Drew Zachary spent months preparing for her presentation at the GEOINT Symposium in San Antonio, Texas. “It’s a really important conference in my industry,” Zachary, who is a director at the U.S. Census Bureau, told TODAY Parents. “I make the trip every year.”

But this year was different. Zachary, 30, became a mother, and when she arrived at the exhibit hall on June 4, with her breastfeeding 8-month-old Dasha, she was promptly denied entry.

“I went up to sign in and was blocked because I had my daughter with me,” Zachary told TODAY Parents. “They said, ‘you can come in, if the baby stays outside.’ Not that it matters, but Dasha wasn’t crying. She was in a wonderful mood.”

A “flabbergasted” Zachary spoke to several event managers on the premises, but they refused to budge. “Everyone just kept repeating, ‘We don’t allow anyone under 18, it’s a liability issue,’” the Washington, DC-based academic told TODAY Parents. One man quipped, “I’d like to show my 14-month-old what I do for a living too” — a comment that left Zachary seething with anger. “His remark came from a deep place of misunderstanding,” she noted.

Dasha Zachary
Zachary's daughter, Dasha.
Courtesy of Drew Zachary

Though Zachary doesn’t usually share personal thoughts on Twitter, she couldn’t hold back.

“I was so upset that I posted about the incident,” Zachary explained. “In heavily male-dominated fields like defense and the intelligence community, this pops up a lot where people haven’t figured out how to accommodate people who are parents and still have really important contributions they should be able to make.”

In the end, Zachary was able to give her presentation — but only because her partner, Brian, was also a speaker at the symposium. Both ended up missing out on half of the event. “When he was in the conference, I stayed outside with Dasha. We traded off," she told TODAY Parents. “But that is no solution. We should never, ever have to choose between careers and kids.” 

USGIF will be taking Zachary's feedback into consideration. "USGIF is very sorry for the inconvenience caused to Ms. Zachary and her family," a spokesperson told TODAY Parents. "However, it is against our policy to allow anyone under 18 years of age into the GEOINT Symposium exhibit hall due to insurance and liability concerns. This is made clear in the FAQs on our website. In an effort to compensate for the inconvenience, Ms. Zachary was provided free registration to the event when she registered on June 3."

Meanwhile, this isn't the first time Zachary has faced discrimination. Two weeks after Dasha was born, Zachary was scheduled to present an academic paper at a conference. Rather than allowing her to speak remotely via Skype, the organizers had someone else speak on her behalf. As Zachary told TODAY Parents: "If women aren't at the table making decisions, then things like this will continue to happen."