Silicon Valley Companies appear to be trying to spice up their holiday parties by hiring models, Bloomberg Businessweek reported Thursday.
Several California modeling agencies said they were being contacted by an unprecedented number of technology companies looking to hire models to chat with their employees at holiday parties. The companies reportedly shell out between $50 and $200 an hour per model.
One example of an agency Bloomberg spoke to was Cre8 Agency LLC, headquartered in San Francisco. They were sending 25 women and five men to the holiday party of an undisclosed video game company that’s “pretty much all men.”
The tech company handpicked the models from photos and gave them names of employees they can say they are friends with. The models would also have to sign nondisclosure agreements.
“The companies don’t want their staff to be talking to someone and think, 'Oh, this person was hired to socialize with me',” said Cre8 President Farnaz Kermaani to Bloomberg. “The companies don’t want their staff to be talking to someone and think, Oh, this person was hired to socialize with me.”
Models for these jobs typically have strict contractual rules including not handing out personal information and not drinking.
Models have long been employed by the tech industry for events such as product demonstrations and trade shows like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Models being used to pack parties, however, is a newer phenomenon. They are called “ambiance and atmosphere models.”
Given that the year has been filled with disclosures of a massive amount of sexual harassment allegation, the use of models for parties may be seen as a potential public relations nightmare, but Kermaani said that she is careful to choose the companies she works with and visits them beforehand.
“If somebody is creepy toward me, and I’m the owner of the company, I can guarantee they’ll be creepy to the models,” she said. “Silicon Valley doesn’t have the best reputation.”
Ride-hailing app company Uber was revealed to be a major example of the sexual harassment problems plaguing Silicon Valley. Earlier this year, Uber was shown to be a toxic environment for the women who worked there — eventually leading to the ouster of its CEO Travis Kalanick. The co-founder of the company stepped down because of the environment he had created and at the behest of investors, but Kalanick did not have any specific allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him.
Uber’s own 2014 holiday party led to sexual harassment allegations against one of its investors, Shervin Pishevar.
The reckoning of organizations with rampant sexual harassment in all industries is leading to a change in holiday parties, with companies trying to avoid any chance of impropriety. Vox Media said it would impose a drink limit at its celebration, while marketing tech company Crowdtap said it would have its end of year celebration at a bowling alley where drinking would not be the main focus.
Nicholas Pearce, a clinical professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, told CNBC that changing holiday party behavior is just “window dressing” because the problem runs much deeper.
“People get mistreated all day long, when there's no alcohol,” said Pearce “The holiday party is only revealing what is more than likely happening behind closed doors.”