Thirty some years ago I went to a large computer show on a field trip of sorts from college. At the end of the first day we were comparing notes and someone said “what I learned today was that the women working the booths don’t know anything.” This was very surprising to us but we all agreed it was true.
We had women in our computer classes and were pretty much believers in men and women being equal in computer science. After all we guys had to work as hard to keep up with the women as we did each other. There was no thinking about computers being a guy thing. It never occurred to us. We had Grace Murray Hopper visit campus and spend a lot of time talking to us students. She was an inspiration and really you could not spend any time with her and not believe that computers knew no gender bias.
So when we attended out first computer show we assumed that anyone working a booth, male or female, would be able to answer our questions. When we realized that the women at the booths were for decoration and to attract an audience we were shocked. Things have changed since then. But not for the better. There are fewer women in computer science classes for one thing. For another the use of attractive women to bring people, ok men, to booths has gotten extreme at some shows. It really scares me the message the use of “booth babes” sends to kids.
Today “booth babes”, scantily clad women whose only purpose at a booth is decoration, have gotten out of hand at some conferences. I read recently that the Electronic Entertainment Expo has banned “scantily clad women” from booths. Computer shows are, I don’t think, that bad yet. At least I hope not. The major vendors, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, HP and Dell for example, do not seem to employ “booth babes.” I’ve found the women at their booths to be as technical as the men. Very often the women at Microsoft booths that I have worked with are running the company presence there.
It is the smaller companies who need some extra attention that seem to employ women for appearance over knowledge. But I think they do us all a disservice when they do so. The idea is insulting to men as well as to women. How does a girl who sees this sort of thing view her own chances of being taken seriously? How does a boy who sees this think about women in the workplace? How is any of this good for anyone?
Serious companies treat women equally with men at the office. They should do so at shows and conferences as well. I think that men should start boycotting booths that employee “booth babes.” Maybe if we do that the companies who use them will realize that people go to shows to learn things not to ogle chicks. And we’d also be sending a message that we want women to be taken seriously in technical fields.