The correct answer for “How many penises have you seen in your workplace?” should be zero. For me, the answer is 2. And as shocking as that may seem to some of you, I am not alone. Search #MeToo for proof.
The sexual harassment scandals that are currently rocking the headlines are not limited to the hotels of Hollywood or the halls of government. That is the low hanging fruit; big names and big targets, people we “know” with much to lose by their abhorrent behavior.
What it’s time to talk about is right under our noses. And it’s not pretty.
Recently I was a trade show that had a very successful outreach with a design school. The students created materials using digital print technology for the first time, and the trade show created a space for them to share their creations. The students came to the show, participated in some formal programming, and walked the floor. On the surface, a successful partnership and experience was had by all. See their smiling faces and polite responses for reference.
Cut to the hotel.
A gaggle of college students walked in along with their teacher. We got to talking in the lounge area. It started off with great enthusiasm, the students were amazed by the digital print capabilities they were introduced to and eager to learn more on the show floor. Rather quickly their optimisim and excitement turned to disillusionment. The female students learned a few of the exhibitors at the show were not as enthusiastic about helping them learn as they were about gawking at them, and making inappropriate sexual overtures.
I have to admit, I was shocked. Believing them wasn’t a question. But the idea that this behavior was out in the open, literally in the aisles, made me feel a mixture of rage, shame and ultimately disappointment in the hypocrisy of our industry.
I promised the students I wouldn’t let it go.
Here is what I learned from them, about us:
Stop selling! Before they could be harassed, some of the students were dismissed and ignored by a few of the exhibitors they wanted to learn from. I have experienced this myself since I am also not a purchaser at trade shows, although if someone glances to see my press or speaker pass I can usually get some quick information. The students had no shot with their badges. They were devastated by this. It actually made me cry to hear that their excitement to embrace the print industry and learn how to use our technology in their design projects was squashed, multiple times.
Stop lying! That is for everyone who takes a “we need more students to embrace a career path in print” stance, and doesn’t do anything to create a proactive (and safe!) path for that to happen at industry events. How many audible moans and groans waft across the show floor on student days? Please, rethink this, and quickly. PLAN for them, embrace them and help them to embrace us through positive experience and knowledge sharing.
Stop hiding! To all of the business owners out there, now is the time to make sure your house in order. Review your sexual harassment policies, communicate no tolerance consequences to employees, and find out what is really going on in your office. For the events, I get that you cannot control behavior at every booth, but you can set an etiquette policy that all exhibitors must adhere to. Certainly, we can agree that the harassment and inappropriate behavior rules that apply to society, also apply under a convention hall roof… under your watch.
As Girl #2 at Girls Who Print, I would be a hypocrite to let this student experience end when the lights at this show switched off. I did communicate with the shows’ management about the students, they were upset to say the least, and sadly found out that one of their own team had experienced inappropriate, i.e comments of a sexual nature, from an exhibitor at their own show! The magnitude of that truth should shake you to your core. If someone with a SHOW BADGE isn’t safe from sexual harassment at their own event, much worse is going on in the trade show halls and within your office walls… and trust me, it is. I’ve seen it, heard about it and experienced it first-hand. I am not alone.
While we don’t all agree on much these days, it appears most of us agree that zero is the number of penises one should be exposed to at work, zero is the number of sexual innuendos and comments one should be exposed to during a trade show, and zero will be the tolerance of those subjected to any of it, from now on.
My sincere thanks to the students for speaking up and saying NO… loud and clear.
Deborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse at PrintMediaCentr, a Print Buyerologist™, Integrated Marketer, Industry Speaker and Blogger, Cultivator of the Print Production Professionals Group, the #1 Print Group on LinkedIn, and host of #PrintChat, a weekly industry gathering on Twitter every Wednesday at 4PM ET. She has 25+ years experience working in advertising as a Print Producer, and currently works behind the scenes with printers, suppliers and industry organizations helping them to achieve success with their social media marketing endeavors, and create meaningful relationships.
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