Thanks for making the main point clear, I want to chime in here as a woman and someone who has represented my company from very early on at trade shows (and does to this day). In the telecom industry in particular these booth babes run rampant, they literally provide you with a form when you register to exhibit asking if you want to hire models.
At one event a couple years ago, a guy came over to talk with our CTO (a guy) and I and said point blank to me, "do you have an ownership stake in the company? if not, at least you've got one foot in the door to marry this guy?" Nevermind that I'm wearing my wedding ring! All I could do was paint a "go F&%$ yourself" smile on my face and wait for him to leave. The things I would have liked to say, but it just wasn't worth it in that context.
The problem is, most people don't walk up to me expecting me to know about APIs, building applications, solving problems specific to their industry or use case, how supply chain works, or anything else important to their business. This is perpetuated by booth babes. How do I know? If I dress in a frumpy or slightly less feminine style, instead of my normal stylish heels and a skirt suit, I get a different reaction. If I wear skinny jeans and flats and a tshirt or hoodie, look my age (early 20s) and have a self-effacing air, they think "oh she's a nerdy girl" and then they ask the real questions. PUH-LEASE.
Oh - I should also mention that I DO think being a female works from the standpoint of getting booth traffic (can't fight it - sex sells, and you don't even need to be dressed in risque clothes to observe the difference). When I'm at the booth versus a guy, I think we get more traffic. The problem is, its less qualified and their intentions aren't easily converted to caring about our product, they're distracted by some other impulse.
Apart from the brain-dead flirting efforts, that heels-and-skirt-suit effect doesn't sound any different than my reaction to men in suits. If I want to find a clue, I look past the guy whose job involves showing up in a costume chosen in hopes I'm easily manipulated. But then I don't frequent trade shows, so I don't know how many nerds have enough clout to show up dressed normally but not enough to just stay home.
I wear a suit because it shows I give a damn, and occasionally to look a little older.
Many people in startups wear costumes too, just a different sort for a different purpose.
I realize that people in tech generally avoid "suits", but there is a time and place for dressing up and there are certain industries where you need to wear the uniform to play the game. Maybe it works to show up in flip flops as the founder of Facebook, but if you're trying to sell someone a mission critical product and they're going to spend tens of thousands of dollars...
...oh man, I digress, this thinking deserves a blog post of its own.
I don't mean anything by it, I just like tailored stuff. It looks good! It's highly evolved to maximise what men have got. But: if I wore one to most of my meetings, or to work, people'd ask questions or make a bunch of unfounded assumptions, so I don't.
It's a myth that technical communities don't care about clothes. They do - it's just they send a very particular set of signals and, what's more, they're the signals common to countercultures. That's fine: it's just another code, no more or less than any other. It'd be discourteous to go against it. I'm still going to be thinking wistfully of the ties in my wardrobe, though!
Sounds like it'd be worth a read. I found an example I remembered from The Big Short, finance rather than tech: "Their clothes told you a lot, too. The guys who ran money dressed as if they were going to a Yankees game. Their financial performance was supposed to be all that mattered about them, and so it caused suspicion if they dressed too well. If you saw a buy-side guy in a suit, it usually meant he was in trouble, or schedule to meet with someone who had given him money, or both. Beyond that, it was hard to tell much about a buy-side person from what he was wearing. The sell side, on the other hand, might as well have been wearing their business cards: The guy in the blazer and khakis was a broker at a second-tier firm; the guy in the three-thousand-dollar suit and the hair just so was an investment banker at J.P. Morgan or someplace like that."
Some years ago I had a brief consulting gig. I showed up in my standard t-shirt and jeans. There was another consultant there, whom I hadn't previously met, in a suit. When he sat down at the computer, I had to stifle an impulse to offer him assistance. Then I had to laugh at myself.
Since then I have tried to be more aware of my assumptions and less swayed by appearances, but I haven't always succeeded. Heh, I recall another incident where I roundly ignored an attractive woman at an entrepreneurship meeting, only to find she was a CEO and one of the panel speakers.
The three-piece suit has become sort of my trademark. You don't see them much anymore. It has several benefits: You may be overdressed on some occasions, but you can manage to fit into a huge range of circumstances.
Since dmor mentioned the telecom industry, let me just say that when I attended the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, everybody (except booth babes) was wearing suits or other "business attire" - technies, sales, marketing, whatever. (I was very clearly an engineer and was there to answer technical questions, and I wore a suit).
[OT: after having been to the trade show, I still don't know what CBOSS do, besides hire lots of models to man their stand...]
It's hard to believe that booth babes actually work in sales. I assume everyone knows that they are not going to get her number. She can't answer any questions obviously. Am I in the minority for feeling that hired fake flirty girls are insulting my intelligence with such a shallow attempt to manipulate me?
This actually made me wonder if they occasionally do get picked up. There must be some reason that guys think talking to them is not a waste of time...
Those people sometimes bring along a 'straight man'. I end up doing this all the time - the hypothetical boss just wants to drink for free and oogle pretty girls, and I talk to the sales engineer/sales guy.
On the plus side, it keeps the boss distracted and stops stupid questions...
Working as a male in a female dominated profession it is painfully obvious that this kind of behavior is not unique to men. I find it ironic that people want women somehow exempt from this unconscious behavior. It is not hard to spot the people male or female that dress to be taken seriously. I avoid the likely coulees sales rep irrigardless of gender and how they dress is a huge part of how I determine who needs to be avoided so i will not waste my time. If you are dressed like a salesmen or eye candy you have lost half the battle irrigardless of sex.
The only issue I see is how do you avoid forcing the ligitamate women into a second class uniform of sorts ie geek girl so they can be taken seriously.
I used to work on a medical technician team of five as the only male. We had to replace one of the women who left, so put out an ad. We all went through the resumes, and there were two with the techincal skills, both female. Everyone agreed on getting in those two. There was a third candidate who didn't have the proper tech skills, but he did have 'has appeared as a model on TV on this show and that show'. He was given an interview based on this line - my colleagues wanted to see the eye-candy, even though they denied it - there were women with better skill matches than this guy (though only the initial two had the right matches out of all). This guy got dragged into a job interview solely so the women could check him out physically; he was never going to get the job.