Trade show says sorry after complaints of “sexualising women”

The organisers of a major UK construction trade show have apologised after scantily-clad female performers were employed by a show sponsor to enliven its stand, sparking complaints.

The sponsor Easy-Trim, a manufacturer of roofing ventilation and dry-fix products, also issued an apology "for any upset caused" by its use of stilt-walkers and dancers dressed in revealing Las Vegas show girl outfits at UK Construction Week, held 10-12 October in Birmingham.

On seeing the women at the show, the director of the London Festival of Architecture, Tamsie Thomson, complained, tweeting: "What happened to bringing equality to the sector?"

Sexualising women is not supportive of equality in construction– Angela Dapper, Denton Corker Marshall

A Construction Week spokesperson defended the event, saying it was for a Las Vegas-themed exhibit.

That caused the architect Angela Dapper, partner at international architecture practice Denton Corker Marshall, to fire back. "Not an appropriate choice of entertainment," she tweeted. "Sexualising women is not supportive of equality in construction."

The issue was taken up by interiors and design website Dezeen last week – a week in which concern over sexual abuse and harassment sparked by revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had engulfed British politics, starting with the suspension by the Labour Party of its MP Jared O’Mara on 25 October.

First to apologise was publisher and events company Media 10, organiser of UK Construction Week (UKCW), who issued a statement to Dezeen, which it then published online on 26 October.

"Whilst none of us want to return to the days where promotional models were used as marketing method to attract visitors to exhibition stands," the statement said, "the use in this instance was described to us as part of the overall theme along with Elvis and other themed dressed professionals such as Croupiers etc."

The company said it was aware of Easy-Trim’s theme, including the use of female performers, but said: "For those offended by the use of promotional models at exhibitions we would like to stress that we at UKCW do not condone the practice."

It said it would put in place a "rigorous monitoring system" for the future and prohibit "inappropriately dressed" staff, adding "we apologise if anyone was offended by the content on this particular stand".

For its part Easy-Trim published a statement the following day on 27 October by Rachel Gibson, its marketing director, who said "for any element of our stand at this event to upset just one person causes myself and all the team, both female and male considerable regret and upset and for this we apologise."

Easy-Trim was the headline sponsor of the Show Build component of the exhibition. Gibson explained that the two professional stilt walkers and two dancers, each dressed in show girl outfits, supported its stand’s Las Vegas theme, called "Why Gamble?", which promoted British manufacturing in the context of the risks of Brexit and skills shortages.

"Our stand design, theme, and elements were all based on supporting this statement in a fun and diverse way," Gibson said, adding that the stand also contained a full sized roulette wheel, Black Jack table, and an oversized One Arm Bandit.

"I again want to apologise for any upset caused," she concluded, "and stress that each element of the stand was as important as the other and made up our vision of the stand theme."

Both Media 10 and Easy-Trim said they were committed to promoting diversity and equal opportunity in the construction industry, with Media 10 pointing out that it had woven the theme into show promotion, content and debates throughout the show’s three-year history.

Image: Performers dressed in Las Vegas show girl outfits appearing at UK Construction Week, 10-12 October 2017, in Birmingham UK (From a photograph tweeted by the director of the London Festival of Architecture, Tamsie Thomson)

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  1. OMG! The PC Brigade attack again. I agree with the two opinions expressed above and ladies should feel empowered by their ability to attract attention, not exploited. Come on Tamsie and Angela, lighten up and listen to Rachel. If it had included Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in their Trapeze costumes, would you still have been offended?

  2. I think the two posts are missing the point, it’s not about the women ‘enjoying it’ or not, it’s about easy trim’s choice to use scantily clad women to ‘sell’ their plastic building products. Yes there was a Vegas theme, but it was just disappointing to come across the stand and felt predictable / stereotypical and cheap. It just stood out amongst all the stands as something more from the 80s than the modern world of construction. I had hoped we had moved on from this kind of thing in the industry. Still, it got the company a lot of free advertising… no such thing as bad press right?

  3. I agree with the complainants- when women continue to be woefully underrepresented in construction as a whole, the costumes were inappropriate for this context.

    I am not sure however that a ‘rigorous monitoring system’ is the solution- it could serve to reinforce the view that women’s bodies are sexual objects to be objectified or censored.

    To those that feel the anger is disproportionate, I’d add the reflection that fighting for change is likely to look more angry than maintaining the status quo, even if that status quo is flawed.

  4. I think we should act as role models, embracing diversity, respecting the right of others to hold differing opinions and tolerating those whose constant desire is to find offence in order to complain.

    In time the offended may learn to live and let live – I hope!

  5. No doubt the women did their job without coearcement, so what’s the problem? Or perhaps for the sake of equality, men should be similarly un-clad! This practice is used in many & varied products for marketing purposes & if done tastefully, what’s the problem it’s just a bit of fun, just get over it!

  6. Oh Dear Me, the Snowflake’s strike again. I admit I did not attend the event but based on the article above and accompanying photograph I do not understand what the complaints are about. if the stand theme was Las Vegas then the costumes should be viewed in context. I assume the models were paid for their attendance; did not object to wearing their costumes; took part of their own free will and from the smile on the face of the lady appeared to be enjoying the event. I do not understand the logic behind the complaints linking the wearing of the costumes with equality in construction. The people complaining should divert their energies to ensuring that females are given every equal opportunity throughout the sphere of construction from site to boardroom.

  7. The organisers were “aware” of the stand? They were more than aware – they gave them the best stand award!

    Whoever made that decision needs to take a good long hard look at themselves.

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