Boss Lady

Trade fairs and women: An open letter to the organizer


The trade fair was invented in medieval Europe at the time merchant capitalism swept across the continent. They are exhilarating events that group together all associated with the industry to facilitate sales and networking. The Gala to your Charity, the Mont Blanc to your deal-signing, the chocolate to your croissant.

They also make me kind of angry and below is my open-letter on the subject. If you feel similarly outraged at this base representation of women at industry trade-fairs and the negative effect this has on the movement for equality being led by men and women alike, please read and share!

Dear trade show organizer,

You may take many forms : the Agency Director , responsible for coordinating and executing your customers’ requirements for their stand at the show; the Agency intern , who buys the uniforms for hosts and hostesses ; the marketing director,  setting the look and feel of the stand based on your company’s strategy and/or product line; the regional sales representative, called in for the event to network and push your company’s value proposition ; the Events Coordinator, responsible for the smooth and efficient running of the stand during the show.

This letter is to all of you. And my question is thus : Why do you think it is OK that the female hostesses at your trade show stand pose idiotically in sexually revealing clothes next to the latest industry innovation?

I don’t ask “why did you allow this to happen?” I know why – sex sells. How sad of you to conform to this outdated and offensive technique. I thought the best marketeers were creative types.

Industry is fighting, and top executives (male and female) are battling their own individual journeys, to re-organize our corporate structures and re-educate communities to enable successful driven women to reach their potential. Part of this involves challenging the exact stereotypical image of a woman you are perpetrating. And in her battle ground no less! How dare you?

Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg and First Lady Michelle Obama are intelligent powerful leaders speaking out for a woman’s right to be viewed and respected as a being and not as a sexual object. They represent unheard voices from the third-world, the executive board-room, the restaurant worker and single-mother, the young female intern trying to be taken seriously.

If our world were a company, these women represent the top-down strategy for change. With this letter, I would like to invite you to participate in the complementary bottom-up strategy. As we know, change management is most effective when both occur simultaneously.

In our action plan, we will start with industry events.

First, the women that you want to recruit, the women that you want to retain, the women that you want to empower – they visit these events too. And they are horrified by the overwhelming sensation when they arrive, that in fact, their role as presented by you in this eco-system is either to 1) pose idiotically half-naked next to something or 2) walk around idiotically half-naked promoting something.

Do not forget – dear trade show organizer – that you have an important role in priming next generations of consumers, creators and educators. How they view women in their working environment will be significantly affected by what they see at industry events. Your priming, followed by the incredibly strong forces of associative memory (hello, pumpkin-spice latte in the fall), means that each time an individual is exposed to the formula industry environment = woman + (insert product here) + breasts + demeaning pose, we undo the impressive work of our colleagues Sheryl, Emma and Michelle.

The last trade show I attended was the world’s largest in its sector. Aside from the successful meetings, presentations and contacts, one stand-out moment was a panel discussion on industry regulations. “This must be the pinnacle”, I said to myself, “the opportunity to speak as an expert in your domain in front of your peers at a world-renowned event bringing together all the global players and thought-leaders.” My colleague nudged me. Walking past in sequins was a troupe of promo-girls for one of the companies in the panel. I realized at that point that there were no women in the panel and no women other than myself in the audience. The only women in a 200m-radius were our besequinned friends. This one message chosen for display from a plethora of possible female roles, how can we expect girls to want to be engineers or scientists or researchers? When we perpetrate the very image they battle against, we are not taking the right active steps in motivating them to study sciences, join panels and act as experts in the future.

Marketing directors, you are approving this representation of women in the name of your company. At a macro-level, this is damaging to the perception of your company and its role in this movement of equality. It is contradictory to the vision for young women we should be fostering if we desire diverse leadership.

Moreover, in the spirit of equality for which this movement stands, please desist in reinforcing the stereotype that men are so basic they can’t enjoy themselves without a half-naked woman to look at. It is insulting. A trade show is an opportunity to get excited about many other things (education, innovation, networking to name a few) without taking the female form and displaying it as a cheap by-product to entertain (male) trade show visitors.

Let us be pragmatic. If a man really needs to see some ‘boob’ to stay focused on his long journey across the exhibition ground, there are magazines and (surprise!) smart phones and free Wi-Fi that can provide ample, pun intended, fodder for his imagination if it is as limited as you seem to think.


About Claudia Schulz

Claudia Schulz is an Engineer who left Australia’s shores in 2008 to pursue post-graduate studies in International Management in Germany. Currently, Claudia is in Paris working in Key Account Management for a global engineering solutions provider.She is passionate about raising awareness of gender-roles in the international workplace, connecting people, language, literature, and croissants.Has been described as sassy on more than one occasion (thank you, high-school debating).Life goals (in no particular order): attend a TED Conference, travel through Turkey, obtain a PhD, buy an oven (not an easy feat for a Parisian-sized apartment).

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  1. Jennie

    March 28, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Nice, and funny too.


    Johnette Wenger

    February 15, 2018 at 11:22 am

    I see you don’t monetize your site, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra cash every month because you’ve got high quality content.

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