Back in the day I worked for an organization that was quite keen on holding team retreats. These were off-site business affairs held at a somewhat centrally located resort or venue that could accommodate business meetings, dinners and frivolity for 100 or so managers for several days. Spouses/partners (SPs) were invited as well and, in a gesture of goodwill, the company arranged outings and activities for the SPs during the day while the staffers were locked up doing humdrum SWOT analyses and strategy stuff.

Several weeks before the gathering an itinerary of the available outings was sent out so that the SPs could sign up for their preferred activities; among the offerings were things like golf, shopping excursions, horseback riding, a day at the spa, cooking classes, and canoe trips. Now, people being what people are, there was a general guesstimate by the organizers up at the corporate office that the female SPs would sign up for cooking classes, spa trips and a visit to the local shopping district while the male SPs, naturally, would want to play golf, hop on an outrigger, and scale the nearest mountain while doing very very manly things like posing with the wild animals they caught. Or something.

One year however I got a phone call from a very perplexed administrative assistant/planning person at the corporate office who wanted to see if I could check with a few of the managers from my region to ascertain if, in fact, the female SP (of one manager) really wanted to go hiking and the male SP (of another manager) truly meant to sign up for the day at the spa.

A thing of the past…..right? Well, not quite.

Yesterday a friend of mine attended a seminar for organizational leaders (primarily Finance and HR) and was the lucky winner of a door prize/raffle called “The Executive Bag.” As she described it (see picture above)…”turns out the event sponsor thinks executives are 2XL males who like to golf.” (oh…and “The Executive Bag” contained two (2!) wine bottle openers with no wine………….#SuperSad).

Now I know it’s often a thankless task being the person responsible for ordering booth swag or assembling raffle prizes for a corporate or community shindig. Many a work relationship has blown up when one event organizer screamed at another in a planning session “Well if you’re so smart Betsy then you tell me exactly how many L vs. XL t-shirts we should order!”  

But this? How tone-deaf to think that a prize like this would go over at a leadership seminar with just as many females as males in attendance. Is it that only the men are truly ‘executives?’ Did the vendor/sponsor also have a designated “Lady Executive Bag” that held nail polish, a box of tampons, and a hair dryer?

One of the last bastions where this stereotyping exists is HR conference land. I’ve also witnessed it at payroll, education and healthcare conferences; three additional professions that tend to skew female.  Sadly the time-worn cliché of “Give Away a Coach Bag to Get the HR Gals to Visit Your Booth” is a cliché for a reason; over the years I’ve witnessed hordes of female conference attendees in orgasmic frenzy as they dropped their business cards in fish bowls.

I’ll admit I’m not, personally, a gatherer of swag; I keep things pretty minimalist at home and certainly don’t need to cart home loads of crap from a conference that will only clutter up my desk or closet or bookshelves. I’m not an idiot though so if someone wants to give me a new iPhone or some other fancy gizmo at a conference I’m all about taking home the booty.

But if you try to get my business by playing up dated gender stereotypes…keep the bag.

I don’t want it.

 

 

A Primer on Gender Friendly Conference & Event Swag
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