In the weeks after she was declared the winner of the 2020 Olympic Games in Rio, Gabriele Gelli, a 35-year-old software engineer, found herself in the middle of a public relations nightmare.
It started when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released an article about the medal ceremony.
The article included photos of the women in the running shorts and tracksuits who were celebrating in the stadium, and an image of a man in a white shirt and tie.
In it, Gelli was shown with the caption: “Women are the greatest in the world, but in Rio they have been left out.”
The photograph, which the BBC described as “futile” and “bogus,” went viral, with Gelli being accused of being a “stooge of the IOC” and a “feminist pig.”
The BBC also released a video of Gelli dancing to a song by Rihanna that was accompanied by an ad for the ad agency McCann.
The video has since been removed from YouTube, and the McCann ad agency has said it was never the intent of the video to offend anyone.
In a statement to the Guardian, McCann said that it “never meant to offend or harm anyone.”
But Gelli’s experience has also been a wake-up call for other women in tech.
As a result of the viral video, Gelli said she had learned “what it takes to be a strong leader” and that “every woman I meet is strong.”
“The IOC has been so focused on what the majority of us already knew—that women have no right to be there, and that women shouldn’t have a platform to celebrate,” she said.
“And they’ve taken that away from us, in so many ways.”
Gelli has since started a group called #WomenFirst, which has been active on social media, and has begun working with other women to create a campaign called #BeGreat, which aims to help companies and organizations “make a positive impact on the lives of women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics].”
She said the hashtag campaign is one of several ways she and others are taking part in a larger movement to make tech and other industries more welcoming to women.
“In the past, it was mostly men who had a platform because they were the CEO of the company, and they were making millions and millions of dollars,” she told the Guardian.
“I think it’s time for us to make a stand and take back the reins, and take that leadership back.”
Gellis work in the tech industry has helped her build relationships with many tech leaders, including the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
And while many tech companies continue to shy away from women in their ranks, many others are beginning to make strides in changing that.
The #WomenNext campaign was started by Gelli and her group, which is also asking companies to “change the way you recruit and train women in your organizations.”
They say they are asking companies who have not been proactive in hiring women in technology to start by recruiting and training women.
In addition to encouraging companies to hire more women, the campaign also aims to educate their employees about diversity and inclusion.
“We want to make sure that we teach our staff that they are not alone in their experiences, and we also want to show that we have people who are doing a fantastic job of understanding the diversity in their company,” Gelli said.
While Gelli is an advocate for the women she knows, she is also trying to change the culture of the tech world, and she has some advice for other young women.
Follow Allison Macdonald on Twitter: @allisonmacdonald