Oh dear, Microsoft has found itself at the center of a wee bit of controversy for hiring women in gold bikinis to man its recent TechEd event in Australia.
Beautiful women are practically part of the furniture at technology, sports and car shows. The rule of thumb is that if the target demographic is predominantly male, there will be booth babes there to brighten the place up and maybe talk about what they happen to be promoting. At a recent TechEd conference, Microsoft decided to keep things local by hiring some of Gold Coast's Meter Maids. The Meter Maids launched themselves in the sixties as a way to combat the bad image created by parking meters that had been installed on the tourist strip. The girls would stroll up and down the strip, feeding meters with coins and leaving calling cards under drivers' windshield wipers. This would all be done wearing a shiny gold bikini and a tiara.
So, a crowd of these girls was present at TechEd, as Microsoft no doubt tried to bring a little of the Gold Coast to the conference. Unfortunately, not everyone at TechEd was delighted to see the girls and some of the 2,700 attendees at the event complained that their presence was objectifying women. This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that one of the key conferences at TechEd was on 'Women in IT'.
"It seems that there are still marketing and promotional folks in the IT world who consider objectification of women to be ok," the Sydney Morning Herald quotes IT worker Kate Carruthers as saying.
"Sadly this issue has detracted from Microsoft's long history of supporting and encouraging women in IT and from their workshop that is part of the conference today."
While apologizing to attendees and indeed its own staff, Microsoft initially tried to pass off the blunder as ignorance, claiming they didn't know what the girls would be wearing until the day. However, chief meter maid, Roberta Aitchison said this was not the case. In fact, she says Microsoft spent as much as three weeks choosing what outfits they wanted the girls to wear.
"The garments were chosen specifically by them over a period of 2-3 weeks of them looking at photographs of the girls," she told the Sydney Mo.
"They came back to me by email stating which garments they would like the girls to be wearing."
Aitchison added that she didn't know what all the fuss was about, as the Meter Maids were just as attentive to the women as they were the men.
"The meter maids are an icon of Surfer's Paradise and I believe Microsoft knew what they were doing. It would be a very small minority of women I would say that had anything negative to say, because my girls are so polite and attentive towards the females."