If you’ve been to a major tech trade show, you’ve seen them: Scantily clad young women beckoning attendees to visit the booth of the vendor who hired them—who likely don’t know much about the company, or the products it offers.
Enter the STEAM-Con Connection, a resource that offers an alternative to hiring these “booth babes” at cybersecurity conferences by replacing them with college students and other adults—women and men—with an interest in technology professions.
“Instead of calling a marketing or modelling agency, you can call us, and we will staff your booth—not only making sure the person is there and reliable, but that they are educated and interested in your firm, to actually be able to engage folks,” said Deidre Diamond, founder and CEO of CyberSN and #brainbabe, of which the STEAM-Con Connection is a part. It also gives students the opportunity to network and potentially gain internship or job opportunities, Diamond added.
Booth babes have been around “since the beginning of time,” Diamond said, starting with conventions for the automotive and steel industries. While they faded away in many verticals, they remain prominent at tech trade shows.
“Modeling agencies sometimes now call themselves marketing agencies, just to not have to deal with as much of the stigma,” Diamond said. “But the reality is that at these larger technology shows, they’re still utilizing these services.”
Booth babe attire frequently includes low-cut tops and sexy costumes, often landing them in galleries on sites like Maxim. In tech, an industry that is overwhelmingly male, it’s clear what the purpose is, Diamond said: “Attract the men.”
However, the ROI is questionable: Booth babes do not necessarily lead to greater foot traffic or leads, according to Spencer Chen, vice president of marketing and business development at Alibaba Group.
In 2015, RSA Conference organizers added a new clause to the conference exhibitor rules and regulations, effectively attempting to ban booth babes. “All expo staff are expected to dress in business and/or business casual attire… Attire of an overly revealing or suggestive nature is not permitted,” the clause read. The rules went on to list specific examples of prohibited clothing, including tops displaying excessive cleavage, shorts, miniskirts, and Lycra bodysuits.
The idea for STEAM-Con Connection took hold at RSA 2017. Diamond’s colleague told her that he saw a beautiful young woman checking in, who knew nothing about who she was working for that day. “I thought to myself, ‘What a waste! How many STEAM students would love to be here, and get the experience of what each company is doing?'” Diamond said.
Filling the cyber gender gap
Women comprise only 11% of the information security workforce—and while women working in cybersecurity have higher levels of education than men, they earn less money, and hold fewer senior-level positions, according to a recent study from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education and the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management & Privacy.
“We’re currently in a war for national and personal security, and we’re losing the war based on the size of our workforce in cyber,” Diamond said. “The numbers show that we’ll never catch up unless we make a drastic change—and that must be that we bring in our women. And right now, our women are not entering the field because of the sexism in the technology industry.”
Beyond replacing booth babes, “we’re opening up these conference jobs to people who are interested in the field,” Diamond said. They will learn about the vendor that has hired them, the competition, the product lines, and how they fit into the overall tech landscape. They will also learn soft skills, such as the best way to introduce themselves and start conversations.
The STEAM-Con Connection will also partner with the International Information System Security Certification Consortium [(ISC)²] to give students a choice for compensation: Payment for work at the conference, free cyber training, or acombination of the two.
“We can start to utilize this platform to bridge the gap between getting people into cyber, and getting them into training, so employers want to hire them,” Diamond said.
The STEAM-Con Connection booth workers will be introduced at information security conference Black Hat 2017 in July. Two companies have reached out to sign up, and Diamond said she plans to start marketing it to others in the coming weeks. You can learn more here.