History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies the same defeats
– from Beyond Belief by Elvis Costello
Some of you may remember my blog post and other reportage on the now legendary LifeSci Advisors party that occurred at the 2016 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference (a party not sponsored by JP Morgan). That event, where a bunch of guys hired a bunch of scantily clad models to entertain the largely male party goers, led to some very visible gender equity blowback In fact, the event triggered the world’s biggest tsunami caused by hand-waving. But seriously, it led to all sorts of mea culpa behavior and numerous public protestations about how IT CAN NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! CEOs promised to promote gender equality and LifeSci Advisors somehow saw the light and started a women in the board room training program.
History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.
– from Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult
And yet, and yet. StatNews’ Rebecca Robbins published a story this week about how a group called PABNAB (which stands for Party at BIO Not Affiliated with BIO), hosted yet another scandalous party, this time at the massive BIO 2018 conference in Boston. This particular party was appropriately called the Resurrection Ball. Featuring topless dancers adorned with party sponsor logos painted on their bodies, PABNAB resurrected what was likely the most condemned experience in healthcare conference history. Nice work guys.
PABNAB’s facebook page , which does not let on who runs the thing, says that its purpose is “the ‘anti’party held each year on the Wednesday night of the BIO International Conference.” If by anti, they mean anti-female, they are #winning.
Same old story, same old song
Goes all right til it goes all wrong
– from Same Old Story by BB King
In Robbins’ article, the chairman of the trade group that puts on the BIO conference says that he was horrified to learn of the party and that BIO is warning member companies that sponsored this year’s PABNAB that if they sponsor the event again in the future, they’ll be kicked out of the trade group. I am heartened by this response. But why not take action now against those that made the distasteful party planning decisions? It’s not like anyone on the planet missed the stories and massive call to arms that occurred in 2016 after the LifeSci Advisors party. They need yet another warning not to behave badly in a world that has been going through the #MeToo movement and all that’s associated with it? Let’s out these PABNAB organizing folks, shall we? And let’s make them feel as comfortable as women are sometimes made to feel in the workplace. Let the collective shaming begin.
And to put a finer point on it, a significant number of the sponsors of the 2018 PABNAB party signed an open letter in 2016, after the LifeSci Advisors party, in which they pledged not to hire scantily clad women for parties and specifically expressed their support for a world in which women were not hired as sex objects to entertain men in biotech. In the Robbins article, several of these sponsors state that they did not know their logos would be painted on the naked chests of women. And to be fair that may well be true. But my question is this: how many employees of these sponsors were in attendance and chose not to say anything, chose not to leave, decided it was just fine and to hell with that letter that was oh so 2016? I don’t know the answer to this, but I have not read any articles about the mass walk out of attendees. I wish I had. Instead the pictures show a ton of people having a jolly good time. I’m all for a good time, but is this really the only way to do it? Ironic that in the BIO exhibit hall there were likely tons of companies handing out t-shirt swag and the lady entertainers at the party didn’t get any.
The newspapers shout a new style is growing,
But it don’t know if it’s coming or going,
There is fashion, there is fad
Some is good, some is bad
and the joke rather sad,
That it’s all just a little bit of History repeating.
-History Repeating, Propellerheads
It’s so depressing to think that our industry may not have the capacity to learn. As the mother of a daughter, like so many of my healthcare industry brethren, I am feeling pretty confident that this will still be happening when my daughter starts in the working world. Oh wait, she just did. So I have warned her: this still happens and this BS is very real. Just because the issue is more out in the open, doesn’t mean everyone read the memo. Don’t condone misogynistic behavior and don’t condone people who participate in it. I wish I could have told her that the new world professional business order did not feature topless women as party favors. I wish I could have told her that all those healthcare people trying to “make the world a better place” meant it should be better for everyone. Instead I have told her to buckle up, keep sight of your t-shirt, and prepare to be disgusted. Don’t lose hope, but don’t kid yourself. And above all else, if you show up at a work party that makes you feel uncomfortable and which you know to be hypocritical and demeaning to women, get the hell out. And drag others with you.
History repeats itself, Coiling down into the future,
When it’s one second to twelve, the hands touch and furrow deeper
– from History Repeats Itself by A.O.S.
The real tragedy is the lack of consequences. Another year, another frat party. In a business that relies almost entirely on women as customers (85% of health decisions are made by women), that has been beaten up for under-representation of women in management teams and on boards, that has promised to do better, we are a long way from the promised land. Clearly humiliating articles and public letters and pledges to right the gender wrong are not doing much to help. I was beside myself thinking about this last night. How could people be this stupid? With all the strides that women are taking to advance their own interests, and with the support of many men, it only takes a few idiots to set the bar back 25 years.
I’d love to know what people who were at that party think should be done. Why did you stay? Why did you think it was ok to feature or condone topless dancers two years after something less egregious was so aggressively called out? What the hell were you thinking? Seriously. I’d like to know.