Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Opinion: Why trade shows can and must evolve

#GalsNGear founder Amy DeLouise explains how media technology trade shows can take intentional steps to fully reflect the full diversity of people who are part of our fast-changing industry

Take a look around any trade show floor in the media, entertainment or tech industry and you’ll notice something. Or rather, the lack of something. Women. Especially women of colour. While there are more women in sales and marketing now than in decades past, trade shows in our industry are still something of a “white bro-fest” as a leading technologist I know once dubbed them. “Manels”—all male panels—are still common, despite plenty of women with expertise in a range of technical tools, workflows and case studies.

Why worry?

If we are to be sustainable as a constantly evolving industry, we need our trade shows to reflect the people who design and use the tools we are selling, and consume the content we make. Take software demos. It’s still common for a woman to be at the welcome desk, but for a guy to be running the demo.

Booths selling cameras may still feature a seductively clothed female model draping herself over a chair, “reading” a book, while guys line up to look at her through different lenses. Why should a silent, sexualised woman be the subject of the lens and not hosting the demo? And yet there are literally thousands of women camera operators. (At #GALSNGEAR, we have often brought DP’s and other tech-saavy women to host demos at trade show booths. And thankfully, many of our allies and partners are already doing just that!) 

Where are the women?

One company owner told me “we have trouble finding lady engineers”. (Could that be because women don’t want to work for a company that calls them “lady engineers”?) In fairness, women do get fewer engineering degrees than men. However, women with these skills are not gravitating to our media & entertainment field. According to Pew Research, in 2021, women made up 50 per cent of those employed in STEM jobs in the US. That number is 25 per cent in the UK. Pew’s assessment showed women with STEM degrees are opting into healthcare, rather than computer science or engineering jobs. Women in healthcare are more likely to be promoted, with peers and mentors who are also women. They can see a path to leadership; they belong. We could make that happen in M&E.

Why does It matter?

According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. Investing in retention is a smart business move. Companies can do this by nominating younger and more diverse members of their team to participate in trade show events alongside veterans. Make your case that this is not a marketing budget line item. It is a Human Resources and employee retention investment.

Released at the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, the Capital One Women in Tech 2019 survey revealed a number of top factors cited by women who reached leadership positions in tech. Retention was driven by “having a sense of purpose at work”, which is why trade shows can make a difference. Because these gatherings foster a shared sense of purpose.

Educational sessions help us to be visible, be recognised, and see how our own work plays a role in the larger industry. And of course, we have a drink with old friends and meet new ones, building key networks for ourselves and our companies. Attendees feel a greater sense of belonging. They see the big picture. They’re more likely to stick to a career path in our industry. And we need them at every level of the career pipeline.

What’s on our trade show checklist?
  1. Trade shows that haven’t already should explicitly ban scantily clothed models and sexualized content on the booth. Most have already done so. 
  2. Attending companies can coach less experienced attendees how to navigate the experience. Introduce them around.  Help them build their networks. Through #GALSNGEAR, we will be bringing a dozen career professionals and students to NAB Show. Most have never attended. More than half are women of colour. At the show, our Women’s Leadership Summit showcases women in media talking about technology and building your leadership brand. We have also brought diverse voices to speak on technical topics to Infocomm, SXSW, and IBC. This is just a small step towards supporting that sense of belonging so vital to our industry’s sustainability.
  3. Conference organisers should not accept all-male panels in their programming, period. Adding a woman “moderator” isn’t the solution. If you’ve been invited to speak on a panel, before accepting, ask for the gender and racial breakdown of your session, and suggest qualified participants who don’t look like you. And yes, this could mean reaching out beyond your usual “I know a guy” networks. #GALSNGEAR and many other women’s organisations are here to help. Since 2016, we have placed more than 350 expert speakers who also happen to be women.

We have a way to go before the trade show floor reflects the full diversity of people who we serve and who will be a part of our fast-changing industry. But by taking intentional steps as individuals and companies, we have the power to make it happen.