I’d like to think that if I wanted to go to a professional technology conference dressed as a showgirl, I could.
But here’s the thing: no-one else would be dressed up. It’d be like going to work in a wedding dress; it’d only be so long before that nice lady in human resources suggested I see the ’special mentor’ once a week.
So, scantily-clad ‘booth babes’ at a gadget show in Las Vegas is an equal measure of craziness. And writers, editors and tech engineers have been typing fury over all the mandatory female models hired to sex-up gadgets at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2012 show.
CEO of CES, Gary Shapiro, told the BBC, “Sometimes it’s a little old school, but it does work,” saying people like to gravitate towards “things” that are pretty. He added that the BBC’s efforts to get a story about CES’s sexism was “cute but irrelevant”.
One of the ‘booth babes’ said: “There are women who are into it [ie. technology] but I don’t know any that would choose tech world over shopping or cooking or taking care of kids.”
I’m going to bypass the dark-cave comment. I hope either the BBC spent an entire day tracking down someone to give them the quote or CES paid her a good whack to say it.
But it’s not just across the pond that scantily-clad women are paraded around at tech shows. I’ve experienced much worse in the UK at four o’clock in the afternoon, in the basement of a London hotel for a datacentre conference. And trust me, there’s not much that can be done to sex-up datacentres.
It wasn’t the models that were the problem for me. It was like they were simply dressed up for a hen party and out for the night to have fun. It was the fact they’d been hired, essentially, as titillating eye-candy that was so uncomfortable. The male attendees seemed embarrassed they were being unwillingly targeted in such a way. And the female attendees felt equally so.
Months after the event, a woman working in tech told me how embarrassed she was and how uncomfortable it made her, saying she wouldn’t be going to the conference again. This is the damage done. In an industry that desperately needs women to enter its workforce, it’s not doing a good job at making women welcome.
The real joke’s on the tech industry. Hopelessly trying to sell, sell, sell and alienating half their audience (yes, women buy gadgets and tech too). Get your marketing right and you might just sell a bit more and make a bit more progress.
I mean, the face of Iceland isn’t Kate Middleton, it’s Stacey Soloman. And Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t in L’Oreal’s TV ad trying to sell hairspray to women – Cheryl Cole is. Otherwise, it’s just not appropriate.
Booth babes shouldn’t be banned. A bit like enforcing a quota for women in company boardrooms would be on the wrong side of positive discrimination, forcing CES to stop hiring in booth babes isn’t needed.
According to Lady Geek and Forrester research, four out of 10 high-end gadgets are bought by women. Women already have a grip on the tech world, which is almost certainly going to increase as more and more females enter into technology industry careers.
The tech companies that fail to wake up from the 1970s will soon be as out-dated as its old-school gender perspectives and have no customers to sell to.