Primesense just came back from one of the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshows, the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas, and my friend, Iris Finkelstein-Sagi, the Director of marketing for the company posted a link to the following article, titled: “2012 CES Booth Babe Problem Highlights Women’s Perceived Role In Tech – Let’s Fix This”.

She is a real tech lady with a nice track record in the business. PrimeSense, of course, is the company that developed the technology behind the Kinect — yes, that high tech device that takes nice credit for the top sales of XBOX in 2011.

I also watched the linked BBC report and I need to ask: Booth babes, really?

Yes, we hired ’booth babes‘. It first came up within the need to hire people to demo the product. We didn’t consider them ‘booth babes’. We weren’t looking for models in bikinis to demo our new User Experience. We had a list of requirements and we looked for the right people to be presenters at our booth. One presenter had to play games which included jumping up and down and moving a lot – so obviously this had to be someone who could still look good when jumping up and down and young enough to be able to do it all day. We had a little controversy about what this person should wear and the discussion on this topic was almost surreal. I think we would have been as uncomfortable discussing it if we were hiring men, but we ended up hiring 2 women.

So why did you hire women? And what did they wear?

Well you hire women to meet the expectations of the market. The two girls we hired wore regular, nice clothes. Not ‘sexy wear’. But for us – it was easy. We had 4 more presenters in our booth, hired by our partners. 3 of them were a little more controversial. Our partner Bodymetrics lets you virtually try on clothes, in the comfort and privacy of your home, in front of your TV screen. Obviously for the technology to properly map your body you need to be minimally dressed. They now offer it to 3 types of female body shapes, so they hired 3 female models, one for each body shape, and dressed them in tight Yoga outfits. It wasn’t sleazy or anything. Another partner, Visikord, offers an interactive dance app, and they hired a dancer to demo the product, which was also a big hit.

So no sleazy or sexy outfits, how did it work for you?
We were surprised by how many people came to talk to the booth babes about the products, choosing them over the company representatives wearing formal company tags. Not to mention the sheer number of people standing around just gawking at them.
You know, we invested a lot of energy thinking about ways to attract people to the booth. CES is a large event and we had to compete for visitors’ attention. The Kinect is famous enough for people to look us up, but it turns out all you really need is a couple of models and you’ve got people crowding around you all the time. People walk for miles in such shows. There is so much to see. They stop where they see something nice, pretty, and attractive. Apparently that’s all you need, no special effects

How do you explain this phenomenon? After all this is supposed to be a professional tradeshow.
I find it really crazy. We should definitely do some scientific anthropological research on this to better understand what is happening to people when they see ‘booth babes’. We also have to ask where to draw the line. Some presenters really appeared in sleazy outfits. Not appropriate for a professional trade show at all”.

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but aren’t most visitors males?
In this show yes, probably 80 percent of the visitors are men. But I read a thought-provoking question in one of the articles relating to the booth babes: If we turn it around and take a show where most visitors are women and companies use male booth-babes, would it have the same effect? I wonder.

Did you ever consider hiring one female and one male to demo in your booth?
Actually it never came up. Bodymetrics, for instance, is currently only targeting women. And all the solicitations I get from marketing companies and models agencies offering their services for the show – all relate to women. The option to hire a man never came up. During the show we did a lot of social media efforts, and had a lot of Twitter and YouTube coverage. One tweet I remember specifically said “PrimeSense booth babes are the best”. That was the only thing he said.

Strange?
More like shallow”.

And we said that’s a professional show?
It’s gotten better over the years. It used to be worse. The whole ’trade-show models’ industry has declined over the past few years.

So your link said “let’s fix this”. Do you think we can?
What needs fixing is the presenters’ image of themselves, and the image of women in tech. If they think that the only reason for a woman to be at the CES show is if you’re a ‘babe’, this is disturbing and demeaning. I think in most cases we have reached a point where it is not so sleazy any more. Maybe the next thing would be to change the term we use. As for the industry – it is characterized by fewer females. Fewer women play games than men. When it comes to purchasing a flat screen TV, at best the man will probably look into the tech aspects and the woman may look into the design. But the majority of tech gadgets are male oriented.

I think the balance may actually change in the future. When I go to a high school I can’t say female students have fewer smart phones then male students.
Right. Personally I like gadgets as much as the next guy. I’m not as gadget-crazy as a lot of men I know, but I do like this industry. That’s why I have been in it for so long. Things do change over the years. Gadgets are getting friendlier and simpler, more natural and intuitive to use and less black and geeky. It is reflected in the design trends. We do think of how to fit our product in the living room and make it appeal more to women. Wii brought gaming into the living room, making it friendly and accessible for the entire family – it’s not just geeky kids and hard-core gamers anymore – its whole families, women, grandmothers etc. Microsoft took this one step further with the Kinect by really thinking about turning a gadget into something as natural and intuitive as possible – so EVERYONE can relate to it.

How was the self perception of your ‘booth babes’?
Well they earned a lot of respect from our team, for beating all the Fruit Ninja records. I think they were proud to be representing a company who attracted so much well-deserved attention at the show – for the product, not the external trappings.

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