Women in Manufacturing – More than a men’s club

Welcome to the Windy City

Picture of the Chicago skyline taken from a walkway between buildings at Mccormick Place during IMTS 2012
The Windy City

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I was in Chicago for IMTS. First, let me say that, while I haven’t been to many big cities around the world, I do have this affinity for Chicago. It’s big enough to have a diverse skyline, but still offers this approachability that I don’t know if you get in New York or Los Angeles, for example. If I was going to end up in a big city, it’d probably be Chicago.

I’m not operating under the delusion that there aren’t problems, mind you. I know it’s not all sunshine and lollipops there. While we were there, the teachers’ union was on strike and in the couple weeks before, more people had died from gun-related violence in Chicago than had died in Afghanistan. There was something else I saw during this visit that didn’t sit right with me, and is the subject of this week’s post.

Women as window-dressing

I know “booth babes” aren’t a new phenomenon. When they get mentioned in “Dilbert” without any kind of exposition in a background story, you know they’re mainstream.
Dilbert.comDilbert strip 1996-10-17

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten into photography as a hobby and I’m getting used to looking at details in the world, but I started to really notice the contrast between women in the trade show booths who looked like they knew what was going on, and the women who were there just to attract the attention of the men at the show.

First impressions count

Looking through the gallery of images below, I think it’s almost patently obvious as to which women are knowledgeable about the products and services that their company offers, and which women are there as window dressing. I’m sure I’m not the only person who picked up on this difference. Also, while most attendees were male, there were plenty of female attendees walking the floor of the show. What I didn’t see was a single booth that had a couple of attractive male models handing out bags and lanyards while asking to scan the badges of the female attendees.


Why is there this double standard? Why would we as a modern, enlightened, post-feminist society and trade sector allow and encourage this kind of behavior? Shouldn’t we be past pandering to the base reptilian needs of people at instead appeal to their intellect?

According to the US Department of Labor statistics for 2010 women made up 48.6 percent of the working labor force in the United States. The majority of those women work in professional fields. They’re the managers, buyers, and decision makers in companies. To overlook them as a segment seems to me to be a huge strategic mistake.

In my opinion, the purpose of having a booth at a trade show is to generate qualified leads that you can later market your products and services to. I don’t know how you differentiate between the people who had their badges scanned just because a pretty woman asked them if they could, and which ones were interested in the companies’ offerings. Once the model takes your badge, you’re generally accosted by a sales representative, who is often a man, who then asks you about your application. Do these lead sheets have a checkbox for “Just wanted to see the pretty woman”? What value is there in gathering the names of uninterested people?

Maybe I’m way off base here. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that’s happened. Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.