Want More Female Speakers at CES? Get Rid of Booth Babes

(Full disclosure: I don’t attend CES).

My Twitter feed is rife with discussion about this year’s slate of keynote speakers at CES: six captains of industry and not one of them a woman (and only one of them not white). Even mainstream news outlets are talking about this. I mean, there was an article in USA Today. Can you get any more mainstream than the paper of choice for mid-range hotel chains that like to leave things on their guests’ doorsteps?

The AV industry as a whole does not come across well when the only folks we can send out to talk in high-profile situations are a bunch of older, white men. We want the young women (and young people of color) in our industry to say: “Hey, that could be me someday!” It’s kind of hard to do that when everyone up on the stage looks nothing like you.

And here’s where we get into a chicken and egg problem. Our industry is notoriously lopsided when it comes to demographics. It’s hard to find female heavy hitters if you haven’t built up your bench. But we need to lift up new voices and new ideas. Not just for the young technician who is trying to decide if she should stick it out with us. But because technology is growing and changing faster than you can say “game-changing, disruptive unicorn,” and it’s going to take those new ways of thinking to make our industry succeed. We need to grow our bench.

So, here’s a novel idea: Let’s pick off the low hanging fruit. Get rid of booth babes. Write a damn code of conduct. Stop using the Victoria’s Secret fashion show to demonstrate your fancy new display.

Opening up our industry is going to take a lot of hard work. But there’s no need to hamstring ourselves out of the gate. There are a lot of people doing some amazing work (e.g., the various women’s councils). We need to listen to them. We need to support them. We need to not make their jobs any harder than they already are.

One of my primary goals with my podcast (The Floating Point) is to speak with people who you wouldn’t normally hear from. I’ve done my damndest to find women to interview. One of the things I’ve discovered, though, is that many of the super-smart, amazing women out there have a wee touch of imposter’s syndrome. They don’t think that their voices are important. They don’t think anyone wants to hear what they have to say.

It’s pretty easy to get yourself a “manel.” It’s a lot of work to find those different voices. I applaud everyone who reaches outside their immediate circle and invites diverse voices up to the microphone.

So, no, getting rid of booth babes won’t magically solve all our problems. But it will encourage more women to stick around. And then we can all work together. The AV industry will be stronger for it.

Image via Thomas Hawk

Hope Roth

About Hope Roth

Hope Roth is a Crestron Certified Programmer with experience in the residential, commercial, and higher education verticals. She works as a programmer for Riordan Brothers Integration in Boston, MA. She hosts the AV-Programming-focused podcast, The Floating Point and writes for the rAVe Blog Squad. In the five minutes of free time that she makes for herself every week, she likes to sew, run, and go standup paddle boarding.

  • just nina

    I applaud all the constructive efforts to encourage women to participate more in technology discussions but I don’t think kicking women out of their jobs or calling them derogatory names is one of them. After all, some rely year after year on having this opportunity to put food on the table, make a rent or mortgage payment, whatever. I think tech women need to continue banding and bonding and delivering programs that will strengthen the collective voice and encourage more women to join the field.

  • Tom

    What if we just add “booth hunks” as well so we don’t suck the fun out of it like other trade shows have?

  • Frederick Ampel

    There have been numerous attempts to “dump”booth babes as you refer to them ( although I don’t think that term is fair any longer as many of the women you refer to are really professional greeters with training, not all certainly but many- and frankly it’s not the problem- the problem is the lack of willing professional women to join panels, whatever their reason. I’ve hosted numerous panels over the years at its very hard to find and get commitments from female speakers. CES is probably worse than most, but other shows ( InfoComm, AES, ISE,NAB) do have much larger number of professional women as presenters or panelists- perhaps encouraging women with knowledge and experience to join the party would do more than denigrating those who are trying to make a living in a convention town like Vegas- creating a ‘women in AV speakers bureau’ with bios and areas of expertise listed along with contact info ,for example would be a better approach- if those creating content for trade events had a centralized resource to work with there would be more women on panels and as speakers- your efforts focused in that direction would do a lot more to alleviate the problem than name calling. And since you didn’t attend CES as you noted – from where did you get your booth bade info, by the way- ?