VMworld, Booth Babes, Models in the #MeToo Era
Note: Computer Weekly’s article 2010 gave a what is meant to be a tongue-in-check guide to surviving life as booth babe… I’m NOT quite sure it hits the mark.
On last week’s VMTN Podcast (Talkshoe / Facebook Live) the discussion turned to VMWorld 2018. I asked our genial host, Eric Nielsen what the official VMworld Policy was towards the use of “Booth Babes” or “Models” was in the post-Weinstein, #MeToo era. It can hardly escaped peoples attention that this is a touchstone topic of our era. Recent events in the UK’s “Presidents Club” have highlighted the dangers of employing young women into the murky world of so-called “Corporate Hospitality” and conference events.
There’s something implicitly wrong with it because it is nearly always gender-biased. In that people employed to be “Booth Babes” are nearly universally young women – and the implication is that such events are uniformly populated by heterosexual men, who enjoy ogling women old enough to be their daughters, and in some cases grand-daughters. Of course, that doesn’t apply to everyone. #NotAllMen. However, the implication or message sent out by such activities suggest that the event is not for gay men or women of any sexuality.
I’m not least political correct or wishing to hector or carp. Indeed, a quick scour of the internet you’ll be able to find photos of me with “booth babes” at previous VMworld. This was something I used to do wind-up my EX who was convinced that I was living the high-life at VMworld, rather than busting my butt, and returning to my hotel room utterly shattered. I’m not especially proud of doing this on more levels than just one…
I also recall the discomfort felt at bloggers table one year when John Troyer raised the issue. I made the point that there were no muscle men in little gold metallic hot-pants for the delectation of the gay men or heterosexual women who attended VMworld. My assertion was despite the event being heavily dominated by men, it does rather assume they are heterosexual.
[[[Insert photo of man in gold hot pants]]]
Remember its the sponsors who engage in this crass behaviour. And by doing so they demonstrate scant regard for their clients, customers and attendees – as they assume they are as crass as their PR/Marketing Team. A little story might help illustrate the effect such actions of sponsors has on women attending the event. When I was employed at VMware I attended an event EXPO Event in Docklands – where I was helping a very well-known partner pitch their VMware related offering. As we were setting up one of the partner’s employees sidles up me and asked
“So what about her, eh?”
He pointed in the general direction of a young woman, no more than 20, in an all in one lycra cycling outfit. Given her age and duties, I think it was safe to say she wasn’t employee, and wasn’t there to engage delegates with the technical merits of her booths technology. This is classic alpha-male “signalling” beloved of many a locker room in High School. It is a classic “are you one of us” test. Given my new status, you can imagine – I didn’t really feel like that I had anything in common with him. The young woman was younger than my step-daughter. I mumbled something and looked away. I felt awkward.
Things took a turn for the worst when the partner turned to a female member of his staff dressed in simple corporate polo shirt – the standard attire of regular booth staffer:
“Why don’t you wear something like that?” he said
So there I am stuck between them. The lady looks at me. And I think what do I do? Do I just let this slide? Do I leave it to her to say something? Looking for way out, I groped for my weapon of first defence – sarcasm.
“So… This must be Phase Two of the diversity and inclusivity training I have heard soooooo much about in your organisation?”
I hope my story gives you an idea of how “booth babes” sanctions and condones a certain level of behaviour – and contributes to making everyone regardless of gender or sexuality, feel incredible awkward, and he’s the important part – unwelcome. This event is not for you it says…
Anyway, back to my story. I asked Eric for VMware’s official policy on “booth babes” and “models” is…. Here’s what he was able to dig out for me….
“Hi here is what the event team responded with. I know they have kicked non-compliant vendors off the floor in years past. Since those high profile events, vendors take it seriously as does VMware.
———- event team response ——
Here’s our booth staff policy. This is part of the Rules and Regulations document that all sponsors and exhibitors must accept in order to participate in the event.
* VMware discourages the use of professional talent for booth or demonstration staff. Show Management reserves the right to remove any person(s) from the Event or Mandalay Bay Convention Center that do not have an Event badge, are improperly badged, are unprofessionally or objectionably dressed or other persons that behave in a manner deemed unprofessional or objectionable by Show Management.
Sponsorship Manager, Global Events
I think it is great that VMware has policy. But I have some concerns.
Firstly, I’m little bit troubled about the use of the term “discourages”. A stronger term would be “prohibits”.
Secondly, the emphasis on appearance rather misses a point (whilst highlighting an issue with the way some “booth babes” are scantily clad and often sexualised) For me the bigger issue is not this issue of how someone is dressed (I might add this is a deeply subjective judgement call) but the fact that anyone even someone “professionally attired” is at booth for how they look, not for what they know about a technology or what they contribute to the company.
I feel a better policy would prohibit professional “talent” or “demonstration staff” – and opt for “employees only” policy. I recognise this might unduly hit contractors who work for these companies, but aren’t on the payroll. But I feel unless a policy is 100% clear, it is open to “creative interpretation” and outright abuse. It could also impact on entertainment that is harmless – such as the magic acts you sometimes see. Perhaps once we have rid the IT sector “booth babes” the policy could be relaxed or allow for more discretion.
Finally, any policy of any type is really only as good as its enforcement. Eric reassures me that VMware takes this seriously, and due to its enforcement in the past – vendors have got the message. I wasn’t at last years VMworld so I can’t testify to that. I would be interested to know what you think?
Let me know via twitter?