CIO Symmetry

Sep 1 2011   5:39PM GMT

Why the VMworld 2011 booth babes are bad for IT

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

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.

11  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Paranomasia
    It sounds like you are unilaterally blasting men for using methods that you find distasteful for getting people (mostly men) to gravitate to their booths. If this is sexual exploitation, it is mutually bilateral since the "booth babes" as you call them are happily being paid to be there. Why don't you tell them that THEY are not helping the cause of supposed equality in all things. In theory, you are correct, but the world is what it is. From a societal standpoint, we have moved from a patrist to a matrist society over the last 300 years, where women actually dominate many societal aspects. I am reminded, though, of the shoot-down of the ERA amendment, that was categorically vetoed by women. It seemed at the time that they did not want equality after all, but instead super-equality. For example, they wanted to retain, and still do, a strong preference in child custody, and did not like the idea at all of universal conscription. The bottom line is that both men AND women have to make a few changes in order for this practice to change. After all, from a marketing standpoint, if it didn't work, it would disapper faster than the free giveaways at the booths.
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  • Wr
    So if you had Boothe Boys would be happy?...and they have Boothe Girls because, well you know how men are!
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  • Lseidman
    This is advertising and sales, pure and simple. And to suggest women do not work or want to work in IT is a ludicrous statement considering I have worked with, taken technical courses with, and met quite a few women who have top-notch technical talent. I was not able to attend VMWorld this year, but have been in the past, so I cannot speak to what methods were used to attract attention. I tend to doubt women do not attend VMWare or enter an IT field because of the presence of female models. If anything, I would think the argument posed by this article could be construed in a way to be just as insulting as the presented line of discourse. The fact "Booth Babes" even exist at VMWorld (or any car show, alcohol promotion at a bar, etc.) just is a testament that the advertiser knows their clientele. In this case, more men (and suggestively heterosexual men at that) are in attendance and each vendor is seeking to lure their attention to their section adorned with the same kinds of signs, raffles, and trinkets as their competitors across the way. Also, some of those female "public relations folks, marketing and communications professionals" are pretty technically savvy as well and should not be discounted because they spend the majority of time with people selling the product rather than migrating VMs or upgrading to ESXi. Heck, they have been involved in hiring the models in the first place...
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  • JulieHerd
    I am 100% on board with you here. Booth babes are one of my greatest pet peeves, HAVEN'T WE MOVED PAST THIS YET, PEOPLE?? I'm a highly technical product manager, I know my stuff, and it annoys me to no end to have a potential customer walk by me to one of the guys to ask their questions. Booth babes are insulting to those of us who have the technical chops and know how to get the job done!! The mermaids? Now that was just sad. To walk into the pool area to see 800 men staring at 1 girl in a mermaid suit in the water. My colleagues and I left very soon after, amid leers unbecoming IT professionals.
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  • Vmgirlgeek
    Ya epic fail on the booth babes, would be much different if they were like us and just happened to want to dress in heels and skimpy clothes... I don't think any of the real women in IT are like that though, most of us are pretty real
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  • MattSimmons
    I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I wrote about this myself (and linked to your article): http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com/blog/2011/09/seriously-stop-with-the-booth-babes/
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  • vmindless
    And they should get rid of all the good looking sales guys who know nothing about technology. They should just leave technology to us smart unattractive people.
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  • Wendy Schuchart
    Paranomasia, the booth babes are there because they are being paid as models. Plain and simple. It's their job. It's not their fault that the promoters are hiring them. I take fault with the promoters for making that decision. Wr, I wouldn't be happy with Booth Studs either. In fact, I'd be insulted as well. I'm stunned that you're not insulted by a booth model.
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  • Ychic
    I'm a little late on this posting, but thought I'd share my views of this year's conference for anyone that's interested in reading my post. I am a female IT professional that attended VMWorld to learn more about their products and services because I recently completed a full upgrade project to move all of our servers into a fully virtualized environment. So, my goal was to learn more about their latest release. I enjoyed the conference regardless of there being booth babes simply because it was about the content and the quality of the conference itself that I was basing my overall assessment and experience. Oh, and the ice cream carts.... :D In a male dominating field, I expected there to be booth babes at this convention and I personally didn't pay much attention to it. As long as they had someone there that could answer my questions... I was off to the next booth. VMWare did a great job, and I am especially thankful that they added the Women of Purpose sessions which I initially debated on attending but am glad that I did. So, I feel that they did their part, and I am looking forward to next year.
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  • SBelle1
    Once upon a time when I was younger, I worked as a booth baby at a large convention center. Since I know the long hours they work, the unwanted attention they receive, and the low pay that booth babies make, I make a point of telling them about the opportunities and pay in the technical world. Some of them are surprised to learn that despite my looks, I have had a great career in the IT world. Being the only woman or one a few in meetings makes me memorable and my abilites are respected. Being attractive does not make them stupid or make them enjoy being exploited for being attractive. Do as I do - give your card to booth babies and tell them to contact you if they want to get into technical work. Many of them will contact you and some will listen to your advise on how to proceed. Some have had their children call me about getting an internship in the tech world. Booth babies work for many reasons just as do the rest of us. When you are young and pretty, you may not realize that your behavior is keeping you from finding other kinds of work. In the current job market, being a booth baby is better than being unemployed. Being a booth baby at VM World is a way for a smart woman to make contacts in the IT world. If you are a woman, why not share your experiences with them. You might be surprised at how interested they are in what you have to say.
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  • Klan
    i just found this article. As a technical marketing executive, I have always fellt demeaned and insulted by the booth babe concept especially since it is not equal opportunity. It always lead to salacious comments from my male peers and I felt embarrassed, ashamed and not taken seriously. using sex to sell is a lazy marketing tactic for someone who has no creativity and/or doesn't know how to successfully appeal to their audience. it is the same as cursing- a crutch for a lazy person that has no vocabulary.
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