Ask Me A Question – button campaign

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UPDATE: after reading this article you can go here where the project has been “open-sourced” and you can now participate by downloading the artwork or ordering online.

A hot topic in the last few years has been awareness around the lack of women in IT. This goes from how we give young girls dolls but boys a plastic screwdriver, to gender equality in the household, i.e., who has responsibility for the children, to how we treat women in IT on a daily basis. At the heart of the matter, I see the gender equality in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education as the issue which needs to be attacked at all levels of society.

In 2009, 24% of the jobs in STEM in the US were filled in by women, where in all jobs, the average was 48%. (source)

You go, girl!

I’ve said it before: I am a Heterosexual Type-A Alpha-male with ADHD. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to treating women or just people in general. Micro-agression is probably one of the things I am guilty of the most. Quite recently I talked about a female colleague, who is a brilliant engineer, and referred to her as a ‘great girl’. I heard myself saying it, immediately corrected myself and was lucky enough my (female) partner in the conversation did not take it as an offense. After talking it over with her, I will never say it again and I will help other people understand why they shouldn’t as well. It is condescending in every possible way.

The phrase ‘girls’ night out’ or ‘boys’ night out’ is not an excuse to call a female colleague a girl! You would never refer to a man in a professional context as a boy.

I am the problem

As I have quite a strong personality, people close to me know that I will bully the bullies when it comes to supporting people that I feel are treated badly. But the fact is that who I am as a person, described in the beginning of previous paragraph, usually gets me in trouble when I feel I want to be part of the conversation about supporting women in IT. Some female ‘activists’ will do whatever it takes to tell me I am part of the problem, making me feel bad just because I am a white, somewhat successful, male. I can only hope that my actions speak for themselves. Like the time when I wrote about the dangers of humour in IT as a reaction to the #NixVblock campaign from Nutanix earlier this year.

I am not a booth babe

One of the places where you feel the micro-aggressions all the way up to straightforward misogyny is on the expo floors at IT conferences. The historical use of women – that are just there to attract male attendees – as booth babes is merely part of the issue. The bigger issue is that in general, women are not respected enough in a technology environment to be expect to answer any question.

You can imagine how happy I was when I saw this button at #VMworld 2014 in San Francisco;

Ask Me A Question campaign

The woman in the picture is Fara Hain (Director of Corporate Marketing) at Zerto. The original idea was coined by Jennifer Gill (Director Global Product Marketing). I knew immediately that this would have a lot more value if we could take it beyond the Zerto team and into the Enterprise IT community. This was by far the most positive way to raise awareness that I have seen so far. Especially since it does not require a conversation where you/I might misspeak (remember the micro-aggression stuff?). You notice the button, it puts a smile on your face because you “get it”, and you will remember this for the rest of the conference and hopefully beyond.

So I took this idea, asked for their permission to re-use the artwork and started the “AskMeAQuestion” button campaign. I made 50 buttons in different colours, and replaced the Zerto “Z” with a question mark. I did give the team credit at the bottom of the button. I will bring them with me now to every single conference I attend. If you want to help, please ask for them, and we might even set up a bigger campaign later. The two ideas are either ‘open-sourcing’ the artwork or shipping bags of them globally. More on this in a future post.

UPDATE: after reading this article you can go here where the project has been “open-sourced” and you can now participate by downloading the artwork or ordering online.

VMworld Europe 2014

Here are the first results of the campaign. Don’t these colleagues look amazing with that button? Wait till you talk to them!

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16 comments

  1. Hans, this was a fantastic campaign that grabbed so much attention(even when I got to the airport and they started asking me questions!), well done. You said you took a great photo of me on the X-IO booth in my doctors coat. I told my boss all about my badge and now i can’t prove it?! Do you still have the photo?

    1. Hi Carly – I am truly happy it works. I have heard many great things already and I thank you for acknowledging it here. Of course I have your picture! I just tagged you on facebook 🙂

      And here is your original in full size for you to re-use.

  2. I wish I would have thought of this! It’s been long overdue and I’m tired of companies that rely on “booth babes” to sell product–I personally avoid them, or only approach them to tell them how disappointed I am in their decision. Kudos Hans! -@swackhap

  3. As a former model and now management consultant, only 5 of the women in the pictures were even attractive enough to get confused for a promo model or ‘booth babe’ as the button calls it.

    1. Well Bob, maybe you should read again. This is not about whether or no these women are booth babes or to be mistaken for one. It’s about the fact that women in general are not taken seriously (enough) at trade-shows.

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