover the general case well, however, I can give you a more specific answer:

A few years ago, I and a few colleagues were also interested in some of the talks in one of those workshops in Bonn. Since some of us were male and we missed the deadline to apply anyway, we sent the organizers a mail if we could show up anyway for one of the days (Bonn being close enough for a day trip).

In short, the answer was yes, the talks are public, similar to any other talks they have Bonn. While the audience of course consisted mostly of the female participants, there were also quite a few male phd-students, post-docs and professors attending. They were just not the ones giving the talks.

So in other words, if you are interested in going, just drop the organizers a mail and go there. Just do not expect to be invited to give a talk.


"everybody is welcome to attend the workshop. We encourage all participants - male and female"

This is your answer.

The title (and indeed the content) is meant to showcase the work of promising young women in X field, but it's pretty clear they more than happy to have a general audience.


I've been in a situation like this where I wanted to attend a workshop to support a female friend, but the name of the event made it sound like it was definitely geared towards women. In that case I reached out to the event coordinator and asked her if men were able to attend, she said they'd be happy to have me join them and that there were a few other gentlemen planning on attending as well.

Moral of the story is, if you're not sure reach out to the person organizing and ask. Plus, you may not be the only dude there as it is.


From anecdotal experience, my advice is that you should attend if you want to but expect it to be as exclusive as the event title sounds. If you were an Art History major attending a conference titled, "Young Engineers After College", don't be surprised if you end up feeling alienated. Don't be shocked when you're the brunt of a few "A Liberal Arts major walked into a bar..." jokes. I refuse to be vocal about whether or not this is a form of prejudice, I'm simply stating that you may feel out of place.

I've gone to five different Women in [insert STEM topic here] conferences. At each event, there are a handful of jokes by the speaker(s) along the lines of, "Women do it better" and "Let's be honest ladies, men make it unnecessarily complex, am I right? Ha ha ha". The few men that attend are huddled in the corner and typically omitted from the entire discussion all together.

Realistically, what would you expect from an event that is clearly advertising itself to be for a select group of people? The topic of discussion isn't about a group of people, e.g. "How to encourage women to choose STEM", it's for a group of people. The former encourages all to attend in order to solve a problem; the latter encourages a select group of people to attend.

If the event organizers didn't want an exclusive audience, they wouldn't have set an exclusive title.


Well I'd suggest that if the workshops are "to provide a platform for female graduate students and postdocs" then they will want to present to a diverse audience and to sensitize young women ( thinking of an academic career ) and men to the value of having women successfully in those fields.



The organizers explicitly write that "everybody is welcome to attend the workshop. We encourage all participants - male and female." This probably means you wouldn't be the only man.

If you're still uncomfortable, you can contact the organizers and ask their permission. But I'm 99.99% sure they would say yes.

  • "99.99% sure" A rule of thumb with rough estimates like that is, that if you can't back them up, don't mention them. It distracts from your answer.
    – Mast
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 6:31
  • well, they might say "We're full," who knows. Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 15:37
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    What would be wrong with being the only man in the room? As a woman specializing in the interface between hardware and software, I have often been the only woman in the room. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 19:55

I would have thought that attendance of men at such an event is likely encouraged, not just allowed.

I recently wrote up a preprint attempting to outline the achievements of twenty female mathematicians and received positive feedback from many other female mathematicians working in academia who were happy that I had made this effort and attempted to outline the achievements of mathematicians working in such a diverse range of fields (I think the fact that I happen to be a man myself is not seen as relevant).


One solution would to be what American blacks did when attending a meeting where there would be mostly whites, 100 years or so ago:

Just come in, take a seat in the back, and say I'll just stay here out of the way and not bother anyone.

Now I'm not saying this the optimum solution, just that it will work if nothing else will.

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    Why would this be necessary? And how is the analogy relevant? Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 1:59
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    I don't know if it would be necessary. And the analogy is based on "possibly not being welcome". I repeat again, I'm not saying this the optimum solution, just that it will work if nothing else will.
    – Jennifer
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 13:06
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    "possibly not being welcome", aka feeling alienated, is totally a feasible scenario. I agree with you. I've seen women alienated when attending a majority-male event, like some video game conference. I've also seen men alienated when attending events with titles like the one the author mentioned. Kind of bothers me that many answers here completely disregard that.
    – 8protons
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 21:14

Not allowing men to attend would be sexist.

As they explicitly state that "everybody is welcome to attend the workshop" and that they "encourage all participants - male and female", they already explicitly give men permission to join the workshop, even though it may be directed towards women.

Nevertheless, it may indeed be awkward if you decide to join the course if you're the only man present. I'd be inclined to discuss this with one of the organizers and base my decision on her (I assume it's a she) input.

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