There is more to “women in tech” than booth babes

 by Martin Belam, 16 January 2012

There is always debate about the value of pseudonymous comments on websites, but I thought this comment underneath Kate Bevan’s recent piece on Comment is free about booth babes at CES summed it up perfectly:

“Enough with the debate about the effect or lack thereof of booth babes on the men attending these trade shows. How about the effect on women who have to be there to work?

I am a woman in my 30s, and have had to deal with this for years now. It sucks. I think sex is just great, but not at work. When we're working, why can't we all just keep our clothes on?

And when I'm at a conference or trade show, I'm working.

Do you know how awkward it is to have a serious business conversation with a client when almost every other woman in his line of sight is dressed like a stripper?

Can you imagine how I feel when I have to talk to a woman at a booth who has no idea how to deal with me, since she was hired solely for her ability to flirt with/attract straight men?

Women aren't flocking to join tech companies, it's well known, yes. Most of the attendees are straight men, yes. Most "nerds" working in tech are straight men, yes.

And having conferences and work events with "booth babes" is going to do nothing but keep it that way.

And even if gay men and women are in the minority, we ARE there. Why make it that much harder for us?” - geekgirlnth

Of course, responses to this woman’s experiences in the comments were mostly of the boorish armchair warrior variety, basically posting “Nobody is forcing you to work there. That’s just capitalism, get over yourself, love. And can you fetch us a sandwich?”

In fact, one of the enlightened commenters informed Kate, a technology journalist, that “Tech is male. Now get over it!”

I always wonder at the mindset that exclaims “Women are talking to women on a national news site about an issue that affects women and involves women, I must immediately redress this gender imbalance by going on and calling them joyless feminazis.”

My own position on this is clear. I stopped going to the Ecommerce Expo in London because I objected to the presence of booth babes, and I never go and look at the stand of any company at any trade or consumer show - tech or otherwise - that has skimpily clad people handing out the information and literature. As a grown adult male, I’m perfectly capable of deciding whether I’m interested in your product or not without having someone jiggle at me.

I find the use of booth babes particularly depressing in the tech world though.

We work in the most forward-looking industry sector, so why still use the most backward-looking of marketing techniques?

1 Comment

Thank you for this, Martin. As Dan Barker mentioned on Twitter, I wrote a (very angry) post about this last month. Three weeks later, the discussion seems to have blown up in the tech world. I'm glad. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be stopped. Several friends of mine, and me, are not done with it yet, either :)

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