RSA Booth Babe

While I was unable to attend RSA this year, after reading Chenxi Wang’s LinkedIn post on ‘Booth Babes’, I have to say… It’s about damn time.

To briefly recount a personal experience, several years ago, while walking this same Moscone floor at RSA, I was quite literally almost run over by a lycra-wearing ‘police woman’ buzzing around the expo floor on a Segway. She was handing out some ridiculous tchotchke trying to get attendees to visit some vendor’s booth who could “put an end to all my security woes”. It was at that very moment when I realized what a circus the show floor had become – and I haven’t walked it since.

There is an (somewhat) old adage that goes like this…. What’s the easiest way to tell you’re at RSA? The longest line in the place is for the men’s room. The fact is, ‘Booth Babes’ have been a mainstay of RSA – and many other conferences – for a long time. If you look at the demographics of the attendees, you can possibly see why the practice started and the reasons it persisted over the years. In fact, the marketing types could argue it’s no different than television advertisements – who best to sell a little blue pill to middle aged men then a beautiful woman?

The key difference here is this. For TV and radio ads, the FCC has prescribed limits around what is acceptable and what is not. Go outside of those limits, you get your hand slapped. While disappointed I was unable to see this change first hand, by all accounts, this is no different than what the folks at RSA have done as part of this change. There are no 1984-esque uniform mandates, no requirement that the folks in the booth actually be able to articulate the solution. None of that – simply keep it respectable and professional.

But in a more utopian world, wouldn’t the real solution be to change the demographics? How well would the ‘Booth Babe’ approach work if half of the decision makers walking the floor were women?

While I readily acknowledge this may be a bit altruistic, but what if each and every one of us made a concerted effort to broaden the member base of not only the security industry, but also the entire STEM universe. As a father of two sons, one a college junior and the other a high school senior, I am still amazed that, even in this day and age, there continues to be such a dearth of young women entering into core STEM fields. Is there still such a bias in our elementary schools that these future scientific and technology leaders are being turned towards the business and marketing fields rather than chemistry, physics, or engineering? I’m really at a loss as to how so many young women have no interest in STEM programs by the time they hit high school.

My youngest son, who will be heading off to college in a few months to study Physics at Virginia Tech, recently wrote a research paper that was highly critical of the country’s overall STEM program and how America is rapidly losing its global technological and scientific leadership role. While his thesis was not specifically on the role of women in STEM programs, his paper evoked some interesting dinnertime discussions around this topic. When asked about his female classmates, especially those who are taking the AP-level sciences with him, he put it fairly bluntly. “It’s about getting into the right school – it’s not about the science aspect”. How is it that after four years of sciences, and the last several of advanced study, these preeminent students are choosing to go into non-STEM fields?

Being a card-carrying geek myself, I acknowledge that science and technology careers aren’t for everyone, but why is it so disproportionate to men vs. women? I wish I had the answer.

I truly believe we are collectively better thinkers when challenged with more diverse opinions. We need to collectively find ways – no matter how large or small – to fix the declining STEM interest in our young adults, and there can be no doubt that a key aspect of fixing this crisis is by encouraging more women – and those of all races, religions, and backgrounds – to embrace the hard sciences and ensure the legacy of our future generations.

Those of us who live in the security space see how technology changes every day. What we battle today likely didn’t exist a few months ago and tomorrow’s attack hasn’t yet been written. We don’t have the luxury of taking years to build the next dominant fighter jet – we need to do it in days. What better way to prepare our industry and the country for the future technological challenges then to leverage our best and brightest minds – male, female, white, black, old, or young?

I realize that this has diverged from the original “Booth Babes” post, but to me, they are just a symptom of the underlying problem. Fix the problem and we’ll never have to deal with a runaway, lycra-covered policewoman again.

Originally posted on SecurityCurrent.com.

Copyright © 2002-2019 John Masserini. All rights reserved.

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