Women as Entertainment in the SEO Industry

Dec 21

You, guy,” he said to my boyfriend across the table. “It’s not fair. You bring this girl here. It’s not fair.” We asked why not. “Because all women who come to conferences should be available,” he replied. Available to him. Throughout the evening, whenever he got the chance, he repeated that it “wasn’t fair” and that a woman like me shouldn’t be at a tech event if the opportunity did not exist for him to have some of me. He made it clear that he was finding it hard to control himself, and if a breakdown in his self-control happened, that would be unacceptable, but only because I had a boyfriend. This happened in London in late 2010.

Five days later, a woman at a tech conference in Atlanta publicly accused a male delegate of sexual assault. And you think, is it any goddamn wonder?

What would have happened had I actually been single, or if he had found opportunity to be alone with me? And would that too have been my fault for not coming along with a partner? If you show up alone and he tries to hurt you? All women who come to conferences should be available.

I began writing this blog post the day after the event took place, but was talked out of its importance by my own conditioning. Nothing happened to me. So it’s okay that he said that and that he travels the world (he is not British; he flew here for the conference) treating female conference attendees in that way? I find it hard to believe that I was the only person he’d ever spoken to like that. I talked myself out of it because I was scared.

At my second Pubcon, in December 2007, I learned that another attendee had said he was going to “hook up with me.” The people he said it to told him that was unlikely, as they didn’t believe I was single. The guy’s response was that he didn’t care, it was going to happen anyway, and I was going to like it. This one is closer to home. If you’re reading this because you know me through SEO, you know of this person. These are some of our own.

On both nights, I made sure not to let myself be alone with either of these people. Was it paranoid to believe there was a certain degree of risk from the unwanted attention? From the stories other women tell about their experiences at conferences, I don’t believe it was.

These are just two examples.

There is also the man who announced in front of seven or eight fellow conference attendees that he found it strange I claimed to be very happy having lived in London for two years, since there was no ring on my finger. Me being female, he said, made it hard for him to believe that I could be truly happy without being engaged or married. The people he said this in front of had paid hundreds of dollars in ticket fees, accommodation and travel to hear both him and me speak at a conference, and there he was – reducing me to a ring-hungry twit in front of them.

He apologised to me over email, saying he was only trying to find out if I were single. Which, clearly, he felt was appropriate conference banter as well. I never replied.

From many other conferences I’ve attended over the past five years, I have similar–albeit sometimes less eyebrow-raising–stories or being treated inappropriately, in one way or another, because I’m female. Many of us do.

It’s not as if people are silent about it, and it’s not as though it’s uncommon. When I worked at SEOmoz, my female colleague and I received the odd email from people who saw it fit to approach us inappropriately based upon our being women. And I can’t shake the frustration that there is nothing I can do about it.

What can I do about it?

I can decline to be featured in stupid posts about “the sexiest women in social media”, because it belittles my talent to have to tie it to what I look like, and belittles people further who aren’t deemed suitable for such acknowledgement, solely based on their appearance. When I declined to be in that post, the post’s writer clearly had no idea why I’d feel the way I do about it. In fact, he found it “hilarious”:


An apology for such a list is that “success is sexy” and acknowledgement is benign. But the author won’t feature people he or she considers physically unattractive, and someone shouldn’t be given press above her peers in a profession unrelated to appearance because of her face or her body.

To the small percentage of the population–and of our industry–who are not decent people, seeing ten women given press because of their looks helps to confirm that our presence at a conference is for others’ entertainment. To the man at Conversion Camp in London who told me over and over again that my presence wasn’t fair, because I was not available for him, my only worth was physical.

And I’ve been on the other side too, which is where I think this becomes less of a two-dimensional whine about sexism and more of an argument.

This is why public judgement and objectification reaches so far down my throat and twists my guts so hard. I’ve been on both ends of this shit. I’ve listened to how much men in our industry love going to conferences that use strippers as marketing tools and attendee bait, and I have compared my figure and desirability to those of the women in question. [Note that this site's "female entertainment" content has been significantly toned down in 2012 - older versions of the site make more mention of "9 former Playmates" being part of the package, and the videos are still around. The owner of the website has now disallowed Archive.org caching, possibly one of the least coincidental actions on the entire Internet. Evidence of how thrilling they used to find their Playboy contingent is still pretty easy to find though.]

Not that they ever would after this, but if I were asked to speak at an event like that, I’d turn it down. I’ve turned down a couple of events in the past for similar reasons. You think there are too few women at tech events, or you hear from organisers that they asked women to speak, but that they were turned down? Have you considered the environment you create? Is it exclusionary and primarily for the benefit of straight men? Have you managed to find one or two women who find it acceptable, and do you then hold those women’s testimony up as sterling proof that you aren’t doing anything wrong?  Do you use the excuse that “it happens everywhere – look at the automotive industry!” as a reason why you shouldn’t be held accountable in your own back yard?

We keep reading about how the women used as bait make the conference so much better. It comes up over and over again. Regular girls are not plentiful enough, nor good enough company. Just today, we have been treated to another tacky video with Playboy girls, front and centre. But the rest of us still receive our fair share of unwanted sexualised attention. Huh? Interestingly, the post about this video has since been removed from the organiser’s website.

It sickens me that I even allow myself to do that! Do I not have high enough self-esteem to be proud of a body that put up with me through twelve years of competitive swimming, an activity that paid for a university degree and saw me represent my country and become its national champion and record holder? Am I not proud of a personality that is what it is after some difficult battles, accomplishments, agonies and victories from which I’ve emerged the adult I am?

Of course, I am. However, mine or other women’s prides aside, facts about our bodies or our faces or their comparison to any other woman’s have no place in our work or our industry. This stands, no matter whether I am judged as having lived up to an ideal, or not having achieved someone’s ideal of physical attractiveness.

And yet I read these posts and I associate with these people whether I want to or not, so the primal doubt climbs back up my spine and taps on the back of my neck. Which am I? Good enough a female specimen to be harassed and fawned over at conferences, emailed sexual requests and asked to flaunt myself in posts on the basis of my looks, or are my female industry peers and I so dowdy that a conference is seen as significantly more desirable if boobier, taller, curvier women are shipped in?

And a good solution is not for women to post images of whatever their sexual ideals might be either. It is not to jokingly suggest that we stage our own event with male strippers as our dancers and butlers. The answer is not for girls to waltz around Pubcon smacking boys’ bums in a pathetic attempt to reverse our lot. The solution is to stop engaging in abhorrent behaviour, whether at conferences, over email or elsewhere.

Harassment and assault happens to women in our industry at large, at our industry’s events and as a result of connections made through our industry. I can keep linking all night: post after post after post.

It’s very simple. You’re smart enough people and good enough marketers and–I hope–good enough human beings to knock it off. Stop accepting sexualised female entertainment at professional events, and stop jointly insinuating that women like me are not good enough for you, but that you have the right to treat us as entertainment to which you are entitled nonetheless.

115 Responses to “Women as Entertainment in the SEO Industry”

  1. AJ Wilcox says:

    Thanks for writing this Jane! It has long bugged me the way that women get treated at industry conferences. I’m going to start speaking up.

  2. Jon says:

    Yes, it is unfortunate that you had to experience this first hand. This is unacceptable, maybe our industry needs to be monitored more closely for this type of behavior. I am biased with this type of control since, my past life was a structured life in the military, and the military was very hardcore about taking actions against “sexual harassment”.
    Anyways, thanks for sharing and raising the awareness.


  3. Jey says:

    Jane, thank you for standing up and talking about this issue. Tweeted.

  4. Steph Woods says:

    Amen sister. Love every single word that you wrote.

  5. Buddy says:

    I can’t believe that things like this happen on conferences where professionals are meeting… Your boyfriend should have shut this guy up although I understand why he didn’t…

    I’m disgusted by such behaviour, but I’m also disgusted by the fact that it is obviously tolerated, as you wrote that he was repeating his bullshit. I as a man am not ashamed of the fact that some guy behaved like this, because there will alwyas be idiots on this planet. But I am ashamed that he was not told to shut up. Behaviour like this should not be tolerated today, especially not at a professional event. I can’t express how angry I am after reading this text…

  6. MikeTek says:

    Not considering myself part of the SEO industry, I can only say I’ve seen this everywhere and it’s lame everywhere.

    I feel bad for your boyfriend as well – it’s not an easy spot to be in, wanting to demand respect for your other half but knowing that is often more trouble than its worth.

    I think it’s matter of whether the human in question is dumb enough to think that the direct attack is always going to yield beneficial results. Or, perhaps, they’re simply used to there being no pain on the other end of a dickwad move like the one in your first paragraph.

    Answer: all women are issued tasers, and upon sexual advances from an unwelcome male, they are no longer accountable for their actions.

  7. Corey McNeil says:

    I could not agree more. I have 3 daughters (not to mention a wife, mother, sisters and countless dear female friends). It saddens me that there are those who will see them as nothing more than an object they would to use to quench a thirst that will forever be parched. These men fail to see them for who they are, their bright minds and the goodness that shines from within the very skin they desire to scratch.

    I am afraid that the problem is not confined to just our industry. The greater problem is in the way the internet in general portrays women. It’s just that those in our industry are exposed at a greater level than the rest of society.

    We are still in the dark ages. If we are to emerge from the darkness it will take time and the efforts of women not unlike yourself to be the shining lights of dignity not afraid to speak your mind.

    I was privileged to meet you once in New Orleans for just a minute or two. I remember thinking that you seemed a private, but a very powerful person……I love it when I am right.

  8. Alyssa says:

    PubCon is as if it was full of con-victs, it scares the crap out of me. It’s so much worst compared to others. I have also been ridiculed several times at their forums as their male moderators stood by, so it could be a trend.

  9. Amanda Davie says:

    The entire industry needs to grow up. And realise it’s not a youth club.

    And conference organisers should ban this kind of behaviour / person from attending.

  10. Patrick Altoft says:

    We cringe every year at events like Internet World and TFM&A when we see how many reputable companies hire girls to walk round in hotpants. No idea why people do it.

  11. Barry Adams says:

    Every man who works in technology / SEO / or any such industry and who attends conferences needs to read this. Thank you for sharing, Jane, for your bravery of speaking out against this. As a man who attends tech conferences I always feel uneasy and uncomfortable with booth babes – and thank $deity I’ve never been to a conference where *strippers* were part of the ‘entertainment’. Gawking at women is NOT why I attend conferences, and to be honest such blatant exposé of flesh is just distracting. Not to mention thoroughly insulting to all parties involved – the women, the company who hired them, and the conference delegates.

  12. Sean says:

    Hey Jane,

    This is a superb and heartfelt post that rings true for not only the SEO industry but society as a whole.

    To be honest one of the worst things is the lack of support from other people. When these types of things are said to you/other women why is no-one saying anything/sticking up for you/telling them that they are a dick. I’m guessing this is down to not want to rock the applecart and disappoint a “name”…

    Merry Christmas :-)

  13. Jose says:

    This is a serious problem and needs to be addressed. Thank you for speaking out through this post.


  14. Scott Milsom says:

    It is a real shame that this happens at conferences, especially when some of our best SEOs are women. I have seen Jane speak at Search Love in London and she was excellent. I have also chatted to some of the ladies who blog at SEO Chicks http://www.seo-chicks.com/bloggers who have great SEO knowledge, with some being in the game for a long time.

  15. Iain says:

    Not having attended any such conferences, I am stunned and saddened by your account. I find it difficult to comprehend that in 2011 this is an issue at all.

    I can honestly say that it had not even occurred to me prior to reading this that such problems existed.

    I can understand that there are other cultures around the world where the concept of gender equality is new and somewhat alien, but I don’t see how that could be relevant at international events.

    I hope that in the future such unpleasantness is left behind, but without a grasp of the reasons it is not already something of the past it is impossible to offer either assurances or suggestions that could assist.

    Ultimately, this reflects on those who organise these events and those who attend. There should be no hesitation in speaking out against inappropriate behaviour and taking such steps as are necessary to eradicate it altogether.

  16. Stuart P Turner says:

    This is an excellent post Jane. I was quite surprised (perhaps naively) at the casual chauvinism that’s still very prevalent in media; not everywhere but in a lot of agencies, which as you so eloquently pointed out translates into tacky, insulting behaviour / entertainment at industry events.

    Some people seem to live their lives in a sort of pseudo Mad Men style which is just not cool. It is great to see this issue being aired properly, I hope this discussion continues and leads to positive change at events and in the industry as a whole.

  17. Moosa Hemani says:

    I am one of the person who never attended conferences outside the country, but as far as the local conferences and awards night i have attended as attendee or as a speaker… all i see is the shaped girls in hot paints.. Who have no heads over their body… I am not saying all womens are like that but hiring women chauvinism is insanity at its height… This is one of the many reasons i prefer to avoid conferences!

    Although a lil sad to see same thing happening at the other side of the world but well… Thanks for sharing!

  18. Shannon says:

    I love how he actually directed his comments *at* your boyfriend, as though your BF would magically agree with him. Apparently, he doesn’t understand how boyfriends work, which makes me think he’s more than a little delusional. Someone needs to implement some classical conditioning a la “Arrested Development” (the show): Every time you hit on a model at a trade show, you’re forced to buy a yacht. Guys will lose interest real fast and there will be no demand for the models.

  19. Pete Gronland says:

    Hi Jane,

    I’ve been following the recent conversation regarding “booth babes” and believe strongly that this marketing tactic (shameless as it is) should play no part whatsoever at ANY conference or Exhibition.

    I am appalled by your experience recently and am embarrassed to be in an industry where such behaviour was tolerated.

    As a decent bloke I applaud your article and thank you for writing this, I hope that some of the less honourable members of our community read this and are embarrassed and ashamed of their behaviour.

    We should all remember that this is just unacceptable and the only way it will change is by challenging those that perpetrate.

    Thanks again for this article.

  20. Mary Hamilton says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been looking at some of the anti-harrassment conference work being done in the open source community – it strikes me that something like this: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy would be useful for other parts of the tech community too, and could go some way towards dealing with the things you’ve experienced. But then, if con organisers don’t see a problem and/or don’t want to do anything to deal with this, then it’s very, very hard to make headway.

  21. Gavelect says:

    Sounds terrible Jane. Sleaze balls that’s what they are. @Patrick Good point, its cheap and tacky.

  22. Dave Ashworth says:

    I’ve never seen anything like this myself first hand, but doesn’t surprise me that it goes on, not just in SEO/tech conferences but any niche

    I guess though a lot of blokes in the tech industry are more socially inept than most and had less interaction with real life woman

    go to your next conference dressed as Princess Leia or Lieutenant Uhura and see what happens then ;-)

  23. Ned Poulter says:

    Thanks for writing this Jane, harassment IS a very serious issue and can no longer be passed off as school boy ignorance. Especially so at leading industry events. To be frank, I had no idea that the hiring of strippers for conferences had been going on. As Barry said, I go to conferences to learn and network with people in my industry, NOT to meet ‘girls’.

    I suggest if people are looking to do that in the future, get yourself down to your local Piano & Pitcher, strawpedo a WKD and ‘have some banter with the lads’, who are no doubt as narrow minded as you… #rantover

  24. hyderali says:

    Hi Jane,

    I’ve never been a part of any conferences & never visited anywhere. Very shocking, that such kind of behaviour is taking place in such high profile events. Someone has to really take a stand to speak against it & i’m very proud that you’ve taken & written this post.

  25. Dave Colgate says:

    Shocked. Just absolutely shocked. I’ve heard of this sort of vile behaviour happening but it almost washed over me because I’d never really been confronted with it. Your post has really highlighted the issue. I hope it gets the attention it needs because that behaviour is completely unacceptable. We should all be more proactive in supporting Jane and others to out characters that participate in such inappropriate ways. Using an alternative set of words – the men mentioned need a good kick in the go-nads. I advise you take that action the next time any one tries it again. They deserve it.

  26. Jackie Hole says:

    I know exactly what you mean by being talked out of the importance by conditioning and would like to thank you for writing a totally necessary post.

    I know a fair few people that feel it is ok to harass and I hate to admit that I have just got used to it and tune it out as opposed to standing up for the behaviour – in public places it makes it worse as often the ‘whistle blower’ comes off worse as ‘not being able to take a joke’, and the perpetrator is let off as ‘they were probably drunk’ or people don’t want to make a scene.

    Honestly some of the stuff I have heard coming out of the mouths of both clients and senior management in the workplace let alone at conferences has made me cringe!

    Sadly though, it will take more to stop it – this sort of thing happens in the pubs and clubs often with inappropriate touching on top of the sentiment (great), but a post like this may at least raise awareness so that we all stop accepting it as part of the game.

  27. Hannah says:

    Jane, I’m really glad you decided to go ahead and write this post – it’s time for this nonsense to stop.

    It’s also really heartening to see that there are plenty of people of feel the same.

  28. John Hughes says:

    Another voice of agreement from me.

    Having been to a number of SEO conferences, I have to say that is clear that gender is no determinant of ability, not that I ever believed it would be. However, if such misogynistic behaviour is treated as acceptable by the industry, my concern would also be that we’d lose some great brains and insight from both female speakers and delegates who I could imaging avoiding the conference scene, if not the industry.

    As an industry, we’re supposed to be in a mindset of optimising knowledge; that is we should be taking the best knowledge from all sources regardless of gender (or race, or sexuality or whatever else). If we can’t even do that, how can we expect to have a mindset that can optimise data sources for a website!

  29. John Hughes says:

    Although reading back my comment, maybe I should learn to optimise my typing. “Imaging?” WTF?

    Should read “imagine,” clearly!

  30. Jack Hughes says:

    Next time somebody makes a comment like the ones you describe in the post above why don’t you rip them a new arsehole… a load denunciation in public with a complaint to the conference organiser should humiliate the perpetrator enough to make them think twice next time. You can write as many blog posts as you like but it won’t change anything because, even if the people responsible actually read it, they wouldn’t believe it was their behaviour that was the problem.

  31. Jaaved Khatree says:

    I’m also disgusted that this sort of thing even happens, so openly at professional events. I’m sorry you had to endure that horrid experience – it makes me sick to my stomach because frankly, that could have been me and my wife!

    I’m very much against the use of women as ‘attendee bait’ – to me it just shows an extremely low level of creativity on the part of companies to attract attention. I mean, really? you can’t think of a catchy slogan or a bright logo or unique freebies in exchange for a business card? you have to gather some strippers around to get people to even look at your stall? get outta town.

    There are some amazing women in the tech/social/web biz who are just as pretty as they are clued up with their craft. But what’s someone’s looks got to do with how well they can deliver as a professional? sweet bugger all.

    More power to you Jane – and to all the wonderful women in our industry. May your pixels be plentiful!

  32. Gary says:

    Jane, you’re a hero. I’m saddened that you had to write this and disgusted that some of by best friends in the industry have to put up with this kind of behaviour.

    There is clearly a lot of support from genuine and decent people and hopefully that will contribute to underlying change for the better.

  33. Dan Thornton says:

    Having been part of various industries where this kind of behaviour happens (media, motoring shows, tech), it seems that when an industry or event is so male-dominated, statistically you get a larger number of idiots.

    Thinking about ways to change it – the only way I can see that will make a difference is financial – boycotting events which aren’t doing what they can to make everyone feel welcome, safe and secure, and if there aren’t any SEO events that achieve that yet – starting some new ones.

    I’ve never run a conference type event, but having organised some male-dominated geek meetups for around 40 people, anyone who behaved in an offensive way to any of the other attendees just wouldn’t be welcome again.

  34. channel5 says:

    Your experience with the conference delgate is pure and simple harrassment however it’s dressed up, and it’s not acceptable anywhere let alone at a professional event.

    I’ve never been comfortable with the concept of booth babes, let alone the thought of a conference that supplies “playmates” to delegates.. as many others say it’s rather sad if that’s all they can think of to market their products and defintely not something that appeals.

  35. Vicky says:

    I’ve been at a number of tech and digital conferences over the last few years in the UK, US, Oz and NZ, and have to say I’ve never experienced or heard of other women experiencing anything like this. But when I think about it, none of those events had booth babes either….

  36. Catherine Connor says:

    Wow, I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with channel5. The idea of a conference in the SEO space supplying ‘playmates’ to delegates is frankly disgusting and demeaning! I’m surprised this is the first time it’s been criticized publicly.

    Thank you Jane.

  37. Fay says:

    Great post Jane. I worked in the industry for a very short time as a copywriter and found that sexism was everywhere. I was constantly referred to as a ‘copy girl’ and the male members of staff would talk about going to the ‘titty’ bars all the time. Disgusting. Not only is it inappropriate in the work place but it is derogatory towards women.
    The worst thing is that these men will not take this seriously. I hope for your sake they do.

  38. Gianluca says:

    I can only imagine what those kind of men would say if, instead of booth girls there were booth boys…
    Personally, I’ve never attended an Seo conference where things like that happens, but – as I felt in other industry events – I would feel embarrassed.
    Honestly, I believe that respect should always present in anything we do in life, and what you have denounced is not to respectful.
    Finally, if someone needs to show off his testosterone, well… Better he buys an XBox and go killing orcs…

  39. Karen says:

    I’m in general digital marketing and a gamer/comic buff on the side – I was gobsmacked when I attended my first digital marketing conference and found the same type of mouth-breather behaviour from marketing professionals, as I had from a few bad apples at nerd centered events.

    I’m not the most attractive woman out there, but the amount of comments on my chest, my obvious presence there as bait etc. put me off ever going to another one – given the choice I decided to stick to comic cons where the majority of guys aren’t like that.

    Bottom line – it’s unacceptable behaviour whatever industry you’re in. Respect people for their skills and knowledge, not their plumbing.

  40. Elaine says:

    As shown from the comments above, most men acknowledge and treat women as equals. Unfortunately there are still ‘dinosaurs’, and always will be, who think it’s attractive, and their prerogative, to come over as ‘alpha males’ (aka dickheads) and flaunt there testosterone.
    I’ve never had a problem with Booth Babes, they are hired to do a job and are making the best of their attributes ;) – but I do suspect that they ‘scare’ as many punters away as those they entice, although I do find it puzzling that companies need to employ them – do they assume that attendees will simply mill around without these decorative sign posts.
    I’ve just watched the video ‘Oktoberfest’ and sleazy is the word that springs to mind and wonder how many men attending this shindig, assume that all SEO conferences are like this and that young, attractive blonde haired women are fair game?
    At the conferences I’ve attended over the years It is usual for the ‘young’ men to congregate and set off into the night seeking alternative entertainment – but they don’t bring it to the conference.

  41. Gabriella Sannino says:

    Wow… I’ve seen you at several conferences (PubCon, Distilled NO) and I had no idea you were going through this. I wish I would have known; not sure what I would have done, but I’d have found a way for that “guy” to apologize and then demanded he be removed from the conference. I think it’s deplorable, unacceptable and downright sexist. No one – woman or man – should have to put up with this sort of behavior.

    You’re an extremely smart, wit, engaging SEO professional, and I hope your post will awaken the industry at large. The guys I know in SEO would NEVER permit themselves to treat a woman like this. As you know, there are many good, decent, honest SEO’s in the community.

    I’m very proud that you stood up and wrote this post. I’ll make sure to pass it via circles, FB and Twitter, and keep an eye out for you at the next conference. As a strong, opinionated women who also happens to have no fear of shooting with both barrels, I’m happy to see more women jumping into this industry. I honor and love women, and I’ll be damned if I put up with having idiots like him at a conference.

    I agree with your solution – to stop engaging in abhorrent behavior, whether at conferences, over email or elsewhere. Of course, if that doesn’t work, there’s always my Italian cousins… :)

  42. Are you stupid? says:

    You are entering into a male dominated world. What did you expect? You should enter with cynicism but you didn’t. It’s like going to the beach and expecting not to get sand on you. Stop being so stupid.

  43. Carla Marshall says:

    To anon – grow a pair of balls FFS and put your name next to your comment.

  44. Jeff Loquist says:

    Jane, I have had the pleasure of hearing you speak at a few conferences and this is the kind of post that needs to have been written…especially with small-brained troglodytes like the troll above roaming around the industry.

    The online marketing industry needs more people like you and needs to be open to topics like this so they are not glazed over as simply an aspect of a “male dominated world”.

  45. Will Critchlow says:

    Thanks for the private reassurance that it wasn’t a Distilled conference (where we love having you speak) that you encountered such sleazeball behaviour.

    I’ll reiterate what I said in private – I hope the first thing you’d do if this ever happened at one of our conferences would be to let me or Duncan know. You know how we’d react.

  46. Jane says:

    Holy wow, everyone. Thank you so much for the response. It’s more and better than I ever imagined when I wrote it a year ago, and when I posted it last night.

    You have all said more here than I ever could, and your posts on Facebook and Twitter are also much appreciated. I’m very proud to work in an industry that will say no to this, and am glad to have been partly responsible for bringing it to light.

    It’s very heartening to see all this. Thank you :)

  47. Jane says:

    By the way, this video from today does a fairly good job of highlighting some of “women as decorations” stuff ;) http://www.mediadonis.net/seoktoberfest-2011-the-movie/

  48. Rachel says:

    ugh, this is outrageous. But I’m sure this happens all the time. I’m gonna tweet this, share on FB, spread the word!

  49. Helen says:

    As someone who respects men and women, I expect men in a male dominated world not to sexually harass women. And most don’t, so that’s a reasonable assumption.

  50. Stuart P Turner says:

    SEOktoberfest looks like a Skins party.

  51. Curtis Smith says:

    You work with geeks that never got a date in high school. Now the mathletes & student council are kings of the world and they can’t handle it. The football team needs to come to conferences and restore order.

  52. Dave (@TweetSmarter) says:

    Scheduled a tweet to my 309K+ followers with the hashtag #disgusting. Many men with a problem, too few who control it, and too few who don’t have a problem they need to control.

  53. Steve Ollington says:

    @Curtis Smith

    I imagine these particular chaps were members of “the football team” in high school. All the geeks I know, including myself, aren’t a**holes. It’s the people with a lack of brains that perpetrate like this, not the ones with them :)

    Anyhow, it’s a shame you didn’t catch the first guys name tag Jane… using it as anchor to his linkedin profile on this post would have been funny as hell (not for him) :)

  54. Jane says:

    Steve, I know the guy’s name and who he works for. If it happened today, I’d out him. I feel like the time has passed now. I wrote this twelve months ago, when it happened. I’d never let it go again without naming publicly.

    Not sure if it’s at odds with what I’ve written here not to out the guy from my first example or not. Perhaps I should. But I do feel that the response to this alone has achievers a lot…

  55. bg says:

    No offense, but Oktoberfest ist a world famous party that involves drinking a lot of beer and flirting heavily while drunk. In that context I don’t see anything wrong with SEOktoberfest – if you don’t like that kind of thing, don’t participate.

    Also I always find it hard to understand how I am supposed to react to such criticisms. What can I do against other males being jerks? Obviously I would avoid events that make me uncomfortable, but they will probably always exist. Is “don’t go there” not good enough as a solution?

    Finally, while your encounters really sound extreme and awful, I also wonder what is the correct way to deal with sexual attraction and desire? I think men also often get the “asshole card” in having to make a move somehow, which would naturally lead to a lot of failures. But somebody has to make a move eventually, else mankind will go extinct.

    Maybe tech events and conferences should be antisexual altogether, and all such things should be confined to night clubs? I don’t think it would reflect current reality, though, with lots of couples having met on non-nightclub events and many people avoiding nightclubs completely.

    Just saying, maybe women could do some educating for “correct approaches”. My experience however is that often either a woman likes a man, then the approach might be welcome, or she dislikes a man, then the approach is disgusting and awful. It is not always obvious before trying.

  56. Jane says:

    I must say I find it amusing that the two people who’ve made excuses for the Playboy playmate bullshit in Munich have both left anonymous names and email addresses.

    Mankind will go extinct if moves don’t happen? Are you fucking kidding me? My boyfriend didn’t have to treat me like shit for me to take notice of him.


    No decent people have hidden their names or emails in this thread. It says a lot.

    Please never treat women badly just because you’re at an event you deem to be “flirty.”

    I despair when I read apologist shit like this. Take a good look at yourself. You need it.

  57. Steve Ollington says:


    Fair enough… he owes you then for showing him mercy I reckon :)

    I still hope he see this post one day though so he suffers… just a little :D

  58. Dom Hodgson says:

    I think the closest we’ve ever come to a both babe is me in my gold suit (you know I’ve got a gold bra under that right?… who knows, next think vis).

    In all seriousness, we’ve had people ask to bring booth babes to our events and my response has always been no, tbh it’s not because of the sexism as we know sex sells and it can attract people to your booth, but just because they tend to be fucking useless…

    at LAC last year several booths had babes walking around handing cards out advertising the programs however when I asked what the payout what and what data feeds were available (I’m a geek, I like playing with API’s) they looked at me like I was an idiot and told me to go to the booth… The girls really there as just something pretty to look at… they could at least have had a bit of a briefing before hand on the top 5 questions an affiliate will ask for.

    At ThinkVis people do go to the stripclub (#pinkvis) but that’s something that is nothing to do with the conference and the attendees organise themselves, I really like to keep our parties fun (robot wars, crazy golf) and enjoyable for everyone (although it’s in a casino so over 18s only).

    Before I worked in SEO I worked in childcare which is completely the oppersite of the SEO industry for every male there was 20-30 female coworkers and it was assumed that you were either gay or had a child in care for you to be in this industry (none of which were true for me)

    I left that industry partly due to the bias against males (childcare, men alone with children, complete lack of trust) which made it really difficult to do something I love.

    I’ll be honest though, as a conference organiser it really upsets me that within half an hour of one of our events starting someone will tweet only 30% women here total sausage fest! or “shame theres only 3 women speaking” at this event..

    We work REALLY REALLY hard to get women to speak (even to go as far as getting them drunk :) ) but for every 30 male submissions we get, we get one female and usually her topic or level just isn’t appropriate…

    We’ve had people use this against us with sponsoring previously and it puts me in a tough spot… I know I’ve slightly gone off on a tangent at this point but I think it all relates to the same thing which is making the SEO industry less shit for women..

    We work hard to make a safe, enjoyable environment for ANYONE to attend, network and learn and yet that STILL doesn’t seem to be good enough for some people..

    And can I get your boyfriend to be my booth babe in March?

  59. Jenn says:

    The problem is the conferences and the people they attract. Like you said, events that entice attendees with drunken splendors and girls galore is sickening. We need more events with quality content and speakers.

    I started Wappow! For just that reason.
    There are few individuals banned from my events for reasons I won’t get into, but not nearly as bad as what you experienced. If I ever got wind of anyone behaving in such a way I would immediately have them removed.

  60. Jen Sable Lopez says:

    Jane, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with douchebags like this at conferences (or anywhere for that matter), that is simply unacceptable. I personally haven’t had any advances like this (which sadly makes me happy I’m just not pretty enough) but I hope that any woman who finds themselves in a similar situation will have the guts to stand up for themselves. If we don’t say or do anything about it, it will just continue to happen.

    When it comes to “booth babes” I find it super annoying for many reasons, all of which have been mentioned above. But at the same time, those women need jobs as well. To be perfectly honest if the choice was to take a “booth babe” job over having to do some other worse kind of job, hell yea I’d be a “booth babe.” People have to make a living. So I just want to make sure we’re not belittling the women who take the jobs, but the fact that the job exists.

    To you Jane and all the other badass women out there in our industry, keep on keepin’ on ladies. The more we bring this up and take a stand the more eyes will be opened.


  61. Jen Sable Lopez says:

    Oh! After writing my comment I totally just remembered that the first time I went to an Affiliate conference, the big party was held at a STRIP CLUB. The conference was in Denver and I was living there at the time and when I saw where it was being held I asked the conference coordinator about it. He told me it was going to be there because the owner was a big affiliate guy but that there wouldn’t be any strippers that night. So my friend and I go, and all the big affiliate guys were there, and all of a sudden the strippers come out. I was there with the President of the company (if you know where I work, you know who that is). OMG! I’ve never been back to an Affiliate conference because I’m afraid of the seeing the same sleazeballs (I know not all affiliates are like that but it left a really bad taste in my mouth).

  62. bg says:

    I’d prefer to be not anonymous, and by the way, you have my email address. But this topic is very loaded, as your reply proves. I am sure you already take me for a very different person than I really am. I decidedly did not defend the asshole behavior of the people you encountered, but you already decided to overlook that. People just read what they want to read in this kind of discussion. I am merely interested in understanding the root of the problem, but without anonymity this is not a discussion that will ever happen. Good bye…

  63. Aaron Chronister says:

    I was going to ignore this because I agree with you on part. Being harassed and assaulted and objectified happens more than I’ll ever understand and I certainly don’t treat women like that. I have a daughter, and I teach her that she deserves respect from everyone.

    What I respectfully disagree with, and am insulted by is lumping everyone who attends certain conferences as sexist pigs with no respect for women. I was there, everyone treated the “strippers” with respect. Frankly I enjoyed hanging out with them. They had fun, we had fun, and the fact that they were playmates didn’t make much difference. One in particular spent an hour trying to teach me German. Such distgusting behavior! They were nice, and we all had a good time, obviously.

    We’re they necessary? No. Would it still be the best conference there is and would I still go? Yes. Did I spend the entire time following them around like a puppy dog and groping them? Of course not.

    You know me, as an acquaintance at least, and if you think I’m guilty of all the behavior you mentioned then you’re delusional. I can also speak for the majority of the speakers and attendees. Don’t stereotype me and lump us all in the #disgusting category because you personally disagree with our after hour activities.

    I completely see some of your point, but personally labeling me (which you certainly did since I was speaking at that conference), pisses me off much like you being pissed off about the attitude of some disrespectful asshole.

    And as you can see, I’m not anonymous, and am not one to hide behind shit.

  64. Jane says:

    Aaron, everyone who defends the use of strippers, models, “playmates” and what have you will tell me that they didn’t harass or abuse them, that they were nice girls and that I’m delusional if I think that they’re some sort of monster, because they’ve got a wife and a daughter and wouldn’t dream of treating women badly.

    I believe you.

    However, as you can see, you are in an astounding minority with your views on the use of these women, and what they mean to women like me. The reaction on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, here, and in many of the other places this has been shared has been overwhelmingly in favour of cutting this shit out.

    Cutting out the fact that conferences exist where 99% of the attendees are male, and they are supplemented with former playmates. Your wife may be okay with it, but few of the rest of us are.

    It is rarely what the playmates are actually like or what you are actually like that sends the terrible message. The marketing, including yesterday’s video, sends a message about their purpose that is NOT “she taught me German and was fun to hang out with.” The message is “she’ll hang on the attendees’ arms, wave her chest at the camera tantalise the attendees all night long!”

    Also, I haven’t been, but my boyfriend and several close friends have. They thoroughly dislike the use of the women, and have described the marketing as creepy.

    If you can’t see the connection between women being promoted and playthings and women being treated as playthings, I’m sorry.

    You’re deluding yourself. I’m far from the only person who finds the use of these girls in Munich and worldwide unacceptable. Wake up.

  65. Stuart P Turner says:

    @Aaron You raise a good (inadvertent) point: no one wants to go tribal in a discussion like this, as that can do more harm than good and we need to keep the conversation going, however:

    I’m sure there are a lot of people who share your view, but it is hugely inconsistent, to the point of being almost hypocritical.

    I find it hard to believe that if your daughter decided to make a career as a Playmate, then got engaged to do whatever it is they do at an SEOkterberfest in the future, that you would be fine with that choice. Especially as you have attended, spoken and know what goes on there.

    I don’t think any father would be happy with his daughter’s decision to sell her body and expose herself to the lechery of mankind for her living. Yet somehow it’s fine if it’s someone else’s daughter, because it’s just a bit of fun.

  66. Ingo Bousa says:

    When I watched that Mediadonis video I just thought “what a bunch of wankers”. There, I said it.

    Seeing people like Fantomaster, which I respect, intercut in b/w slomo with pissed German idiots in conservative Bavarian outfits looked like a stag party from hell. It was almost comical. I can smell these kind of people from miles away and try what I can to stay away from them. I worked in German advertising agencies with bosses doing coke before client meetings and then taking clients on the piss in the evenings, probably ending up in a strip club or brothel, ‘learning German’ from a German hooker who deep inside despises them. And before you think that I am some boring spoilsport, I had a career in ‘musical entertainment’ for a long time, ran my own club night and have done a lot of things that some people might dream about ..but there is always the right side of fun and the moronic side. It’s your choice which road to travel.

    There will also be a lot of exceptions and I don’t want to judge anybody personally but the general vibe of these kind of amusement-conferences where shy computer nerds who normally sit at home and wank to cosplay pics suddenly let loose with ‘hostesses’ always smells a bit funny to me. I don’t like certain behaviour and I don’t like certain people and I don’t care if they like or don’t like me. I am not your friend just because you work in SEO or marketing or because you are a perceived ‘industry rockstar’. I’ve been a rockstar, toured Europe with my band, playing festivals with Sonic Youth, the Beastie Boys and Kiss, so don’t give me that pretentious marketing rockstar bullshit, it’s pathetic.

    I think there are a lot of differences between the US, the UK and Germany. I lived in Berlin for a long time before I moved to the UK and the funny thing is that Berlin is a bit like the UK whereas Munich/Bavaria is a bit like the US. US people LOVE Bavaria. They think it’s cute or something.. like a Disney set or a German version of Las Vegas. It’s this whole ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas ‘ vibe. It’s hard to explain properly, it’s just a feeling. But I can understand that US people [or any other tourist] coming to Munich perceive that whole Oktoberfest bowwow as some cool/wild traditional party where they can get hammered and stand on the tables waving a beer tankard. In reality it’s a massive piss-up were conservative Bavarians dress up in pseudo-traditional clothing, shout about a lot, pay shitloads of money for mega-overpriced beer & food, listen to blaring umpa-music or German technopop and then fall over vomiting over their designer lederhosen. Wow..

    I rarely go to industry events. They are very expensive and you hear a lot of regurgitated info. A lot of people seem to go there to meet online-mates, do a bit of business and then get hammered. Fair enough but not really my cuppa tea. I only went to Think Vis this year and really enjoyed it because it was a great opportunity to see Twitter friends in the flesh.

    Well.. that’s all from me. I am a lover, not a hater but I also call bullshit when I see it. I think I managed to diss conservative Bavarians, the Oktoberfest, SEO rockstars, coked-up marketers, gullible tourists, umpa music and technopop in one comment, so that’s quite a good effort for today.

    Merry Xmas everybody ; )

  67. Marina C says:

    This isnt about stereotyping and ‘lumping men’ in the disgusting, chauvanist pig category – it’s about raising awareness of an issue that unfortunately is still largely prevelant, not only in the SEO industry. I’d like to think we’ve moved beyond blanket categorization based on outdated sterotypes. But the truth is, we haven’t.

    - If we had, I wouldn’t leave every single conference I attend feeling like I had to fight my way in to conversations and prove that I have an opinion and wortht point of view – because men take one look at you (young, female, vaguely attractive) and assume you will have absolutely nothing to contribute. You’re either there to capture attention and sell or entertain, right?
    - I wouldn’t find myself in meetings where men will address my male colleagues before they address me, by default.
    - I wouldn’t have to fend off inapropriate advances by men who think that the offer of a free drink and the details of their (or colleague’s) net worth will impress and involve me.

    These are just a few examples. I could go on, but I’m sure we all get the picture. and the Bigger picture is, as long as we as women allow ourselves to be put in positions where we are still promoting outdated sterotypes (Playboy bunny/ Pretty Peacock for a Sales hook, goldigger etc) then we won’t move forward. In the interim, let’s keep surprising people. And let’s keep fighting for the respect that we deserve and this supposed equality we’ve inherited – at the very least, I expect to see a few scantily clad promo men at the next event i attend.

  68. Stuart P Turner says:

    Also @BG;

    “Just saying, maybe women could do some educating for “correct approaches”.”

    Could they? Or perhaps the men are the ones who need an education. If they adopted the ‘correct approach’ then they would have been successful. Hence you calling it the correct approach.

    Or have I misunderstood?

    You’re right this is a loaded topic, however the issue is not that you have to defend idiots, the issue is that the objectification of women in this way precludes and reinforces that type of disrespectful behaviour.

    Like I said this needs to be a discussion, but if you don’t come back and engage that can’t happen.

    You said:

    “…you already take me for a very different person than I really am. ”

    Ironically exactly the same issue that sparked off this post.

    Come back, leave your name and stand by your opinion.

  69. Matt Davies says:

    I might be showing my arse here, maybe everyone in SEO is totally loaded except for me, but I just read that SEOktoberfest costs 5000 Euro. Better part of 4 grand in real money. I mean, seriously. That is insane.

    Sorry but if you’ve got 4k of your own cash to blow on this shit then *you* *have* *too* *much* *money*. And what has happened throughout history when people have too much cash? That’s right, their worst sides tend to come out. They want it, they get it. They don’t give a shit because, fuck it, they could buy you if they like.

  70. bg says:

    @Stuart P Turner: I think you misunderstood me. I wrote women could do some educating, meaning some men need the education. The “problem” of sexual attraction is real. I am not even sure about the “it’s not fair” guy – I wasn’t there, but really, maybe he was just saying he found Jane overwhelmingly attractive. It was apparently in the presence of her boy-friend? So it might really just have been ineptness. I don’t know what the solution could be – perhaps he should be prescribed some hormones by his doctor? I don’t understand the “I will sleep with her” guy at all – there is maybe such a world where men “compete” on such a basis, but I am not part of it. I just resent being lumped in with such people just because I also happen to be male.

    It is a very tricky topic, because I really don’t want to defend abusive or sexist behavior by men. But people are just looking for a scapegoat so if I leave my real name (and Jane could easily find it out, by the way – I am not really anonymous because I left my real email address), next I’ll probably be blamed for the existence of Playboy, Strippers and what not. I did not create these things, nor do I think Strippers on conferences are a good idea (I would be embarrassed to be there, too).

    It is easy to be non-anonymous if you are just voicing the mainstream view. Also what would you possibly gain from knowing my name?

    Btw., I can’t help wondering how many of the “supporters” here secretly enjoy looking at porn when nobody is looking. My guess: at least 90%.

  71. Illiya Vjestica says:

    I have massive respect for you sharing this Jane. In life you should always stand up for what you believe in and why should you have to put up with crap like this at any conference anywhere.

    For me the problem lies with the person(s) up bringing, I wonder if their mother or father ever taught them how to respect and treat women properly.

    Every SEO should be respected based on their knowledge, talent and personality and not as a sexual object regardless of their gender.

    This industry can be a bit backwards at times but that is no excuse. I hope other SEOs read this and if they see another ‘dick’ like this acting up, they firmly put him is his place.

    One of the main reasons I don’t go to many of the bigger conferences is the focus seems to be on getting pissed, letting go of inhibitions and generally acting like a bunch of depraved idiots.

    I personally would not tolerate anything like this. If anyone says anything like that to you around me, I’m going to have very strong words with them!

  72. linkmonkey says:

    @bg “Btw., I can’t help wondering how many of the “supporters” here secretly enjoy looking at porn when nobody is looking. My guess: at least 90%.”

    Probably more like 95%, however the difference is that 99% of those people wouldn’t watch porn at their desks at work – therein lies the difference!

  73. Fay Poholko says:

    Sadly its not just SEO or marketing conferences this happens at … medical conferences have dealt with this for years. Some mrn – thankfully not all- feel a conference is a free chance to get some action.

  74. Dom Hodgson says:

    @fay I know a fair few women that look at conferences as a way of getting some action…

  75. Meg Geddes says:

    And people wonder why I never go to these things.

  76. Ryan Burnsworth says:

    That is horrible that women get treated this way.
    My wife is wanting to come up beside my in the SEO industry, but it is a scary fact that they do use women as marketing ploys to get people to attend these things. So sorry this happens.
    Anyways, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

  77. Kristine Schachinger says:

    I would like to add that many of the men in our industry find the sexualization of women as entertainment at conference events equally as distasteful. Two cases in point.

    Having been asked to a dinner, I sat at the table where I noticed the host hired four busty models to be dinner “entertainment”. “Great! I thought so much for getting any networking done or having heck…a conversation” that is when one of the speakers turned to me and said “What the F***?” “If I wanted inane conversation with 20 something yr old girls I would go to the clubs. I thought this was a business dinner” I was shocked, but happy to see ALL the senior guys felt the same way and were actually offended by the assumption that they would find this entertaining.

    Another time, a particularily sleezy guy was informing all of us girls about his ability to produce 15 min orgasms and then propositioning us. When the SEO guys we were with found out they did their best to keep him away, run interference, make sure he was kept out of reach. (Maybe for his protection as well as ours)

    This is not to say everything that was said to have happened in the post above doesn’t happen or hasn’t or won’t again. However, as industries go, I just want to say I have always felt more often than not the men to be respectful, empowering and protective less likely to promote the traditional forms of women as entertainment and more likely to make sure I am seen, heard and promoted as a professional, intelligent, person who happens to be female.

    I am not trying to take away from the very valid points posted here, but would feel remiss if I didn’t take a moment to point out how many truly caring & equitable men our industry contains as well. Thank you for listening.

  78. Jane says:

    Hey Kristine,

    Thanks so much. – you are very right. The guys I’m close to in the industry, and the majority of others, are wonderful people. One time when a guy cornered me in a restaurant after an event and sought to hand out his advice on my love life, the response of the other guys there really drove home to me that the majority find this unacceptable.

    It’s the apathetics and the promoters I sought to change. I have seen too many people do nothing about it for too long.

    Similar story, I too have been to a professional event where women, not Playboy girls but young women unrelated to the event, were brought in afterwards for entertainment. It was at a bar, but we were sitting around, mainly talking shop. Ten 20-somethings entered, placing themselves next to the male delegates. They had little to say to any of us. Many of the men felt as uncomfortable about them as I did, and as the other female conference attendees did.

    However Marcus, the founder of SEOktoberfest came up to me, grabbed me from behind in a very unwelcome hug, and shouted, “It’s just like SEO Cocktoberfest!” His words, not mine.

    He then tried to explain to my boyfriend how much respect he has for me. You have a fair bit to learn about respect for anyone, my friend.

  79. Tanya McTavish says:

    Thumbs up for speaking out about this, Jane !

  80. Jon Kiparsky says:

    Jane, I can’t thank you enough for posting this – it’s bookmarked for any time I hear someone saying that “sexism is dead”, which happens more than I’d have thought possible. Now I hope the men reading this will take it on – just posting a “right on” isn’t enough. What do you say when you see men acting like this? What do you do when you see your company acting like this?
    This is not someone else’s problem.

  81. Jason Bell says:

    Thanks for speaking out as this happens the world over and shouldn’t be accepted. When you think about it, it just shows how male-dominated a lot of arenas are when women are often brought in as “decoration” or entertainment and no one questions it, as it’s just normal.

    I also have to say that that Oktoberfest video and website are gross, make the women look like hired hookers even if they aren’t, and I wouldn’t expect my girlfriend to happily put up with seeing me take part. I was disappointed to see people I looked up to as SEOs taking part. This is an important post – some folks need to clean up their act or what they find normal and acceptable. Like Jon said, “This is not someone else’s problem.”


  82. Leah Bray says:

    It’s pretty tragic when you think about it that women are still treated as entertainment in tech in 2012. This sort of nonsense has no place in a professional space. Good post.

  83. Martin Macdonald says:

    Hi Jane,

    first off, sorry for being late to the post – Xmas and all that….

    Anyway – the first and most important thing that I must address is the abhorrent treatment you have received at whichever conference it was.

    That kind of behaviour is in no way acceptable, and the person should have been ejected immediately without question, and further banned from all future events and reported to the relevant local authorities. That goes 100% without saying.

    Secondly, the use of booth babes is a pointless, and tasteless throwback to 1980′s social sexism, and should be stopped – but its NOT an industry problem per se… I used to work in the pharma industry before moving into online, and that is/was far worse than digital. I’m totally with you on that one.

    Thirdly however, Im going to reserve significant comment on the #SEOktoberfest stuff – as you know I was invited this year, and while I never saw any stripping (at all) I certainly agree that the marketing of the event would alienate potential female delegates.

    My memories of the event though are dominated with the “conference” side, as opposed to the party side, none of those moments made the video, but thats kind of the point in the whole event, it is closed door and the speakers all share stuff that you just couldnt in any other more public forum.

    In short, I agree with all of your points, but I fear that oktoberfest is a victim of its own marketing, rather than an event attended by lecherous chauvinists*.

    note: in 2011 at least.

  84. Jane says:

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the comment. It’s truly appreciated :)

    My thoughts are that I agree that in other industries, the problem is worse. It’s pretty shocking in the gambling world. However, many women’s treatment worldwide is a lot worse than anything I’ve ever put up with… I think there’s a fallacy behind the idea that just because things are worse elsewhere, the situation at hand doesn’t matter so much. Not that I think that’s what you were saying, but I do believe it’s something we need to keep working on in tech / digital marketing despite other industries being worse. As in, my flat is untidy. I need to tidy it, even though other people’s flats are far messier.

    I partially agree that SEOktoberfest’s problem is its marketing. But that is a big problem: since only 30 or so people go every year, the only thing that the vast majority see are the videos, blog posts, tweets, etc. The message given out by those videos and posts is dreadful. As Elaine said above (http://janecopland.co.uk/2011/12/women-as-entertainment-in-the-seo-industry/#comment-1106), the message is that women at conferences are there for entertainment, and are perhaps even “fair game.”

    In one post Marcus put up a little while ago (I think it was after 2009), there were pictures of the men working, then of the women, with the caption: “The girls had fun too.”

    The men do the work. The girls look pretty and have fun. Again, it’s the message. It’s the marketing. I truly believe that the promotion is awful and damaging. SEOktoberfest gets pointed out here because it’s one of the most blatant examples.

    The women are called “playmates” and they make up all but one of the female conference participants.

    As I’ve said before in this thread, there is a direct correlation between women being promoted as playthings and women being treated as playthings.

    I just can’t get my head around why people would consider the use of women as decorations / entertainment as okay in this type of industry. As everyone knows, there are a whole lot of conferences that do this to some degree.

    The marketing of the event definitely both alienates and insults a lot of people. A couple of years ago, Marcus tweeted links to one of the Playboy girls hanging out of a barn with her top off whilst he was promoting the conference. Images like this keep popping up. I fail to see how this is okay in an industry that has nothing to do with nude women.

    And I definitely see the correlation between “the best SEO event of 2010″ doing this, and women like me and many others being treated like we’re there for other people’s enjoyment.

    Just as it would be inappropriate, tacky and quite unfair on all my male peers for me to stage a conference and hire the US men’s 4 x 100m medley relay team as my entertainment, because they look good.

    Again, I really appreciate you coming by. I know it’s a really heated topic, but I really do want to be able to talk about it and make changes that put an end to women being the entertainment or decoration at events in our industry. Thanks again :)

  85. Leah Bray says:

    Uhm…doesn’t anyone else also see the funny side? A bunch of nerds going abroad to hang out with girls who wouldn’t look twice at them if they hadn’t paid 5000 euros? Lol!

  86. Jane says:

    @ Leah: It had occurred to me, yes ;)

    I think it’s still a problem though, as well as being amusing / sad, due to the message it sends out about women’s place at an SEO event, especially one touted as being “the best.”

  87. Mike Neeson says:

    Came here from Reddit but I’ve also worked in marketing. I stopped going to trade shows partly because I felt a bit dirty being cuddled up to by girls who were either paid to be nice to me or paid to sell me something.

    It’s kind of interesting that sexism the use of women as entertainment is still up for debate, which it clearly is when you see that there are a few comments here and there, like from Reddit and on this post, defending it. Imagine that a conference had the same number of entertainers and attendees and speakers, but that gender didn’t matter. Some of the entertainers are men, but they’re also dressed to flaunt their sexuality. More of the speakers and attendees are women.

    Now imagine that all of the entertainers are black and all of the delegates are white.


  88. Jane says:

    @ Mike.

    Whoa, yeah.

  89. Dug says:

    It is a self-perpetuating problem; while women are treated so, they will stay away from conferences. While the audience is mostly men, the crowd will be bawdy and scantily-clad ladies will be sent out to sell/entertain.

    Women need to go to these conferences en masse and send a clear message that this shit isn’t acceptable any more. You need to not be intimidated and go armed with a handful of good put-downs and embarrass those arseholes into behaving.

    However, this isn’t a one-sided debate; there are various things that reinforce this male hold over things and not all of them are coming from the chauvinist’s side(and before anyone jumps off the rails, I am not about to suggest anything that I think justifies this treatment, at all, in the slightest).

    One of these things is events and awards that try to promote women, in SEO, and many other industries. The goal is a noble one but to my mind, this is sending the wrong message to male-dominated audiences. By having these “Top women in SEO” awards, you are saying that you can’t compete with the men and need your own little self-celebrating clique to recognise the fact that you are any good, and this is very, very wrong.

    I am gearing up to say something here, but Sugarrae has already put it much better than I could…

    “Be proud of being a woman and representing women well. But don’t feel the need to be acknowledged for being a successful woman. Look to derive your satisfaction from being a success, period.”

    There are women out there in the SEO industry that are damn-good at what they do and are more than capable of being measured against the men in the industry – this is where you need to be aiming for, not top SEO woman, but top SEO.

    Smash those walls down and be awesome – then it will be blokes who are intimidated.

  90. Jane says:

    Dug: Most definitely. Someone asked me just today what my opinion of “women only” awards and events was. I too think they’re unnecessary and exclusionary. I agree with Rae’s comment too (and that post she wrote about women in SEO was great).

    My publishing this post was sparked by a discussion about the number of female speakers at conferences. I maintain that the number of women isn’t my issue: the treatment of those of us who do exist in the industry is the issue.

    I wanted also to link to a post I just read today about culture in tech and inclusion / exclusion. To quote:

    “A culture with true equality has to be an inclusive culture, one where every individual member has a sense of belonging: a feeling of being respected and valued for who they are and what they do—not for what they look like or believe in. What our culture is like is defined by the way we communicate with one another both online and in person, like at the myriad events we organize and attend to discuss matters of our field. Every conference, meetup, dinner get-together or coffee chat that we partake in, contributes to the kind of message we send outwards about the culture of our industry. Conferences in particular play an important role in this, because they are large events where a significant number of people all get together in person and participate in the culture we put forth.”


    In other words, bringing strippers to shows or behaving badly isn’t inclusive, and is therefore exclusionary to one or more groups. If we want online marketing to be inclusive, we cut this shit out.

    Also important to that culture is people who are willing to do what you mention: speak out en masse and make it clear that these things are not okay.

  91. A Former Whistleblower says:

    These problems are systemic in the tech world, not just in tech industry. It has been going on for a long time. At a leading tech university in the US, which undertakes much research for the military, there were many attacks on female students in Computer Science and Robotics, who were stalked, raped and threatened by male students. The male students said they do it, “Just because we can”. When confronted with complaints about this environment by female faculty, the administration said nothing was wrong. This lead to a generation of CS and Robotic’s students graduating thinking this behavior is condoned by authority figures. Many now are leaders in tech. Since then, the administration of this university, with the support of police, have gone on a rampage, discrediting those who complained through acts so vile it makes the US look the the Soviet Union in the 1950′s.

    If you think that sexual harassment laws are enforced, you are mistaken.

    The military also has a history of covering up some of the most horrific acts of violence against female soldiers by their superiors. If they report the incidents they undergo unending retaliation. They are fired, discredited, and worse. If they sue for sexual harassment, the military claims exemption from prosecution under the Ferris doctrine, which states there can be no investigation or prosecution that might harm the morale of the military. There are groups of female military who are trying to help these victims. The military even attempts to cut their veterans pay, if they talk about their experience. Most suffer PTSD and are forced to live out their lives as shadows of their former selves.

    As for the person who criticized this writer for not expecting such attacks in a male dominated environment? The last time I looked, American citizens had the right to study and participate in the sciences and engineering, or enter into industry related to these fields. There was not exception by gender. Newspapers constantly publish articles about women not being interested in these fields and the low numbers of females in these fields of study. But do they ever cover the issues of violence, retaliation and threats that such women experience if they enter these arenas? No. They prefer to just make it look like women do not have the chops or the interest.

    The behavior is of male predation is biologically based. But humanity allows us to rise above our inherent urges. Many men do and work to contribute to a healthy world. But our leaders, our press, and our wealth, support the animal behavior. Until that changes, women will continue to spend their valuable time, addressing these issues rather than working on software development, or other work they believed as children, they could pursue.

  92. http://searchoptimisation.uk.com/ says:

    I am one of the person who never attended conferences outside the country, but as far as the local conferences and awards night i have attended as attendee or as a speaker… all i see is the shaped girls in hot paints.. Who have no heads over their body… I am not saying all womens are like that but hiring women chauvinism is insanity at its height… This is one of the many reasons i prefer to avoid conferences!

  93. Charlotte Scheggia says:

    Hi Jane,

    truly Disgusted at some of the things you and other women have had to put up with,I have only been in the industry the last 6months at brighton SEO and Distilled and luckily I have not experienced anything like this, if i saw they were this Booth babes at a conference I wouldn’t go, glad you highlighted the problem and these individuals will think about things

  94. Kris Roadruck says:

    Just to throw this out there because Im a put my stuff on the line kinda guy. I was the “can’t believe you’re not married guy.” In my defense what actually happend is a very brilliant and attractive person had told me she had thrown caution to the wind and moved to another country on a whim. Something that I’ve romanticized about on many occasions. After hearing this what was actually said was “I can’t believe you are single” after looking down at her hand. Because I was flabergasted that someone that was so awesome hadn’t been swooped up. The connection between marraige and happiness is one she interjected herself and one that I’ve refuted on multiple occasions both privately and publically which she refused to acknowledge. I have never believed there was a connection between marraige and happiness. Infact if you ask anyone who knows my Im a bit of a proponent of claiming the opposite. EIther way I suppose that makes me an ass but If Im going to be an ass Id like it to at least be under accurate representation which is that I made the mistake of flirting with an attractive and smart blonde with a sweet accent and was simply surprised that no one else had managed to scoop her up. While this may have been inappropriate for the situation I feel its far less condeming than the light she is attempting to portray me in to sell this post. I doubt she’ll approve this but oh well at least I made the effort. for the 3rd time no less.

  95. Jane says:

    Kris, you asked if I was happy in London. I said I was. You studied my hand and claimed you were surprised to find I was happy because there was no ring on my finger. In front of about six or seven attendees. You say now that this isn’t what you meant, but it was pretty clear at the time.

    I didn’t need your story to “sell” this post.

    There are a lot of ways to be fun and friendly at industry events that don’t include pointing out whether or not someone is married in front of attendees – for whatever reason. It was humiliating, and reminded me – again – that I’m female, and thus discussion can turn to my relationships (or my body, skill level, etc. – all things that have come up in other situations) at a professional event.

  96. Michael N says:

    You can tell how immature people in your industry are if they’re using playboy girls at conferences and thinking that they’re a good time to find new girlfriends. That guys who have defended themselves in here just make themselves look even sadder.

  97. FranklinM says:

    Despite being a successful race car driver, why does Danica Patrick feel the need to porn herself out in GoDaddy commercials? And, why do web companies insist on continuing to have booth babes at conferences despite the poor ROI?

  98. Elyse says:

    Is this for real? I’m stunned–but not surprised. Amazed at the things girls deal with in tech industries, and amazed that we put up with it as politely as we do. There is NO reason your single-or-married-ness should come up at work, unless you are close enough friends with that coworker. Recently, while discussing some technology that my coworker obviously didn’t understand, he interrupted me to ask if I was “just repeating what [my boyfriend] had told me.” How is any of this acceptable? Thanks for writing this and putting it out there.

  99. Jane Copland says:

    Wow, Elyse, that’s pretty awful. None of its acceptable. Agreed that my marital status has no place as a topic at these events…

  100. Michelle Robbins says:

    Wow Jane. That’ll teach me to take the week of Christmas off! I completely missed this post the first time around. I wish I could say I was surprised by any of what’s been written here. But I’m not. Because of course, I too have a story or ten about varying levels of harassment I’ve received at different conferences in this industry.

    I had a fairly horrific experience at one of our own SMX shows a few years back. A person that worked for an agency (that was also exhibiting in our expo hall), cornered me in a hotel bar and said to me some of the most appalling things I’ve ever heard – and I used to work in the music industry, so that’s saying something! I did report it however. And our head of sales had him immediately ejected from the conference, and he is barred from ever showing up to an SMX event ever again.

    That was a good outcome, and I was fortunate, because I did report it, and our team did not hesitate to take immediate, appropriate action. And perhaps I prevented one or more of our attendees (either at that show or another) from being similarly harassed by him. To be honest, I am glad it happened to me and not one of our attendees, as it is quite likely an attendee would not have reported it, or just not known whom to go to about it.

    This was not the typical “hey baby…” kind of harassment by the way – it left me physically shaken, and if I’d had mace, or weaponry of pretty much any kind, I’d have used it on him. Ultimately, I did have to physically threaten him to get him away from me long enough so I could escape the situation. This all happened in a very crowded hotel bar, and there was a silent witness to it. A fairly well respected man in our industry that to my shock, just stood there mute throughout the incident.

    So for all the men that have responded in this thread and agree otherwise that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, perhaps speaking up when your lothario colleagues behave inappropriately would go a long way to sending the message that it’s not ok. It’s not just fun flirting. It’s unprofessional, unacceptable, and frankly, it’s tired. Meet women on your own time and your own dime not when they – and you – have been sent by your employers to educate or be educated.

    As to conference organizers and their responsibilities in general – I am always astonished when I hear about some of the official parties and the “talent’ hired as entertainment. I was amazed to hear about an event last fall on the east coast that featured such a thing – as it was a brand that I would never have expected it from. I can’t imagine how the women in that particular organization were ok with it, much less the event attendees. While I think I can state with 100% accuracy that we’d never allow such an unprofessional environment for our attendees – if such a thing ever did come to pass, I’d be first on the firing line opposing it, actively protesting against it, and looking for work elsewhere.

    When everyone walks the walk, and votes with their wallet, we might begin to see some change.

  101. Jane Copland says:

    Wow, Michelle – thank you for coming by and telling your story. Having been cornered in hotels bars a couple of times, but never like this, I can only imagine what a horrible experience it was. I agree that many attendees wouldn’t have reported it the way you did. I kind of hope that posts like this encourage people to fight back, and not sit by idly, no matter if they’re the victim or a bystander.

    Unfortunately, knowing some of the people who engage in the objectionable behaviour, I doubt they’ll readily change.

    “It’s not ok. It’s not just fun flirting. It’s unprofessional, unacceptable, and frankly, it’s tired. Meet women on your own time and your own dime not when they – and you – have been sent by your employers to educate or be educated.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. How hard is it to understand the difference between getting to know people, having a laugh and being friendly, and overtly pushing yourself around, making it clear you’re after something more from the people you meet? I met my boyfriend at a search event, but the last thing he did was to get in my face or make pushy comments. Instead, he employed that age-old tactic of being nice to be around and treating me with respect ;) And clearly, our personal life together began long after we’d met professionally.

    This whole “treating people with respect” thing surely isn’t so hard.

    I believe that just making people think about the entertainment they put on has rarely happened in our industry before (regarding mainstream events, of course, it would be hard not to have thought through using strippers as marketing when that’s the primary marketing tactic you use). I can’t actually remember anyone talking about this in regards to SEO during my time in the industry. I was always worried I’d be painted as a frigid prude or mindless feminist troll. The culture of silence feeds on our doubts and worries about how our objections will be portrayed.

    Speaking up was incredibly liberating in that regard. I honestly don’t care anymore what someone might say about my objections to sexualised entertainment in professional circles, or to being gratuitously “hit on” when I’m attending one. This is my opinion, it’s a very well-thought-out one, I’m owning it, and I’m sticking to it. Hopefully others, who might have been shy about it before, feel similarly.

    Thanks again for coming by. 101 comments from so many different people suggest to me that this is a battle we’re slowly winning.

  102. Darren Jamieson says:

    That’s terrible. I once had to run interference (I believe that is the American term) on a works event when one of the bosses, drunk and lewd, attempted to corner a female colleague who was dating another colleague who wasn’t present. He seemed to think that, because he was the boss, he had a right to ‘be alone’ with her. This was at a private party following a tech event in London at which we were exhibiting. To this day I wonder how bad things might have become if I hadn’t stood in the way.

  103. Flodner says:

    Only today I discovered your blog and the fact you will be speaking at LinkLove soon.
    I haven’t been much at SEO conferences so I never heard about such thing you mention in this post. But I don’t wonder.
    You are amazing and that’s why you attract a lot of people and some of these people are just assholes. I think they are in all areas and SEO is not exception.

    Actually I think your speech would be the most interesting for me at LinkLove but not because of your appearance but because of the topic.
    I hope nothing will get back you to these thought you mentioned in this post.

  104. Expert SEO Management says:

    I would have never thought that these kinds of things go down at SEO conferences. I am appalled at the idea that men treat women so horribly at these conferences. Women in this industry deserve as much respect as women in any industry.
    This kind of behavior is ridiculous, and we wonder why women can’t break through the glass ceiling.
    Anyways, good post, Jane.
    Sorry to rant!

  105. Dana R Laine says:

    Hi, Im Dana Laine and Im a woman, nothing personal but I ve never experienced any problems visiting tech and Internet conferences, all the men were polite around me and i never felt like im only entertainment for them, they accepted me as an equal human. And I think SEO field is not an exception.

    [Edited by Jane – removed link to offensive website about virtual desktop strippers) :)

  106. Tessa Mitchell says:

    Wow, what kind of person doesn’t see how degrading and alienating using tits and a** at marketing conferences is? I can’t say I’ve ever seen similar but the videos are pretty clear. I keep reading about how booth babes are being banned from expos – its about time. Grow up, you folks still holding in to your ancient oppressive bullshit!

  107. Matt Shaw says:

    If I am being honest I have never seen anything like the sort of things that have been described in this post and comments (even on nights out in my uni time). I am actually ashamed to be in the industry if this is how men treat women because they stand out in a crowd.

    I am attending my first major SEO event in London at the Distilled conference in October, and will be sure to keep an eye out for any behaviour of this sort – but i am hoping not to see any.

  108. Jane says:

    Hi Matt,

    The Distilled crowd is generally excellent, and I doubt you’ll see anything bad there! :)

    The majority of the problem is that these things tend to occur subtly, and few people see or hear about it.

    The events using strippers and “playmates” were also universally celebrated, and not called out as unpleasant – it was never talked about as being a bad thing until now, honestly. If it was, I didn’t see it. Interestingly, their messaging and website is HUGELY toned down this year. Hmm :)

    No need to be ashamed – these folks are bad apples, and they definitely don’t represent a majority.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  109. Darren says:


    This post was quite an eye opener for me. I only attended one search conference in 2004. As a non-drinker I was put off by how central alcohol was to the whole event. I’m one of those rare people who feels that alcohol and business networking don’t really mix.

    Sorry to hear you had to experience this type of behavior. Hopefully as more and more women assert themselves in tech (Marissa Mayer anyone?), this type of behavior will decline. Let’s hope,


  110. M.K. Hajdin says:

    To these guys, women are not people. They’re nice shiny buckets for male incontinence.

    These men feel entitled because the patriarchy gives them the power to harass, abuse, assault and rape, and to get away with it.

    The solution: worldwide feminist revolt.

  111. si says:

    Well done for being brave and speaking out Jane. Although very new to the ways of SEO i have been appart of many conferences and exhibitions in the past where this sort of thing seemed to be pretty common place, and even had to intervine a couple of times as i just wasn’t putting up with it happeneing in front of me (luckly i’m not shy of confrontation!).

    It’s even more repulsive when i’ve had the pleasure in the past of working with a handfull women whos’ knowledge, expertise and work ethic in their field would put many of these petheitc abusive dick head males to shame, and it appears the SEO culture is no different.

    I wish you all the best for the future…


  112. Jane Copland says:

    Hi Si,

    Thanks for the message. And thank you for stepping in when you saw these things go on. Needs to happen more often.



  113. heather o'leary says:

    Quoting someone who said it very well today: “Are women ornamental or instrumental to the event?”

    Bringing girls as perks to a seminar is indefensible! You can’t bring something that exists for the pleasure of straight guys – playboy girls and similar – and say you value equality and inclusion. You did something that is very exclusionary to people who aren’t straight men! It actually is really quite funny that anyone would claim that. Aaron above, haha, I’m sure you did treat them with respect, but they were there for your enjoyment, as ornaments! You don’t have to have been lecherous towards them for it still to be wrong.

  114. Patrick says:

    This is a fantastic post. I’m sorry (a) that one would even *have* to write such a post and (b) that you came to write such a post through negative personal experience.

  115. Annette Thompson says:

    This was an excellent article! I’m so proud of you for standing up and saying something about this outrageous behavior!


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