In March 2015, RSA Conference organizers made news by contractually insisting that vendors pitch their security wares without the help of “booth babes,” a first such ban for the technology industry.
Next week’s RSAC in San Francisco will be the third without the babes, so I checked in with event staff to see if the policy had evolved at all and how it has been accepted by various stake-holders.
Here’s how the contract language read in 2015:
All Expo staff are expected to dress in business and/or business casual attire. Exhibitors should ensure that the attire of al 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. Examples of such attire may include but are not restricted to:
- Tops displaying excessive cleavage;
- Tank tops, halter tops, camisole tops or tube tops;
- Miniskirts or minidresses;
- Lycra (or other Second-Skin) bodysuits;
- Objectionable or offensive costumes.
These guidelines are applicable to all booth staff, regardless of gender, and will be strictly enforced. We reserve the right to request that individual booth staff change their attire or leave the premises immediately if we feel their appearance might be offensive to other exhibitors or attendees.
There were differences of opinion to adjudicate, such as the appearance of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. Overall, however, the policy was generally praised.
Today? Here’s a short email Q&A with Sandra Toms, vice president and curator of the conference.
I see from the event contract online that the dress-code language is still in there and looks to be the same as two years ago. Have there been any changes to the language and if so what are they and why were they made?
It is the same language we put in place two years ago. Every year, RSA Conference brings together thousands of security professionals to address crucial issues created by an evolving digital world. The language in our Exhibitor Rules and Regulations was added to ensure we provide an environment that is both professional and respectful of all attendees. We want everyone to feel like they can comfortably enjoy all of the sessions and activities that we have to offer.
Has there been any need to enforce the code or have all exhibitors complied?
“Enforce” always makes it sound like armed guards have come into play and dragged someone off the show floor. We share these guidelines with our exhibitors and we’re clear that this is a policy that is expected to be acknowledged and complied with. We take our attendee experience seriously and expect our exhibitors to do the same. If we receive a complaint about a particular exhibitor, we will send someone over to the booth and examine the situation. If the attire matches our dress code, then they can proceed and we can explain to the attendee why that form of dress is allowed. If they are clearly in violation, we will ask them to change. This policy is equally applied to both men and women – from Sumo wrestlers to scantily clad models.
What has been the reaction to the code from exhibitors?
Overall I would say this has been received well by our exhibitors. Several have thanked us for having a policy.
What has been the reaction from attendees?
Our attendees have been very happy with these regulations and happy to see we have kept them as part of the conference culture. RSA Conference is designed to provide attendees with access to a plethora of interesting technologies and companies, and we have focused our efforts with exhibitors to have the right people working in the exhibits that can answer technical questions.
Finally, has the action RSAC took on this matter been a trend-setter of any sorts? Are other events following suit?
I’m not sure I would consider it a trendsetting act, but more of an overdue look at tradeshow marketing. From what I have seen other conferences have implemented similar dress codes either before or after we did ranging from Mobile World Congress, to CES to PAX and E3.
Maybe not a ban at CES, as seen in this shameless PCMag slideshow, though perhaps we're seeing a bit more discretion even there.
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