Our office was abuzz recently with the news that the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco will now be “booth-babe free.”

Talk to any woman in technology who’s ever manned a booth at a tradeshow, and most likely she’ll be able to tell a story or two about having been mistaken for a booth babe or embarrassed by the bodies on display at the next booth over.

Years ago, I was a product manager at a networking company, working on launching a new secure content delivery device to market. Standing in a booth at a tradeshow, I was about to explain a product’s technical capabilities, when the visitor rudely interrupted me to say that, “he only wanted to speak to someone who knew something.” Although I was seething inside, I managed to calmly answer his questions about my product.

Up to that moment, I naively thought the use of scantily clad tradeshow models was an innocuous annoyance. As long as I was dressed professionally, the practice didn’t affect me. Wrong. My lesson learned was that the booth babe assumption undermines the competency and credibility of all women.

The IT security industry must take a stand to promote an environment of respect and inclusion for women in the field.  The shortage of IT security workers is a constant complaint, and it’s particularly hard to fill positions when the available workforce is limited to one gender. According to US census data, women make up 51% of the professional and technical occupations in the US overall, holding 25% of computer and mathematical sciences positions. But only 11% of positions in the IT security field are occupied by women.

While there are many factors involved in recruiting more women to IT positions and technology degrees, creating a welcoming environment that values women for their knowledge and skills is an undisputed requirement. I applaud the RSA Conference organizers for taking a step toward this goal, and hope to see more technology conferences follow suit.

 

What’s Your View?

Interested in the Women in Tech discussion? If you’re attending RSA 2015, check out my panel discussion Breaking the Glass Firewall: The Changing Role of Women in IT Security Monday, April 20, 11:20am-12:10pm PT.

What are your thoughts on women in the tech industry and banning “booth babes”? The comments are open!