Silicon Valley is made up of mostly men — a lot of male engineers at that. Holiday parties, therefore, rake in a rather homogenous crowd. Instead of hiring more women in tech, however, companies are hiring beautiful women to come chat up their attendees.
Local modeling agencies that work with companies as large as Facebook and Google have said that a record number of tech companies are quietly paying models $50 to $200 an hour to come to their parties and mingle with "pretty much all men."
Farnaz Kermaani, president of event staffing company Cre8 Agency LLC, told Bloomberg that they’re sending models to seven tech parties all in the same weekend of Dec. 8. For a party for a large San Francisco-based gaming company, for example, they’re sending 25 attractive women and five good-looking men to chat up the guests. The gaming company has handpicked the models by their photos, all of whom had to sign nondisclosure forms. Moreover, they gave the models names of employees with whom they should pretend they’re friends in the event that anyone questions who they are or why they’re there.
While models have always run trade show booths, hyped up crowds at product launches and directed foot traffic at conferences, they've typically been hired to work. Chris Hanna — who’s run TSM Agency since 2004 — told Bloomberg that this year’s record-setting requests are a step beyond what the industry has seen before. He added that, now, some tech companies are even asking models to wear specific attire — though some agencies allegedly turn down requests that have clothing stipulations.
Olya Ishchukova, chief executive officer of Models in Tech, says she usually does not send models out without specific jobs such as checking coats or serving food. Having specific responsibilities sends the message that “they’re there for work, and nothing extra is going to happen,” she says.
Setting the precedent that “nothing extra” will happen is critical as holiday parties are typically a breeding ground for sexual harassers. While he denied the claims, venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar allegedly slid his hand up then-head of global expansion for Uber Austin Geidt’s leg — at Uber’s 2014 holiday party, no less.
Holiday parties are a growning concern this year. Many companies are canceling them, relegating their parties to their office common areas rather than renting out spaces, having lunches instead of evening events or taking alcohol out of the equation.
Hiring models to essentially walk around as eye candy in one of the most male-dominated industries with a history of sexual harassment just doesn’t quite seem like a good idea. But, unfortunately, it does seem like Silicon Valley in 2017...
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.