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Tech Conferences Experiment With Exhibitor Dress Code Policies

By / Apr 6, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

With well-publicized diversity and gender-relations problems, many in the tech community are working to become more inclusive. One example: Some tech conferences are implementing exhibitor dress codes aimed at banning the “booth babe.”

It’s no secret that the technology industry struggles with gender and racial diversity. Last summer, Google admitted that its workforce is predominantly white and male; an International Business Times survey revealed how widespread the problem is; and the Gamergate scandal provided an ugly example of gender bias in the online community.

Now, a new trend is emerging among tech associations to help address the issue: exhibitor dress codes.

Booth babes are the Vanna Whites of the technology world, meant to reel in bedazzled male onlookers and then show off a company’s products.

RSA Conference, one of the largest security conferences, is the latest to implement such a policy, according to CNET. Last month, the group updated its exhibitor rules and regulations for its upcoming conference to include the following language:

All expo staff are expected to dress in business and/or business casual attire. Exhibitors should ensure that the attire of all staff they deploy at their booth (whether the exhibitor’s direct employees or their contractors) be considered appropriate in a professional environment. Attire of an overly revealing or suggestive nature is not permitted.

“We want everyone to feel like they can comfortably enjoy all of the sessions and activities that this year’s show has to offer,” RSA Conference Vice President Sandra Toms told CNET.

The move is an attempt to combat the use of “booth babes,” as they’re known in the tech convention space.

“Booth babes are the Vanna Whites of the technology world, meant to reel in bedazzled male onlookers and then show off a company’s products,” CNET’s Dana Kerr explained. “But they’ve also been the subject of debate, with many critics saying it’s demeaning for companies to treat women as sexualized props.”

While RSA Conference is the latest to implement a dress code policy, it’s not the first to do so. The GSM (Groupe Speciale Mobile) Association, which organizes the Mobile World Congress, added a dress code policy to its exhibitor rules in 2010. Per the policy, “attire of an overly revealing or suggestive nature is not permitted,” and “GSMA reserves the right to request that individual exhibition staff change their attire or leave the premises immediately their appearance is perceived be offensive to other exhibitors or participants.”

The ChinaJoy gaming expo banned “booth babes” altogether in 2012, and the Eurogamer Expo adopted a dress code that same year.

According to CNET’s report, the Entertainment Software Association, which hosts the popular E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles each year, leaves attire decisions for booth personnel up to individual exhibitors. However, a spokesperson for the association said the group does enforce “strict standards” that prohibit costumes or uniforms that are sexually explicit or provocative.

And before the annual 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, the Consumer Electronics Association amended its exhibitor attire policy to include a note that states the association “reserves the right to make determinations on appropriate attire.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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