An open letter to The Arizona Drone Expo: you are why women don’t fly drones

Dear Arizona Drone Expo,

I get a lot of pitches. Events, Kickstarters, startups, conferences, you name it and I get a dozen pitches like it a week. But you win the award for the worst pitch I’ve ever received.

To be fair, I was initially excited about your drone expo a few weeks ago. You advertised a nice mix of seminars, new drones to demo and even a drone swap area. The expo admission fee is $10, which I appreciate considering the economic barriers to entry in drones are otherwise quite high (not to mention most conferences cost at least $100). It’s nice to see a conference not in San Francisco, New York or Las Vegas (because those cities have plenty of drone events). With a low cost and new region, I was excited that you could prove that drones are good to a new group of people.

And then, you did something pretty terrible, and you alienated half the U.S. population in doing it.

I got an email pitch from you with this: Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.00.06 PM

You are a private company, free to do what you want. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to go. I get it.

But you just took a huge step backwards in reaching gender equality in drones.  Your ad states: “Come take a selfie with our beautiful DROPA Girls. Meet the ladies and find out how they can make a drone really take-off!”

This “booth babe” concept is not new to trade shows. But it’s still not okay. And I was optimistic this drone industry would be above that.

Sex sells. But do flying robots that stop poachers from killing rhinos in Africa or that deliver beer and pizza really need that much help selling? There’s no mention of the cool functionalities drones have on your site. There’s no mention of how I could buy a drone to take photos of me surfing or to inspect my roof.

There are 100s of women who have done great things for this industry (and built the drones you’re trying to sell), but instead, you’re representing us women as a piece of decor to take a selfie with? You have resorted to the most uncreative, low form of advertising for a product that has otherwise taken the world by storm.

If I were to go to this conference, I would feel objectified. I would feel like I would have to prove myself, and that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, because women are being marketed as selfie decor rather than as smart pilots and engineers. Your fellow male pilots often are befuddled as to why women aren’t interested in flying something as cool as a drone.

Here’s a secret: many women probably would love to fly a drone. They just don’t feel like they can be an equal member of this community when you’re going to treat them like your eye candy rather than  a human who can fly one of these things.

I love this industry — the capabilities of drones, the many friends I’ve made through them, the endless opportunities for creativity. I can’t give up. I won’t leave.

But I also can’t act like casual sexism doesn’t exist, and I can’t just let it keep happening over and over again. That’s why I’m using this platform — my blog — to speak out.

And readers, I encourage you to do the same. Call out the tiniest casual sexism, because women are watching.

Drone companies and conferences, I’m not asking you to make 50% of your staff female. I’m certainly not asking you to sell pink drones. I’m just asking you to make this a community that’s inclusive, that all people can feel safe and respected in — not objectified.

P.S.: You took this picture of the “DROPA Girls” from the 2013 Seattle Seahawks Sea Gals calendar.  Are they really going to be the ones in attendance?

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  • Kerry says:

    Way to GO! Many conferences have stopped using sexism as a marketing concept. Thank you for speaking up! This is my first time seeing your blog and it was quite informative and refreshing!

  • Brian Wirth says:

    So lets get this straight. You feel that because you were offended by the use of attractive women as marketing tools, that this keeps other women away from flying drones?? Do you shy away from womens underware because attractive women are used as models? Do you feel offended after seeing attractive women in movies, so you just don’t go because directors only put beautiful women in their movies? Do you stay away from movies like Magic Mike because of the exploitation of men in that movie? What about those firefighter calendars or the recent facebook viral post of the wounded veterans posing nude?? Are they just too good looking for you to associate yourself with?

    Maybe you should tell those women to choose a different career because you are offended by their career choice. I know, let just make all models and advertising marketers look like Steve Buscemi, would that be better?

    You are entering what is currently a young male dominated activity. Booth babes are a fact of life, booth babe jobs keep people who otherwise have no marketable skills, employed. I have the feeling that if this place offered booth hunks you would be screaming praise from the mountain tops.

    Now I don’t know you and could be totally wrong, but typically what I just said is 100% the case.

    • Brian Wirth says:

      What is even mor telling is that you seem to only mention sexism toward women, when men face the samething everyday. Or are you another feminist who thinks sexism only affects women?

      • Sally French says:

        I have no doubt that men do experience sexism. Men receive custody of children in only about 10 percent of divorce cases in the United States, physical violence against men is often not taken seriously the way it is against women, etc.

        But I am not really here to talk about divorce or physical violence, so I will refrain. I am, however, here to talk about sexism in the drone industry. Women are marginalized through booth babes, low numbers of female role models, small amounts of women in leadership positions at drone companies, and sexualized marketing tactics.

        I have no doubt that some aspects (not all!) of this industry are misogynistic and sexist toward women. I don’t know how the drone industry is sexist toward men, but I welcome that discussion and genuinely want to learn more.

    • Sally French says:

      Hi Brian,

      These are good points that raise really interesting questions.

      To clear up any misconceptions, I’m certainly not “anti” people who are attractive, whether they are actors, drone pilots or firefighters. I AM anti the idea that women who are beautiful aren’t ALSO clever, witty, resourceful and intelligent (booth babes are often stereotyped as incapable of anything else other than looking pretty, which you yourself have done here).

      My next answer is probably somewhat disappointing to you, in that I really can’t comment on underwear models, calendar shoots, or Magic Mike. I simply haven’t done the research, data-gathering, interviews or first-hand experience that I have in the UAV industry to speak intelligently on that topic.

      I am well aware I’m entering a male-dominated field. Booth babes are presently a fact of life, but I hope they won’t be in the future. As I stated, booth babes discourage other women from joining because it makes women feel objectified, like they have to prove themselves, or that they won’t be taken seriously.

      Maybe this would make it more clear. I do appreciate the eye candy of Ryan Gosling given an appropriate situation. But a drone conference is not one of those situations.

      At drone conferences, let’s stick to looking at aerial images, revolutionary technology, new data-gathering messages, policy and legal updates, etc. There is absolutely no reason to sexualize drones. Booth babes don’t have a place at drone conferences, and neither does a shirtless Ryan Gosling.

  • […] July I wrote an open letter to the Arizona Drone Expo explaining that having “booth babes” — girls in scantily clad bikinis — was […]

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