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Dmexco 2016: Fighting adland’s feminist cause

Dmexco 2016: Fighting adland’s feminist cause

From gender-specified areas, to half-dressed women walking the floors, if this female reporter has taken one thing away from Dmexco 2016, it’s that the gender debate in adland is far from “fucking over“.

Each year the conference draws in tens of thousands of ad-techers, agencies, media owners and the most senior advertising figures from across Europe – and increasingly the rest of the world, with IAB US sponsoring this year’s event – acting as an ideal place to do business, network and showcase new tech.

It has undoubtedly become the place to be for anyone working in digital; and yet the divide between men and women – or men and ‘girls’, as the dedicated ‘Girls’ Lounge’ would have it – is impossible to ignore.

Men doing business

The conference halls, where the divide was most visibly apparent, were painfully busy at the best of times, but at least there was somewhere for me and my fellow Dmexco girls to go and get our hair and make-up done.

‘Confidence is beautiful’, ‘be authentic’ and ‘energize self, soul and sisterhood’, the stand said at the entrance to the boudoir-inspired lounge – complete with chandelier, pink sweets and in-house photographer.

And not forgetting the most inspirational phrase of all: ‘Modern feMENism includes men’ – like feminism hasn’t always been about gender equality.

Girls being girls

Meanwhile, outside in the bright artificial light of the Koelnmesse, women were being used as objects to try and sell business (or at least give somebody a bag with a free pen in it).


Crowdfox likes its men fully-dressed / ResponseConcepts likes its women in lycra and heels


The ResponseConcepts business team (source: Facebook)

Sexism in the media industry has been a hot topic of debate for a long while – ignited most recently by Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts who resigned from his post following some unwise comments around gender diversity.

But if one of the most influential conferences in the world is perpetuating gender stereotypes and segregating and under-representing women in advertising and tech, how is our industry meant to overcome the sexism it claims it so desperately wants to eradicate?

Most of the women I spoke to at Dmexco and after the conference were reluctant to comment on-the-record, however, three senior women spoke to us anonymously.

“What decade are we in that someone signed off using women in hot pants to market their ad tech business? There’s no place for it in any industry, let alone one that sees itself as diverse and forward thinking. It’s uncomfortably embarrassing, and ensures that I will not be doing business with that company.”

Another said: “I can get behind the sentiment of the “Girls’ Lounge” – female collaboration, support and empowerment, providing access to female role models – but I am a woman in business, wanting to do business with other men and women.

“Calling it the “Girls’ Lounge” instantly infantilises it, and makes it sounds frivolous. Isn’t creating an environment exclusively for women reinforcing the gender segregation that we need to overcome? And what’s with the pinkwash?”

The third said: “Our industry knows that it has a gender problem and is finally beginning to talk about it with the seriousness it deserves, but I think we’re a long way off from solving it.

“A good place to start would be by treating women like women – who can do business just as well as their male colleagues – and not like ‘girls’.”

Probably a good idea to drop the hot pants and Lycra too.



This article was amended on 20 September. The original incorrectly stated that the ladies in green lyrca were working for Adyen. They were actually employed by ResponseConcepts at the stand next door.

Yvonne Bowyer, Partner, CMS Strategic Automotive Advisors, on 17 Oct 2016
“For some DIY activism see the "I'm not a booth babe, just ask me a question" campaign, designed to challenge the stereotype of women's roles at such events. http://www.iamnotaboothbabe.com
Nekia Norris, Community Engagement Specialist, ISGS, on 17 Oct 2016
“"But if one of the most influential conferences in the world is perpetuating gender stereotypes and segregating and under-representing women in advertising and tech, how is our industry meant to overcome the sexism it claims it so desperately wants to eradicate?"

First and foremost, I'd like to point out the first thing that someone says in response to this type of rhetoric: Why are we generalising?? These methods, these "girls", these sexist by far represent the whole of the business world. There is no stereotyping or segregating in this event. At the end of the day (and the beginning) those "girls" do not represent all Women in the business world. They are doing what they know how to do... vainly look cute and serve as someone's or some companies means of attraction. If these companies are able to stay in business and are present on these platforms then obviously, there is either acceptance or setting aside of these behaviors. Its been going on for centuries and honestly until those who chose to be exploited (which is a matter of opinion), dress up in corny clown suits (or birthday suits) and serve as some means of lower self gratification, even if in the professional arena then that's truly on them. So much business in history has been made simultaneously with exploitation, usury, sex, crimes and drugs involved how can we really sit and worry our selves about these studs and babes?? Oh, because its offensive to someone who's ideologies & criticism must be superior in concept. Don't get me wrong, I personally am just fed up with the corniness in America in general. But please don't generalize women, talking sexism and segregation when you are trying to compare apples to oranges, girls to women, studs to intellectuals and individuals/businesses with professional boundaries and those without. These "girls" represent nothing that I represent as woman therefore they are in a category of their own. Hookers, vixens, play toys, playboy bunnies, harlots and provocative models are all in a professional class of their own. Nothing to do with me or any other professional woman in a different industry.”
Ane Ripoll-Zarraga, Ph.D. visiting researcher UAB. Auditor-Consultant Senior, UAB, on 15 Oct 2016
“Women fighting many years for equal pay; universal suffrage and having the power to say 'NO' these women rather ruin all the hard work of our predecessors. I am sorry, but as a woman I feel totally embarrassed. Again, may experience has shown me that this is only the iceberg principle, other women may not show off, but act as real sycophants within the work-environment to gain trustworthy and social and professional advantage positions rather than becoming hard-workers. So the question is who has the responsibility to stop this? Is any colleague (man or woman) really talking to and stopping them? http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/sycophant.html
Kaye Bewley, Author, Presenter, Publisher, BewleyBooks.com, on 15 Oct 2016
“The thing is, these models choose to do this work. Modelling is a lucrative and enjoyable employment for a certain type of woman (we're not all the same on this planet, thank goodness). Ok, so instead of taking one point of view (i.e. complaining about what you see and being offended by it), instead, take it as an opportunity to put it to the test and physically, emotionally and mentally do something about it. For instance, put your skills into action to create an event - where the women who design the products, create the products and buy the products - put on a show just for women - with male models doing what these women are doing. And see if it proves financially viable. But while accomplishing this task, men must not be denied the opportunity to get involved - just as they don't deny women the opportunity to get involved at every level.”
Donald Trump, CEO, TRUMP Enterprises, on 13 Oct 2016
“To be fair, it was probably a woman that hired those women in latex, because all women work in marketing.”
Bora Polat, Co-founder, Montemedia, on 26 Sep 2016
“2016 and still a man's world. Feels like pubescent boys in mens suits try to get an edge of advantage. Reminds be of what John Oliver once said (listen the first 40sec - beautiiiful) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDPCmmZifE8 Somebody hired those hostesses and for himself the sex-sells effect sure works.”
Blair Robertson, Chief Analytics Officer, TV Squared, on 22 Sep 2016
“I couldn't believe this when I saw it.”
Bob Hannent, TV Innovation Architect, TalkTalk, on 22 Sep 2016
“I remember only a few years ago being at IFA in Berlin and on the next stand there was a woman being body painted on a stage. It had nothing to do with the product being sold but it did attract a lot of sweaty men with cameras to stand in the isle. I am glad that at least in the trade shows I attend most "hostesses" are in 'office' dress and only a few companies use more ridiculous outfits”
Oscar Lopez, Owner, Polymedio Networks, on 22 Sep 2016
“I believe we must stop talking about MEN and WOMEN as something different if we want to grow in a world where we are all equal, the exact moment when we talk about MEN or WOMEN we are failing, we must talk about PEOPLE, PERSON not genre involved and we will start to grow as human beings.”
Michelle O'Mahoney, Strategy director, AKQA, on 21 Sep 2016
“What era are we....1980's?”
Isabel Ferreira, Head of customer development, Appsumer, on 21 Sep 2016
“This makes me sick! And it happens every year in all of the mobile/digital trade shows I normally attend. The image of these crap companies is a reflection of their even worse product. And women!!! Get a grip and stop behaving like little silly dolls!!!”
Rupert Graves, CEO, AdUnity, on 21 Sep 2016
“I find it hard to imagine that a marketing manager working in digital media thought this was a good idea. Having said that, I was at the show and didn't see any booth babes. So fortunately this is not representative of the industry. These companies must be last of the hold-outs. I very much doubt they will do this again!”
Anonymous, Industry Analyst, Exhibitor, on 21 Sep 2016
“I (a male) spoke with a co-founder of a prominent ad tech company (also male) at a booth at Dmexco, and during our conversation, he looked past me and commented, and I quote, "I'd like to get into that." I had no idea how to respond other than to ignore the comment and get back to the conversation at hand. Clearly, though, blatant sexism still exists at the very highest levels in the ad industry.”
Julien Lamour, Director, Business Development and Partnerships, Nielsen Marketing Cloud, on 20 Sep 2016
“Booth babes or the Ladies' lounge. A woman is either an object or too fragile to be treated equally.”
Daniele Tottle, Product Marketing Manager (EMEA & APAC) & Design Lead, Cint, on 20 Sep 2016
“Anyone that works in media that is worth their salt should see this kind of backfire from a mile away. Whoever still believes that the 'booth girl tactic' will give them an edge in this industry (in 2016) should seriously consider changing jobs.”
Georgia Noble, Enterprise Sales Development Representative, Dyn, on 20 Sep 2016
“Interesting article. I do believe women should wear what they like without being 'slut-shamed', but these companies are obviously just pandering to the male gaze at these still largely male-dominated events. I love the idea of the 'Ladies Lounge', but it would have been nice to see some interesting technology or something on display, rather than just hair, nails and a photographer - again, implying the old 'women as object to be looked at' cliché”

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