Microsoft Australia has apologised to any attendees at its Tech.Ed conference on the Gold Coast who were scandalised by its use of Meter Maid girls as promotional assistants, explaining that it didn’t know the girls would turn up wearing bikinis. “The Australian Tech.Ed team would like to sincerely apologise for any offense caused by the promotional staff who were manning the remote controlled car exhibit at the Tech.Ed welcome reception,” the software giant said in a statement yesterday. “We were unaware of their exact costuming until the day of the event, at which time it was too late to be addressed.” The Meter Maids attended the Tech.Ed launch last night and were initially welcomed by the predominantly male audience — 2,700 members of the Microsoft eco-system in Australia. They dressed in their traditional gold bikinis that have been seen on the Gold Coast for decades. However some in the community questioned whether their presence did more to hinder the cause of attracting women to work in the IT industry than helping it. “It does make me ask: Hello Microsoft — I still don’t understand how this fits with your session encouraging women in IT tomorrow? WTF?” asked Kate Carruthers, a senior social business consultant at Headshift Australia and well-known members of the Twitterati. “Microsoft is committed to diversity in the workplace and in the IT industry at large,” the software giant said this afternoon. “We believe that diversity enriches our performance, our products and the communities where we live and work. As the IT industry evolves to reflect the growing diversity of the global marketplace, our efforts to understand, value, and incorporate differences become increasingly important.” So-called "booth babes" — scantily dressed promotional assistants — are a staple of technology sector conferences, especially larger trade fairs such as CeBIT. However, their presence has generated debate in the industry over the past few years, with some feeling that the trend objectifies women — and others feeling that it's all a fuss over just a bit of fun.