Seriously, stop with the booth babes

Date September 1, 2011

I like conferences. I really do. I like them because they typically offer valuable tech sessions, valuable training, and the all-important hallway track. I'm also not afraid to admit that I also like going to the vendor expos, too, but maybe not for the reason that a lot of people go.

You can tell at a tech conference who's been to the vendor booths and who hasn't - mostly because the people who have are usually laden with plastic gizmos, pens, notebooks, flash drives, rubber ducks, stress balls, t-shirts, and other generic crap, all stored in a bag (or several bags, depending on how much swag they felt like taking).

My friend Stephen Foskett went off on this back in 2009, and I agree with most of what he says.

The only real difference between his opinions and mine are that I actually do like flash drives (as long as the company has put a decent amount of information about themselves on it in the form of PDFs, videos, and the like. Before I take a flash drive, I actually ask the people if there are any information about their company on it. If there isn't, I don't take it. I can buy a 32GB USB3 flash drive for 50 bucks. Why do I want a crappy 2GB USB2 flash drive?

The reason I do take the ones with information is because that's why I'm there. I'm go to conferences to learn about the companies that are presenting. I want to learn what they do, how they do it, and why they wanted to come to the show. By actively seeking out new companies and technologies, I can stay near the leading edge of the profession. Companies that make it a point to present their information well help me do that. Which brings me to the point...

There are too many companies using "booth babes". If you're unfamiliar with the term (and I don't see how that's possible, but lets make sure everyone is on a level playing field), it refers to people (usually women, but I have actually seen a male booth babe dressed in a costume) who are hired and brought to the company's booth, dressed provocatively, and used as bait to lure in potential business contacts without providing any actual value or having any real knowledge of the company.

I'll admit, as Stephen does in the article I linked to above, that they do get my attention. I'm a heterosexual male, and as such, I'm sort of hard wired to pay attention to that type of thing. Fortunately, we have the ability to control our hormones and use reason. Because we have these abilities, no one pays any attention to the booth babes in terms of talking about the business of the company because they're contracted specifically for the conference.

And really, this is the core of the problem, and the effects are much more harmful than just ignoring scantily clad women at a trade show. What you end up with is the situation where you, as a conference goer, walk up to a booth and, because you're no stranger to how this works, ignore any attractive woman and talk directly to a male at the booth. You assume immediately that any attractive female is there simply for their physical appearance, not for the value that their knowledge brings. This is wrong on every level, and it's an insidious form of objectifying women - it happens gradually, over time, and the more booth babes you see, the more ingrained it becomes.

I hate it. I hate it a lot, and maybe one of the reasons that I hate it is because there are times I find myself falling into the trap. I've blown past women in booths to talk to the men, and I kick myself for it every time I realize I do it. I just have to work that much harder to counteract my initial tendencies.

The long-term effects of this are damaging. By being conditioned to treat women as intellectually inferior to men, we are actively discouraging them from joining our environment. Read this paper, titled A cultural perspective on gender diversity in computing if you want to see some causes and effects of societal treatment and its effect on women. Essentially, by marginalizing women, we are automatically halving the number of potential colleagues and collaborators.

If you honestly believe that an increase in diversity leads to better and more creative solutions, then you see the problem - we're not nearly as inclusive as we should be. Think of all of the potentially valuable contributors out there who have been told or shown that they can't be in IT. They were lied to, and that's a shame. We all suffer the loss.

So what can we do about fixing it? A great first step would be for companies to stop using booth babes (or, to go a step further, make it a habit of only bringing people who can contribute to explaining your company's business and technology). That, by itself, would help stop people from overlooking women in a booth, because you can start making the assumption that anyone there can talk about the company.

Of course, that isn't going to happen - there's a reason that beer companies use pictures of bikini models on the sides of trucks rather than just pictures of beer. So there must be a better solution. And I think I've got it, but it's going to take some self control and we're going to have to be resolute. The techniques I'm suggesting implement negative reinforcement rather than positive reinforcement because subtlety doesn't work on marketing people.




Operation: Eliminate Booth Babes

The goal: To discourage companies which hire booth babes from continuing that practice, by using a combination of peer pressure and negative reinforcement.

The Tactics: Actually, this part is pretty simple. When the first person at a booth approaches you, treat him or her exactly the same way you would a sales or implementation engineer. Ask questions regarding the technology. Ask about planned life cycles of the software, on use counts, and other things. Treat them exactly as you would an equal.

If this person is a booth babe (or a clueless marketing droid), they will inevitably hand you off to the lead technical (or sales) person at the booth. Here comes the important part: Demand to know why they wasted your time with manning the booth with clueless people. Don't discuss sales or tech with this person (which is what they will desperately want to do at this point). Ask why their company wastes everyone's time and their investors' money using people who provide no value. Tell them that you will not be doing business with them, regardless of their technology, because you believe that any company that needs to hide behind tricks, gimmicks, and sex appeal, can not offer you any value. Point out that a great number of their competitors don't need to use flimflam to sell their wares. Then walk away.

Your doing this will probably not unsettle the person. But the second time it happens at the same show, they'll take notice. And the third. And the fourth. It's more effective the more times a company encounters it. The next show they go to, they'll remember what happened, but sadly, they'll probably do the exact same thing. But when they get it again, and again, show after show, they will eventually stop because they'll see that we are not interested in their worthless ploys.




Something like this needs to hit critical mass. If you agree with the goal, and you think the tactics will work, tell other people. Spread the word. Booth babes hurt our industry, they're unfair, they're wasteful, and they provide nothing of any real value. Join me in discouraging companies from using them.

Edit
You may also find this article on TechTarget enlightening about the same subject.

85 Responses to “Seriously, stop with the booth babes”

  1. Fred Woodbridge said:

    Matt,

    Your heart's in the right place.

    Here's why you may have a problem: you're putting on a campaign against something as insurmountable as the sex drive. An argument could be made that basically, the reason men do and have done most things in life is because they want to have sex with women. This drive is so strong that it is used by companies the world over to push product. Succinctly, sex sells.

    Were this not true, no one would pay any amount to have these women (hired guns, as I call 'em) simply stand there. Ultimately and all BS aside, they're being paid to stand there and smile.

    There will be some like you who despise this practice because of the attendant issues, such as those you've touched on. There will be a lot who don't care. Alas, there will be more who do care, in the positive sense. These guys like these booth babes. We're talking about nerds and geeks here who, how shall I put this, aren't known to be "good" with women. I can say this with some authority for I belong squarely in the middle of those categories myself! For companies trying to attract these guys to talk about their wares, there are too many returns on investment for them not to continue the practice.

    In fact, I'd wager that even if a good number of gentle folk sign on so as to, as you put it, hit critical mass, it probably won't be enough to dissuade these companies. The laws of the sexual market place is that strong.

    That said, I have to say I agree with you. I think it's rather silly and at worst leads to attendant problems you discuss. At best, well … at best, it's entertaining, but at what cost?

    So, like Quixote tilting at the windmills, count me in. I'll help in this quest, let's see where things end up.

  2. Jiminy said:

    Hasn't this already been tried and failed?

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/e3-booth-babes-to-return-this-year

    http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/08/business/la-fi-ces-booth-models-20110108

  3. Angela Rupert said:

    Actually a lot of them are models. They have strict weight and height requirements. I think you are right, they should not be putting these models in the role of a phony company representative.

    I would even go so far as to say that is a form of discrimination. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to be a booth babe regardless of gender, race, weight, age, etc... Why is it that there is a weight, looks and height requirement for a booth babe job? Are they modeling clothes?

    How is it that we, as a democracy have allowed this form of discrimination to slip through the cracks? You should apply for a job as a booth babe, get turned down and sue the hell out of them! Also, be sure to start a petition. I will be the first to sign it! Good eye!

  4. Andrew said:

    At least with the booth babes you see at gaming conferences or car shows you know that they aren't there to know about the company/product. The worst are people simply brought in to fill space; people who don't know a thing about the company and product but dressed as if they are a regular employee.

    I'd also give kudos to companies that I've seen bring in extremely knowledgable female employees to conferences. At Velocity last year, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Keynote all had excellent representation and I don't remember encountering any booth babes or space fillers anywhere there.

  5. Chris said:

    I'm assuming you push back is against conferences in the US - where we quite puritan in comparison. MWC in Spain is about 10x as worse as anything in Vegas and COMPUTEX in Taipei is nearly 1000 times as worse. Sure it's stupid but it draws people in. Hot chicks in booths goes with computing like hot chicks go everywhere else and you aren't going to change it.

  6. Shamrock Hoax said:

    geez, guess i won't work the booth at LOPSA. All you had to do was say so, not announce it to the world. :(

  7. Shamrock Hoax said:

    uhh.. work the LOPSA booth at Ohio Linux Fest. (way to ruin a joke, dumbass)

  8. Prashanth said:

    It's like selling cars, you need women next to you to drive a 0-60 in 2.8sec car!

  9. sysadmin1138 said:

    Interesting story...

    At one of the BrainShares I went to, possibly 2007, HP had a large booth there. Hanging around back by the blade-chassis display was a woman who had the blue shirt, but didn't have the usual hallmarks of booth-babedom:

    - Not taller than me
    - Not thinner than me
    - Appearance not expertly crafted
    - Not lurking by the front to lure passers-by

    Sure enough, she was there to extol the virtues of the HP blade infrastructure. Being somewhat prone to hardware porn as I am, it was a very informative 20 minutes or so. She fielded my oddball questions just fine, showing she knew this system backwards and forwards. She clearly had a passion for this stuff.

    That is exactly who I want selling me stuff. People who are passionate about what they're working with, know it cold, and are very happy to go into the gritty details.

    A friend of mine was once working as a mechanical engineer for a major petrochemical company. She went to a conference in Texas once to get some networking in with some of her suppliers. Booth-babes in petrochem-conference-land apparently often come equipped with cigars and whiskey, and are more often bikini-clad than the tech-conferences I go to. What's worse, she got confused for a booth-babe by drunken conference goers more than once and had to field some rather rude come ons.

    She came home from the conference with a nice blacklist of companies she simply wouldn't do business with. And when she was asked why she was rejecting possibly cheaper sales, she told them why she wasn't doing business with them.

    Booth-babes are a useful advertising tool so long as the large majority of your potential client-base considers them attractive. At the same time, they're off-putting to those who don't, or could be mistaken for being such. I have women friends who work as system administrators and they don't like to go to conferences because of the condescension. This is a big problem.

    BrainShare didn't have many booth-babes in evidence, and those that were around were able to field at least some questions. I strongly suspect the reason for this is that there were enough women around as attendees that the risk/benefit of using them didn't have a good return. That conference had many people working in the email and identity-management sectors of the tech-space, and in my experience women are much more common in those areas than in the big-hardware areas of high performance computing and web-scale infrastructures.

  10. Jim Millard said:

    For the first time in the 4 years I've been to VMworld, a certain network virtualization company was at the show without their booth babes (see the linked Foskett article if you need help figuring out who I'm talking about). My first thought was that VMware set some new standards for booth exhibitors (possible), but based on past behavior, I didn't try to stop by to actually see what they were about. That's because it never crossed my mind that they'd "learned their lesson."

  11. Saint Aardvark said:

    Excellent and eloquent. Thanks, Matt.

  12. KimmoJ said:

    There are such a massive plethora of symptoms of the core fail of our society that I find myself commenting on it in so many diverse places. The booth babes are there because they help that company make money. That's what those companies do as their primary focus - they are money making entities that produce something techy on the side as the way to do that.

    They aren't really primarily tech creating entities, they're money collecting entities that do tech. And that is what's wrong with every part of every aspect of human society today. Think about it - what do you find objectionable? For most of us it's a lot of things, starting with booth babes and continuing into areas like human trafficking, kidnapping, pollution and well - the list is absolutely endless, and in each case the offending activity rests firmly on the notion that it makes someone money.

    The entire world is basically nothing but massive quantities of objectionable behavior lightened up by a few glimmers of goodness... if that doesn't tell us our money-based society is inherently just plain wrong at its core, I don't know what does. A properly designed system doesn't generate such enormous quantities of abysmal side effects.

    I'm with you re: the booth babes too, mind you, but I would rather fix it by making their presence nonsensical alongside making all those other things I mention nonsensical. We have to fix the actual fault here, not one of the more minor symptoms.

  13. Nathan Powell said:

    Sometimes I can't muster outrage over people hiring attractive women to get the attention of men in a male dominated field.

    I am not sure that there are fewer women in our field because of booth babes. I think it just appeals less to women.

    There are differences in the genders. It's not all bad.

  14. clara said:

    Bravo. I am a woman, though not a woman in tech, and I appreciate the thought you've put into it.

  15. Art said:

    What happened to you that caused you to write this? Let me tell you something, this will never go away. Look into the drug and rx industry and notice the hot sales reps (both genders). Nice post but I skipped the rant and went to the comments...seemed much more interesting.

  16. AJ L. said:

    I think as long as they are actually trained to know the material they handed out then it doesn't bother me.

    I've been surprised at some of the car shows I've been to that the "booth babes" actually did know enough to at least answer some of my basic questions. In the end I think if properly trained they can field away the looky loo's looking for free stuff versus people actually there to learn something. Once someone comes that actually needs further info they can direct you to a Sales Engineer or something.

    In the end though I do fully believe if you or anyone goes against this whole deal in the IT industry you need to do it across the board. No buying beer because of some woman not wearing much clothes tells you too, etc....this field is no different then any other.

    And also I'm against the women wearing little to nothing. I've got no problem with "booth babes" but it should still be a professional environment. If you want less clothes there's other places for that.

  17. Eric said:

    Seriously? So because YOU don't like something, it should be abolished for everyone.

    I really hate people like you.

  18. Matt Simmons said:

    @Eric

    It's not a matter of me not liking it (in fact, that doesn't really have much to do with it at all), it's that it really is hurting the industry. When I see something like that, I'm going to rail against it.

    I don't care how you feel about me. I care that you look at the bigger picture and recognize what is happening. Women are not joining IT because of things like this.

    If you want to improve things, go beyond what you like and don't like and look at what would be better for everyone.

  19. Moose said:

    Women have been fighting against Booth Babes for *years*. Just because "sex sells" doesn't make it ethically correct.

    People will shun places where they are not perceived as welcome. If you show women that they're considered sexualized objects with no actual contributing value, you can bet they will not stick around.

    And, really, if your company cannot sell without stooping to the level of using sex maybe you need to rethink your product -- or your marketing department.

  20. John Allsopp said:

    Amen!

    Curiously, this has never happened with the many dozens of exhibitors at our many conferences all over the world for web professionals. Nor do we end up with complaints of harassment by our attendees against other attendees. Nor of inappropriate slides and language by presenters. And women make up 30%-40% of our audience. And, we make an effort to find excellent presenters across a broad spectrum of diversity, including gender.

    It is possible. It does work.

    At the risk of sounding self promoting - avoid the events that taker this approach, and patronise run by folks in the industry themselves who care about this stuff.

  21. George Katsanos said:

    Why do you like conferences again?

    The knowledge, tech sessions, or company information you're searching for are all online - sometime long time before they appear in a conference. I find them boring, and I think they belong to the 90's. The only practical reasons I would imagine to want to attend one, -not me btw- are human contact & networking. Unless you want to be exposed to mass promotion and marketing just for the fun of it.

    For me, that's where the problem starts. Conferences, booths etc, are organized and managed by companies Marketing teams. If you have worked in any big company, my bet is you already know how this department works, and what their level of expertise is. (sic)

    Men have an 'insurmountable urge' as the first commentator writes, but they're not stupid. I doubt serious companies resort to this kind of tactics to push their products and I doubt a hot booth babe would influence even SLIGHTLY your decision to do business with someone or not.

    And last but not least, the two can go together: There are many physically gifted people (male and female) that do know what they're talking about. Let's just stop judging a book by its' cover.

  22. Jim said:

    Why not just demand that the companies hire booth babes who know about the wares or tell them to train the booth babes to know at least some of the answers to FAQs?

    A semi-knowledgeable babe would kill sales-wise at nerdcons.

  23. Mike Shields (@MatchesMalone) said:

    I have to agree with Jim, and also add that when E3 eliminated booth babes, they had their lowest attendance ever, and didn't realize why for a couple of years.

  24. Simon Willison said:

    George, you said:

    There are many physically gifted people (male and female) that do know what they’re talking about. Let’s just stop judging a book by its’ cover.

    That's exactly the point of this post. Booth babes that are there just to look pretty and hand out fliers reinforce the perception that attractive women aren't technical - even to people who are actively trying not to think that way.

  25. abadidea said:

    I'm a young woman with a still-shiny-new CS degree and a passion for tech and I absolutely loathe the concept of booth babes. (It's nothing against the women working as models personally. There are times and places for modelling.) In fact, I've been mistaken for one and written off, and told (by someone different obviously!) that I can't make it in tech because I don't look enough like one to hold men's attention, and written off.

    It's been my experience that most guys are well-meaning and not ACTIVELY trying to discriminate, but really don't get how rude they can be. My experience over and over and over again since I got into programming at age 14 is that if I'm ever anything less than the smartest, most accomplished person present, I get written off as a poser and ignored. Best of all, on the internet, I'm constantly being told any picture of me is a fake - because if I was really a girl on IRC, I'd be fat and ugly! My choices are "young man posing as a young woman for attention" or "fat and ugly young woman posing as a decent-looking young woman for attention." Either way, the assumption is there, that smart girls are not pretty and pretty girls are not smart.

    I could make this into a whole book about casual gender discrimination (just last night on IRC, I was told that if I really wanted to be a valued member of the community, I'd never mention my gender or anything that could in any way lead one to infer or wonder if I was a girl, because it's "distracting" - so no mentioning my straight male fiance, no mentioning my real name, no mentioning that I'd really, really prefer not to be called 'he' and 'him' and 'bro' -but it's okay for everyone else to mention their lovely wife, that their name is Dave, and they'd be extremely insulted if someone insisted on calling them "she") but let's just leave it at: yes, most women in tech are keenly aware of the unfortunate implications of booth babes and their negative effect on women actually in the industry, even if most guys are oblivious to it because they've never been in a similar situation. My personal vote is to cut it the heck out.

  26. Guy Chapman said:

    Absolutely. We should name and shame the worst offenders (and Blue Cat, featured on Steve's blog, were still offenders at the next year's VMworld).

    http://www.chapmancentral.co.uk/blog/2010/09/booth-babes/

  27. Marketer said:

    I resent having marketers --or "clueless marketing droids" as you so eloquently put it -- lumped in with booth babes. If you think a company can successfully showcase its wares at a major conference without a knowledgeable marketing professional in the booth, I believe you are mistaken. Everything from the design of the graphics to placement of equipment comes from a marketer, and if you believe you only visit all of the booths you choose because of product features alone, you are being naive. As a marketing manager for a software company, I attend many conferences each year, and you had better believe I talk with attendees in our booth and throughout the conference. True, I defer to the appropriate technical experts when in-depth questions arise which I cannot address. I have never once had the person I'm talking to take issue with this. I agree completely that marketing presence at a technology conference should not devolve to the level of relying on sex appeal, but let's not paint with so wide a brush as to dismiss an entire profession which is critical to the conferences you so enjoy--as well you should.

  28. Matt Simmons said:

    Hi Marketer,

    I would go out on a limb and say that if you can answer questions like that, then you aren't a "marketing droid". I have no disdain for people in marketing - indeed, as someone who spends a decent amount of time marketing my blog, organizations that I belong to, and events that I take part in, I have nothing but respect for good marketers.

    That being said, you *know* that there are bad marketers out there. You had to have experienced them, just as I have. Not being able to answer in-depth technical questions regarding your products doesn't make someone clueless - everyone has a different knowledge domain. There's no shame in handing someone to a more technical person, but there needs to be some conversation about the company and what it does in the first place.

    If there's someone who's in marketing and can't have a discussion with conference attendees on topics that are likely to come up (and at a technical conference such as VMworld, technical conversations should be considered the norm), then what good are you doing your company by manning the booth, regardless of how good you are at marketing?

  29. Marketer said:

    Absolutely there are bad marketers, same as there are bad sales people and bad engineers. But I find many reasons for a marketing presence in the conference booth. Many visitors to the booth aren't looking for an in-depth, technical discussion requiring a product expert. They want to know about the company or have a high- or mid-level product question that can be answered by a marketing manager or sales rep. In my experience it's important to staff the booth appropriately to leave our technical experts available for demonstrations and consultations. I completely agree with you that staffing a booth with uneducated employees (of any type) doesn't help anyone.

  30. Rich W said:

    What if the booth babe is painted to represent the product?

    This thread needs a photo :-)

  31. Funkzillabot said:

    @Rick W. You're so cleave. Way to look like an a-hole.

  32. Fred Woodbridge said:

    Matt said: “Women are not joining IT because of things like this.”

    I'm going to disagree with you on this one, Matt. Perhaps a statistically insignificant number of women don't “join” IT because booth babes exist, but on the whole, women don't join IT for varied reasons including how difficult it is to work in IT (the very long hours, the dervish dedication to achieving advancement. Etc. I'm not just blowing smoke up anyone's asses, here, there are numerous sociological studies around this very fact. Anyone interested may inquire within. Bear in mind, the scientists--and tangentially, me--aren't saying women are somehow incapable of the work required, it's just that for many women, priorities lie elsewhere.)

  33. SDill said:

    Fred,

    I would love to see those studies. Until then, I will doubt that female representation in the tech industry is as low as it is due to long hours and high achievement requirements, since the disparity doesn't seem to be nearly as large of a problem in industries that require both of those things but don't regularly promote the blatant objectification of women at professional conferences (see: law, medicine, some forms of investment banking). In addition, I think booth babes are a symptom of a larger issue that leads to the disparity, but why not start here? It's actionable, people are going to be at the conferences anyway, and it may have more immediate results than other efforts.

  34. JaneO said:

    Fantastic post - very thoughtful indeed. Firstly, you have identified a general malaise in several industries and - sorry marketer - a a 'boys and their toys' attitude in marketing departments. Boy Marketer is often, if not typically, disconnected from the company and relies on theories he was taught at university. In other words Boy Marketer is completely un-creative and so a booth babe ticks all his boxes neatly.

    Secondly, you have also identified how the booth babe tick box affects the perception of women by a male dominated industry, in that all women can be ignored as being eye candy at best. This in turn puts women off coming in to the industry and therefore having power in the industry, so the booth babe stays and the dance goes on.

    Good luck with your campaign - in contrast to some of the posters on this thread I think that someone has got to start somewhere, and money talks. If companies start hurting financially because of their sexist practices, they will change because that is the only message they will listen too.

  35. Brandon Craig Rhodes said:

    Great post: you make an excellent point about how booth-babing practices train us to take a whole class of people less seriously. And now that you have pointed out the effect, I am starting to see it everywhere! This morning's discovery: when a pretty woman I don't know follows me on Google+, I completely ignore her and assume her to be a fiction. But when a man follows me, I might go see who it is. Maybe I am usually right. But it is a bias whose possible negative effect was invisible to me until you pointed it out. Thanks!

  36. Kevin Chung said:

    Lord, what a bunch of self-righteous whiners. Show me any instance where women aren't going into the field because of booth babes. Women are already avoiding the field by high school, and I doubt that any of them have been exposed to the booth babe culture. It is part of a larger culture in the country. If you think they are rushing into the areas of advanced mathematics, sciences or engineering, you are sadly mistaken. Advances are being made slowly in what have been traditional male dominated fields, booth babes or not. You might be able to make an argument that booth babes discourage women already in the field, and reinforces their own experiences working in the field, but save the chest thumping and mea culpas about how it's effecting women entering the field.

    Then to lump marketers into the mix....absurd. How about, if you know nothing about my company, don't waste our time coming to our booth asking us time consuming basic questions that you should have known before approaching us? Sound silly for a conference? No worse then your railing against marketers. Next time a tech person knows the drop date on one of our products will be the first time. They also can't tell you anything about market penetration, distribution, or pricing structures. So unless you plan on patronizing mom and pop organizations the rest of your professional career, you might want to rethink your rant.

  37. Beth said:

    I just want to know where are all the Booth Bobs? :)

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  41. skjalf said:

    It is at the very least an indicator of how the company chooses to invest in women.

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  47. Marylene Goulet said:

    Excellent post, thank you Matt for outlying (yet again) another gender issue in IT. Hey, it happens to guys in my profession as well!
    Just a small reply to Kevin Chung who wrote:

    "[...]Women are already avoiding the field by high school, and I doubt that any of them have been exposed to the booth babe culture.[...]"

    No, they probably haven't been exposed to the booth babe culture but they HAVE been exposed to Lara Croft and her gigantic bosom (hey it's gorgeous, I don't mind!), exposed to "trolling" and gross remarks when some of them enjoy online video games (I'm not playing online to flirt, but to play), been told from the start that IT or programming is not for them, etc. There is no excuse. It might be true that for young women, professional priorities might lie elsewhere but that doesn't mean that they are not interested, or capable.

    Many a time during my studies, I was called in by my male colleagues to clean up and review HTML and CSS files because they knew that my (female?) attention to detail would make the difference. Last month, I had to call our security company because of some root virus spreading on our computers, hey it's procedure so I went through with it, but I had already isolated and solved the problem when the male technician showed up, he thanked me for being so thorough (I think he was genuinely surprised as well). So, no all women are turning away from the technology field, not all are destined to be booth babes as well, it's just a matter of letting our specific skills (men or women) be the issue here not what we look like.

  48. Angels at the Gate: Tech Conferences and the Booth Babe Strategy | SoftArtisans, Blogged Angels at the Gate: Tech Conferences and the Booth Babe Strategy | The Cathedral and the Bizarre said:

    [...] Seriously, Stop with the Booth Babes [...]

  49. marc dupree said:

    If a booth cant afford to hire quality model reps to hand out literature, how can they possibly have the bank to produce a quality product? Every major tech company on the planet sends 'booth babes' to rep for them. From Google to Microsoft to Apple - booth 'babes' are the norm at trade show. I won't go to a major booth that DOESN'T have quality model reps.

    If you have a problem with it - you are a complete hypocrite. From the tv you watch, products you buy, to the moves you go to - booth 'babes' are everywhere and produce results.

    Apple didn't do anything anyone else hadn't done, but they made it look better. It was all about style over substance. It was about the booth babe over the tech geek girl.

    Ever been to BlogHer? Booth 'dudes' are everywhere.

  50. Guy Chapman said:

    @Marc Dupree: No, it is absolutely not true that every major vendor hires booth babes, and I know companies that have lost, or come close to losing, business because their booth was too cheesy or because the buyer was (shock, horror) female.

    It's neanderthal behaviour. I don't care how many people do it, it's still neanderthal and it's still contributing to the prejudice that tech professions don't welcome women except as sex objects.

    Come to think of it, I reckon we should get Alice to explain it. Must... control... fist of death...

  51. NotAnAttender said:

    Nice article. Well said.
    As someone from outside your industry I've found your article following an article on 'Booth Babes' at the CES on the BBC. If you want to find a way to publicise which companies are offenders (and indeed which seem not to do this) I'm very happy to make sure that I take this into account when purchasing technology related items as an end user. This is an important issue, and you've put your finger right on it.
    (By the way I'm a man - not that this should make much difference).
    Thanks again for this article. Keep up the good work. I'll now proceed to read a bit more of your blog to see who you are and what you're about.

  52. Ernie said:

    I think that this article is right on, and I think that collectively, our response to booth babes *should* be to treat them as functional members of the sales team. If they are not, then a complaint should be made just before you walk away in disgust. This ensures two things:

    1. That any woman in the booth is treated with the respect they deserve, and judged by their knowledge and hard work, not any other factors.

    2. You may be pleasantly surprised on occasion, and completely impress someone who you would have otherwise dismissed.

  53. Esther said:

    Many years ago, there was a female employee at the company that made Video Toaster who kept getting confused with a booth babe. She could play an airhead and she had been in 1 of the promotional videos. She was an actual company employee, and knew about the product. She was a very attractive and thin blonde, who was not an airhead.

  54. John said:

    Please publish photos of the "offenders". Only public shaming will stop this heinous practice.

    Best of luck to you, Matt Quixote.

  55. briana said:

    this is so ridiculous people just want to complain for the sake of complaining.
    we glorify victoria secret and SI swimsuit models but saying this gorgeous model has a nice rear is a big deal!? I'm sure she was flattered, men are driven by the drive to have sex if anything this makes men look single minded. also that blogger writing "By being conditioned to treat women as intellectually inferior to men" where do they say shes stupid in this tweet?
    normally these models are trained if not already come in with the knowledge about these computers so this is completely and utterly complaining for the sake of complaining.
    - and yes all of this is coming from me, a woman.

    (this is from what i posted on the yahoo article about this, I think the point comes across even without me revising it)

  56. B. Abe said:

    Matt, get a life. . .zzzzzzzz!

  57. kelly said:

    as a woman in tech, you are my hero.

  58. slc said:

    Sex on America's scale is an addiction. There was a time when the only women you could think about were the ones in your village. There was no porno, there weren't orgies, unless maybe it was Beltane....people made do with sex being what it was, procreation, momentary bliss...now it's so much more fantasy than reality and it's that fantasy boys are addicted to...yes, boys. Real men can conquer their urges and use the heads on their shoulders, such as the author of this blog. Consider this, women can concentrate without the distraction of sex...is that not more powerful than being a slave to it? Women get horny too, women like looking at hot men, women like sex and many of them like it all the time, but they can switch it off.

  59. kris said:

    I am a marketing person and have been to nontechnical conferences with various employers. The ones that I had the worst experiences at were those with more of a "smart girls are not pretty and pretty girls are not smart" mindset (thank you abadidea). Being asked if x age is 'too old for you' rather than anything about the company or products is obnoxious and annoying.

    From a tech standpoint: Like Marylene Goulet says, "No, they probably haven’t been exposed to the booth babe culture but they HAVE been exposed to Lara Croft and her gigantic bosom, exposed to “trolling” and gross remarks when some of them enjoy online video games, been told from the start that IT or programming is not for them, etc." Personally, I've found that you get treated differently in many online games if people suspect you are *actually* a girl rather than simply using a female toon. It shouldn't matter.

    At any rate, thanks Matt and the folks who understand that perceptions can affect reality and not always for the best.

  60. Razvan said:

    Sir, you're living in a SAD world ! Booth babes have their place on this planet, just like the other kinds of personnel... :)

  61. nightlight said:

    I saw this blog entry mentioned in a Yahoo article and just wanted to add my two cents. As a woman, I am extremely encouraged any time a man stands up and calls the tech industry or any other institution out on harbored sexism. So thanks, Matt, for the fortitude to do so.

    Finally, to those who say booth babes are necessary to draw men in to the conferences, what about the gay men who attend? They are being left out, as are the straight women. I would not object to booth babes if half of them were men. There would be nothing sexist in that. So why don't companies try that for a change?

  62. Network Geek said:

    I'll go one step further; not only should "booth babes" go the way of the dodo, but so should tech "sales people" who are just a pretty face and can't actually tell me anything about the products they represent outside of a price schedule.

    Look, I'll be 44 later this year, I've done this kind of work for 20 years, and I was married to a woman who people stopped to stare at on the street. I've got a very pretty girlfriend right now I can go to dinner with, if that's what I want. I'm pretty much immune to pretty women in the workplace. I don't care that some tech company has sent me a model or ex-stripper or whatever to take me out to lunch in an attempt to sell me their product. I really, really, don't care. I want a competent sales person who can answer my technical questions about their product.
    These days, when I see a "booth babe" or the equivalent, all I can think about is how they're about the same age as my former step-daughter or niece.

    Honestly, this is one reason I have almost no interest in going to these trade shows these days. That combined with being a one-man IT department, and therefore having almost no time, makes it really difficult to justify in my mind.
    But, yes, I agree, it's about time that the tech companies grow up.

    Also, as a side note, the models in the car shows actually DO, or at least are supposed to, know things about the car they are showing off. Granted, that may not happen every time, but, according to the people I've known in that industry, that IS the way it's supposed to be. Not so much in the tech world, in my experience.

  63. EM said:

    Seriously, stop with the political correctness.

  64. frappa said:

    Another related online article, from a booth-babe perspective...
    http://www.itworld.com/it-managementstrategy/280160/life-booth-babe-high-heels-long-hours-and-leering-visitors

  65. Booth Babes » Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology said:

    [...] http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com/blog/2011/09/seriously-stop-with-the-booth-babes/ [...]

  66. Asus Tweet Stirs Controversy | The Endless Night said:

    [...] an essay titled, “Seriously, stop with the booth babes,” the blogger for Standalone-Sysadmin argued, “By being conditioned to treat women as intellectually inferior to men, we are [...]

  67. Asian said:

    hi guys,

    in case you guys dont realise it, i rather buy a computer of a hot booth babe than some of those ugly chicks, or worse yet, some nerd man.

    i work hard for my money, and i want to see how chicks

  68. Woggy said:

    To quote Network Geek "I was married to a woman who people stopped to stare at on the street. I've got a very pretty girlfriend right now I can go to dinner with"

    you ditch some old hag for a new gf, at least some one of us have morales, we keep our old aging wives and just want to luxury of admiring the booth babe!

  69. nia said:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I hope people will try to put it into practice and I will share it with others too. I wish more men think like you.

  70. John said:

    I'm sorry but sexist? That's just STUPID. Proof? I'm gay and these "booth babes" don't sway me. Put a hot guy in there? Of course I'm going to take notice of his products. Bottom line... the people who connect booth babes with sexism have severe issues. They are whining and using this as an excuse as to why they don't have a corner office or draw a bigger salary. Nothing more.

    So you are saying we should not have men or women demonstrate products, since it could be sexist? Ok, let's have monkeys do it! Or better yet, how about trained alligators?

    If it were YOUR product, would you want someone who has obvious hygiene issues, yellow teeth, and with open sores displaying your product? I think not. Then, by your admission to that... you must be sexist too as you'd obviously want someone physically attractive to be showcasing your product.

    We all are drawn to pretty people. That is a FACT. It has NOTHING to do with demeaning women (or men) who are in the IT industry. There is ZERO corellation between a pretty girl showcasing a laptop and that IT is a densely male industry. Sheesh what's wrong with the world now?

    Oh, and by the way... I'm in IT and for the last 10 years, 3 out of 4 of my bosses have been FEMALE. And their bosses? 50% female.

    So this whole sexism thing is complete crap.

  71. John said:

    Eric said:
    September 3rd, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Seriously? So because YOU don't like something, it should be abolished for everyone.
    I really hate people like you.

    DITTO

  72. kelly lanspa said:

    It's because this is abusive and insulting and insulting to the women in tech working the shows. That is why it should be abolished. You hate people and you wish to practice sexism that is demeaning. You're a great excuse for a person.

  73. John said:

    I'm sorry but as a man, if a man were a "booth babe" and was hot as h3ll... in no way would I be insulted or feel like he was being abused by earning an honest living by taking advantage of his good looks and charm. Nor would I feel that by him being taller, better looking, or with a full head of hair would I believe that is why I've never made it to management!

    Ah, this is the difference between men and women... I see the irrationality now in full force.

    Women in IT who have issues with "booth babes" clearly have issues with their own self esteem! LOL

    And Kelly Lanspa... you fail to show how or why in stating your position. And you make glaring summary statements after that. Then you insult someone (I don't know who). So are you what, 14?

    You obviously do not understand some greater points about marketing, human nature, and life in general (in that order). Just like the insane author of this original post who wishes to enforce her wrath and opinions on the world, just because she feels something must be so.

    Gawd this is why I'm glad I don't deal with women anymore lol.

  74. John Allsopp said:

    Sigh folks

    The plural of anecdote is not data
    The plural of your beliefs is not the truth
    The plural of ignorance is not wisdom

  75. Asus Tweet Stirs Controversy « Union Coast said:

    [...] an essay titled, “Seriously, stop with the booth babes,” the blogger for Standalone-Sysadminargued, “By being conditioned to treat women as intellectually inferior to men, we are [...]

  76. piranhas said:

    @John FYI your post reeks of ad hominem and strawman arguments.

    I can see how booth babes create a hostile environment for women. I mean, if at all conferences in the world you only had black people serving coffee and taking your coats, wouldn't you come to think that black people are there just to serve? Oh, wait, that actually happens, it's called racism. Because some minorities are generally poorer and they do the crappiest jobs, people think less of them on the whole.

    Off course, just because racism exists, does not mean that the people being subjected to it are powerless. A person can choose to ignore racism - ie a woman attending the conference can choose to think that the booth babes are a separate entity from her and she is not going to be treated the same way, she's more than just a body etc etc. But this is a mental exercise that white men have the priviledge of never having to deal with. Appreciate that.

    On the other hand, I do not see how booth babes are any different than companies using skimpy models in advertisement or using sex in ads where their product is not related to sex.

    Anyway, as a normal person, I tend to stay away from things that require me to do a mental exercise in order to feel okay, whereas other people don't have to. That means, I do not watch TV shows where only the male gaze is adressed or hang out with certain friends who I believe are shitheads when it comes to women. It is not that I can't handle it, it is that I don't have to stand for this, so I do not.

  77. Jennfier said:

    I think it's rude that you would basically call the "booth babe" worthless in front of her face. Chill out man. She doesn't give a crap about the company either lol, she just wants to get paid the $25 an hour for being there.

    You're the joke for coming up to a booth because of a girl, so you made the choice. Oldest trick in the book, so don't yell at a company for your own ignorance.

    PS- I am an attractive woman working in IT and booth babes don't bother me...it's drooling men that come up to me and act like idiots and ask for my phone number when I AM trying to explain the product. But that is just the way men are so...eliminating booth babes won't stop the problem. Your conscious might though.

  78. JOhn again said:

    Women in IT who have issues with "booth babes" clearly have issues with their own self esteem! LOL

  79. Booth babes på VMWorld, maktkoncentrationen i marknadsdiktaturen där valfriheten är en chimär och en fasad. och Knutna Nävar. | Captains Blog said:

    [...] alla fall tänkte jag på booth babsen på VMWorld, hur cyniskt det är av leverantörerna att locka till sig olika IT arbetare med hjälp [...]

  80. Booth babes på VMWorld, maktkoncentrationen i marknadsdiktaturen där valfriheten är en chimär och en fasad. och Knutna Nävar. | Captains Blog said:

    [...] alla fall tänkte jag på booth babesen på VMWorld, hur cyniskt det är av leverantörerna att locka till sig olika IT arbetare med hjälp [...]

  81. Richard said:

    This thread is useless without pics

  82. It’s Time To Speak Out Against Sexism In IT Recruiting said:

    [...] Seriously, stop with the booth babes [...]

  83. IT conferences for the CIO: microcosms of industry trends | Geek Minds Think Alike said:

    [...] Kudos to ServiceNow and to the set of vendors in the exhibit hall for not falling prey to this still-common (but hopefully moribund) embarrassing, sexist, and detrimental side of our male-dominated [...]

  84. some guy said:

    You're right. But, it's not just tech conferences. And, you won't win. But, you're right. I make a personal demerit against any company who uses a distraction marketing strategy. But why put it in their face? It's a lot like calling out the woman herself. You're on your first date, she wore the tiniest outfit she could get away with and not be arrested. Wonderbra included. What good is telling her that you're interested in something more than body parts? If a company is shoving body parts in your face; let them. If yoyu call them out on it then they just work on coming up with more complicated BS to distract you with. If they;re using something you know how to ignore, let them keep using it so you can keep ignoring it. If you're on a date with a skank, use her for what she's good for and move on. If you're at a tech conference with a slutty company, engage same policy. In the words of Bill Engvall; "Here's yer sign!" If they're showing off their sign, don't tell them to take down the sign! Let them keep showing off what they are. You're missing the point. You're letting them troll you. Trollolololol on you. Like telemarketers. I love them. I talk to them for hours and never buy a thing. ;-) Waste their time. You already know what you're doing. Tech conference = fun time vacation and we all know it. You time is not valuable while there. Theirs is. Waste it when they do stuff like this. Flirt with the booth babes. Keep asking them questions they have no answer to. Don't let them redirect you. Make a mess. Make the confusion and stupidity of it all very obvious, but act like you still haven't caught on yourself. You might get laid and they paid for it...

  85. IT conferences for the CIO: microcosms of industry trends said:

    […] Kudos to ServiceNow and to the set of vendors in the exhibit hall for not falling prey to this still-common (but hopefully moribund) embarrassing, sexist, and detrimental side of our male-dominated […]

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