LAS VEGAS — This week, I’m experiencing the life of an endangered species. In the sessions and amidst the vendor stalls and hang spaces at VMworld 2011, I am reminded over and over that there is a serious lack of women in technology.
Oh, some of the women in IT are at VMworld 2011. I’ve even had long discussions about technology with a few of them, and we’ve all laughed about how great it is that we never have a line in the women’s restrooms, while the men’s lines wrap out the door and around the corner. These women know their stuff and have absolutely earned their place at the virtualization table — but unfortunately they amount to less than 25% of the few women in attendance. The rest of the females present seem to be public relations folks, marketing and communications professionals, and by far the largest segment of the female population: the ever-present booth babe.
If you’ve never been to an IT conference, a booth babe is a gorgeous girl — typically, a model wearing something tight or the vendor logo T-shirt — who has been hired by the tech vendor to lure people into its booth. And by people, I mean men because the booth babes soundly ignore me as I walk around the show floor. The booth babes themselves admit openly that they don’t know anything about the technology they’re selling, but they’re happy to scan your badge, hand you a T-shirt and get you to sign up to win an iPad2.
Attendee Carol Dirig opined on her Twitter stream, “Why do industry vendors keep hiring booth babes? What gives? VMworld could have been a classy event.” Even if the vendors hadn’t employed booth babes, the classy part of the event would have ended the second that conference organizers sent out models dressed as mermaids — yes, with fins and the complete inability to move, requiring they be carried. As Anne Hewitt summed up: “Wow. Mermaids were pretty demoralizing. Thanks #vmworld.”
What harm is there in a few booth babes and some innocent mermaids? I know of at least three very smart and successful women in technology who hate attending IT conferences because they aren’t taken seriously. Why? Because they are often mistaken for booth babes. In a strange inversion, their great looks are a detriment in the IT industry. That is a crime, folks. As one Twitter user suggested, we should be ashamed. The tech world has taught us that women are for eye candy. Don’t ask them questions. Don’t take them seriously. Just look and enjoy as they hand you a blinking stress ball.
Consider the opportunity cost for technology. When we wonder why women aren’t flocking to technology careers, we have to question what it is about IT that makes women not want to be at the party.