On the Circuit

Professionalism in our industry includes professionalism at trade shows. 8/01/2014 10:27 AM Eastern

On the Circuit

Aug 1, 2014 2:27 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

After InfoComm, online discussion turned to booth hostesses in sexy costumes. This is of course an ancient practice, dating back to the dawn of tradeshows, and it doesn’t seem very modern today. Yet some companies still choose the strategy. It isn’t the only anachronism in our industry’s approach to marketing, but it’s definitely one of the most visible and cheesy.

This year Leonard Suskin eloquently pointed out that this strategy is also marginalizing and unwelcoming to the industry’s women. He called upon people to speak up, and people did, including InfoComm Executive Director and CEO David Labuskes. I will too. As a person-in-AV, I don’t think the costumes are uplifting or welcoming to anyone at a tradeshow, man or woman.

It’s important to say that booth models are not the problem, though they represent a missed opportunity for actual industry people. It’s really just some of the clothes. They’re out of place in a professional environment and they make our tradeshow look amateurish. Also, from a good manners standpoint, they make some people, women and men, uncomfortable. Not everybody wants to time-travel to the past, when tradeshows were a big opportunity to see those outfits, before the internet and NFL cheerleaders were invented.

The women in AV that I know personally, don’t so much feel demeaned by what other women are wearing. We’re good with being individuals. And I’ve only felt unwelcome in this industry once. I was a theme park show designer at the time and a VP of engineering told me in all seriousness that women didn’t belong in rack rooms. Which was silly since the show wouldn’t have opened without me there to direct the programmer. Even so, there’s no mistaking our demographics: I’ve been to plenty of tech conferences and meetings where I was the only woman (and the only person carrying a baby). And of course I’ve been outnumbered by booth hostesses wearing everything from skin tight robot outfits to thigh high boots to those big, plushy Viewsonic bird suits. Or maybe those were guys.

I could do without the costumes, but not because I’m a woman. It’s just because I’m a professional. If men in AV want to show their solidarity with women in AV by helping to get sexy costumes out of InfoComm, I sincerely appreciate the intention and the desire to make me feel more welcomed and included. I think I would feel even more included if we could just agree as people that we’re all professionals, we’d like to work in a professional environment, and everybody is going to leave the thigh-high boots at home.

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