Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell asks if it is time to cover up.
Even if you go back just 10 years, the thought of complaining about companies using sex to sell products at a trade show (particularly in the construction industry) would have been laughable.
I remember attending one Fensterbau a few years ago, and suddenly finding myself in the middle of a catwalk/fashion parade/1980s pop video – there were underdressed women everywhere. I can’t lie: I enjoyed it, but I suppose that was the point. However, I didn’t feel comfortable, even though the stand I was on at the time wasn’t alone in this sexualised approach to marketing.
And I think this is the point: using sex in this way had been normalised. It is because of this that the organisers of Construction Week should be applauded for taking criticism of it 2017 show on the chin, and responding positively [LINK TO ‘1 UK CONS WEEK’ STORY] by publishing a guide to appropriate conduct.
Nathan Garnett, director of UK Construction Week, said: “We want the show to be lively, fun and engaging, and these measures should not be interpreted as restrictions upon that. Promoting a more diverse and inclusive image of construction is a joyful thing.
“But the fear of getting it wrong is holding the construction industry back from a frank conversation about diversity, equality and inclusion.”
And this is another worry. People who complain about semi-naked women walking the halls of trade shows run the risk of being criticised for not appreciating a harmless bit of fun, and that construction could do with a bit of glamour.
Unfortunately, you’d be naïve to think that’s where it ended (if you could be persuaded that women in bikinis selling windows was acceptable) – we can’t turn a blind eye to the after-show entertainment, and the evening exodus from the halls to the lap dancing bars.
Aaron Reid, head of sustainable procurement at Balfour Beatty, said the new UKCW exhibition guide represents a shift change in accelerating cultural transformation in the industry and addressing the current skills shortage.
“It is essential that the industry joins together to ensure that a career is construction is considered an attractive option, and that we grow to become representative of the communities in which we operate,” he said.
The new guide from UKCW sets out an exhibitor code of conduct, including on stand design and themes, and the staffing of stands.
“Consider the mix of staff you have on the stand (gender, age, ethnicity etc),” it says. “Do they represent the diversity of your company, and if not, be prepared to explain why not.”
I spoke to Paul Godwin, managing director of the FIT Show, to see if he and his colleagues had made any policy changes following the announcement by UKCW. He said that, despite the double glazing industry’s rather colourful past when it comes to using sex to sell windows, today the industry is effectively self policing. However, he did acknowledge that it hadn’t been totally eradicated.
In a statement, the FIT Show said: “The FIT Show does not support the use of inappropriately dressed female promotional staff on stands. Any progress to empower women in industry is one that we as organisers wholeheartedly support.
“At the 2017 event it was clear that, with very few exceptions, the use of ‘promo’ girls in this way had become a thing of the past. It would appear that the industry has substantially policed itself without the requirement of any controls imposed by us as organisers.
“We would certainly never encourage the marginalisation of women and we would like to take this opportunity to promise renewed vigour in our stance towards diversity, equality and inclusion at the 2019 show and onwards.
“We will continue to encourage the use of professional and appropriate advertising techniques, and leading by example. We have always used men and women in equal measure and always dressed appropriately to assist in the running of the event.”
All people should feel welcomed – encouraged – to follow a career in construction. Any activity that discourages this, in my mind, is unacceptable. As usual, I would be happy to listen to your views, and I will consider all responses for publication.