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Reuters/Andrew Kelly
Guests-for-hire.
FAUX PAS

Silicon Valley firms are hiring models to ogle at this year’s holiday parties

By Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz

Even in the year of #MeToo, America’s tech hub is importing models to hang out with the guys at its mostly male holiday parties.

According to Bloomberg, tech giants are quietly shelling out up to $200 an hour for attractive women and men known as “ambiance and atmosphere models,” or minglers, to chat up attendees. Companies handpick the models based on photos, have them sign non-disclosure agreements, and give them the names of employees to pretend they’re friends with—lengths to ensure that guests don’t feel like the models are mercenaries hired to socialize with them.

It will hardly be the first time tech firms have relied on hired talent to spice up their parties. In March 2016, Microsoft apologized after it invited dancers in skimpy school-girl outfits to a bash it threw in San Francisco during the Game Developers Conference.

Chris Hanna, head of the TSM modeling agency (whose clients, according to the Bloomberg article, include “one of the largest search engines in the world”) told the news agency that demand for models contractually obligated to pretend they’re guests—as opposed to serving food or checking coats, as requested in previous years—is unprecedented.

At a time when the news cycle is flush with sexual harassment scandals, Silicon Valley’s use of guests-for-hire is in stark contrast to how other industries are approaching the holiday-party season. Vox Media, hit by a sexual-harassment scandal in October, is doing away with the open bar and limiting guests to two drinks apiece. And some companies, if they’re not sanitizing their parties, are canceling them altogether. According to an annual poll of HR executives by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, about 11% of offices are skipping holiday shindigs altogether, versus 4% last year.