Gidget or gadgets, that’s not really what the debate is all about anyway

Computer Engineer Barbie: We Need Details Not Dolls An axiomatic truth of technology today is that women in technology are, few and far between. The recent debate over booth babes slides naturally into the question “how can we encourage young women to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields”? After all, the argument goes, what young woman would willingly enter a field where she’ll be assumed to be ignorant unless she proves otherwise? Where she’ll be admired not for her Masters degree but for her mastery of makeup?

STEM, and technology in particular, has an unclear career path that tends to put off young women and, unsurprisingly, young men, too. Young women, according to research, aren’t thinking about the difficulties that exist being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field – and they do exist, there’s no denying that. They’re thinking “what the heck would I do with a degree in [insert STEM field here]?” [Scientific American, “U.S. Students say “yah for science””] Young women aren’t avoiding STEM because technology vendors at technology shows are hiring “booth babes.” In fact looking closer at the debate that’s risen regarding booth babes it really has nothing to do with them and everything to do with men and attitudes.

It isn’t the existence of booth babes that causes the treatment cited by Denise Dubie twitterbird in a recent post on this very debate over the practice, that is the result of a field that’s (1) still young compared to other STEM fields, (2) dominated by men, and (3) the fact that women in general haven’t been out en force  for all that long. It’s been less than 100 years since the right of women to vote was recognized, and less than 40 since we’ve really been accepted into the work force. Most of us are first and maybe second generation “working women”, professional women. We’re still paving the path for our daughters and their daughters. It’s no surprise that men in general, then, haven’t had a whole lot of time yet to adjust.

quote-leftA recent post by Network World blogger Michael Morris caused a bit of discussion on that site as well as chatter across social media network Twitter. He held a contest immediately following Cisco Live to identify the hottest booth babe at the show.

[…]

The one thing I do note at these shows, being in a position required to approach and speak to attendees and being female, is that I am in the definitely in the minority there. And often when I approach male attendees, they seem a bit shocked that I am talking technology with them. And when sitting in on sessions and looking around the room, I am always elated to find another female in attendance. But I have found that some of those women work for the vendor doing the presentation and aren’t IT professionals attending the show. Still I have to admit in the 10+ years of going to shows, the number of women in attendance has increased, based on my informal opinion. [emphasis added]

The ‘booth babe’ debate

Denise Dubie, NetworkWorld

It would likely be difficult to find a woman in technology that hasn’t had this same experience. The shock, the surprise, the change in tone and demeanor that comes from male counterparts upon realizing that the woman they’re talking to knows what she’s talking about. In some cases, she knows a heck of a lot more than they do. But that “shock and awe” isn’t restricted to trade shows, and it’s really got nothing to do with booth babes. It’s the preconceived notions many  men carry along with them to trade shows. Notice that these opinions didn’t originate at a trade show replete with lusty booth babes, they were carried along. That shock and awe isn’t peculiar to trade show environments, it is everywhere. On the phone, on a webinar, in a lab. In environments where there are no booth babes. Hence, they are not really part of the “problem” at all.