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It's time to replace booth babes at tech conferences

Deidre Diamond Founder and CEO, Cyber Security Network, #brainbabe

Booth babes are seen as distracting, uninformed, and unmotivated. Most importantly, they do not deliver results (in the form of sales leads). One woman sees “pure hypocrisy of having technical fields express concerns about gender ratios and how to improve them only to go to technical conferences and have the predominant message to women be ‘You are a sex object’ and you are useful for selling stuff to the Real Men who run the show.”

I was reminded within minutes of arriving at RSA Conference 2017 that booth babes still exist, and it really bothered me. I thought to myself, “I am working to attract women to join our community, and this booth babe problem is still working against us!” We never eliminated the problem; we dressed it differently.

There is a better way: Forward

While checking in to get my conference badge at RSA this year, a colleague asked me if I wanted to hear what he had just overheard in his check-in line. He said, “Do you see that attractive young blonde in front of us?” I said yes, and he told me that her conversation with the registration desk consisted of her explaining that she had taken a bus to get to the conference, had lost her ID, and had no idea what booth she was there to work.

I instantly asked myself, “Why? Why is this our only solution?” I blurted out, “What a waste of an opportunity for our community. We should make it mandatory that vendors who need more staff utilize STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art, and math] students—and others, both men and women—who have a genuine interest in cybersecurity!”  

This answer immediately came to mind, and I am thrilled to offer the following solution to the community and country I love so much. Brainbabe.org is introducing the STEAM-Con Connection, which provides a smart alternative to hiring marketing models.

Use STEAM-Con Connection to hire STEAM students and other adults (both women and men) who have a genuine interest in the cybersecurity and technology professions. Give future cybersecurity experts an opportunity to show you what they’ve got. I’ll bet you’re impressed with their energy, drive and enthusiasm.

Our daughters are watching

To be serious about changing the gender gap and promoting women in STEAM, booth babes should be eliminated overnight and replaced with female and male STEAM students and other adults who are genuinely interested in technology and cybersecurity.

We must stop selling sexuality. We must be willing to give all individuals the respect they deserve. We must treat women the way we would like our daughters to be treated. When you hire booth babes, you hurt the credibility of all women.   

Women are leaving cybersecurity and technology careers. Women do not have to keep their heads down and do great work while the rest of the world ignores and overlooks sexual harassment, as Susan J. Fowler described in her blog, “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber.” She is an example of a bright, young woman who should have thrived during that year in corporate America.

Instead, as Fowler wrote: “When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%.”

I was heartbroken and angry after reading about Fowler’s mistreatment in the workplace. I need to see action in our community. Every company is accountable. We need to stand up for our daughters and sons.

This post was originally published on brainbabe.org.

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