Perspective

This extravagant party during #BIO18 featured topless dancers, and industry leaders are not pleased

An infamous industry party held during the BIO International Convention in Boston last week has come under fire for featuring scantily clad female dancers with sponsor logos painted on their bodies.

Kate Strayer-Benton

After an attendee, Kate Strayer-Benton, provided photos of the Party at Bio Not Associated with Bio (better known as PABNAB) to the media and openly spoke against it, some sponsors as well as officials of the trade group reacted with a mix of condemnation and disappointment.

Strayer-Benton — director of strategy at Momenta Pharma — told BioCentury, which first reported the news, that the entertainment was “beyond tone-deaf.”

“We can talk all we want about diversity on panels and in the boardroom, but when events like this are commonplace, I just think it undermines all the progress being made by industry groups and drug companies,” Strayer-Benton elaborated to STAT. “I just think we take giant steps backwards when something like this is considered acceptable.”

Martina Molsbergen

Now in its 14th year, PABNAB is known for its extravagant vibe in direct contrast to the networking event that it’s in a sense born out of — but emphatically not affiliated with.

C14 Consulting Group, one of three organizers of this year’s event, also helped organize last year’s event and was a sponsor in 2016, according to social media records. CEO Martina Molsbergen told BioCentury that last week’s party was “edgy and artsy” — and in line with what its sponsors have come to expect.

She added that C14 has received “very positive feedback from sponsors” who “were very happy with the party and the way it went, and did not feel uncomfortable,” but BioCentury noted she declined to name any specific sponsors who had been in touch.

Anna Chrisman, managing director of EBD Group, said she was concerned about the dancers’ presence at the party but wanted to make sure the organizers were not misrepresented (EBD was one of five gold sponsors of the event):

EBD has supported Pabnab for a number of years. We don’t see it as a corporate reception, but a place that celebrates friendships in the biotech community. Unfortunately, this year we were unaware of the dancers until we arrived on site. We do not condone this element of the party, and we voiced our concern onsite and afterwards and know that this will not happen again. The organizers are mainly women, and among them are successful, outspoken female executives who have been trailblazers for women in this industry. There are many things that can be said about this party, but it is not run by or for the “old boys club.”

Anna Chrisman

In rallying against PABNAB’s employment of female dancers, Strayer-Benton borrowed from BioCentury president Karen Bernstein and SV Life Sciences Advisers managing partner Kate Bingham, who wrote an open letter to the biopharma industry in 2016 after attending “yet another cocktail party in which inappropriately clad women served as eye candy” at the JP Morgan conference.

The event referenced was a LifeSci Advisors after party, which hired a number of young female models to escort guests. The letter sparked considerable outrage, with some 230 signatures from industry leaders. LifeSci Advisors eventually apologized, and has since launched initiatives to address gender diversity in companies.

John Maraganore

Strayer-Benton took a substantial portion of Bernstein and Bingham’s letter but rewrote some of it to reflect the PABNAB event. It reads, in part: “We acknowledged in 2016 that it was time for us, as senior women and men in the industry, to say ‘Enough.’ So, how is it, in this world where #TimesUp and #Me Too have shown the spotlight on so many industries, an ‘after party’ sponsored by companies within our own industry features topless [female] dancers?”

Sara Demy, whose firm Demy-Colton also sponsored the event, said she was not involved in the organization of the event and is “saddened and disappointed by what transpired.”

“It is was absolutely not okay. Not today, not ever,” she wrote in an email. “There was a troupe of 40+ Broadway worthy dancers, who went through multiple costume changes while I was there. It wasn’t until I was on my way out that I noticed the other dancers. Frankly, it made me ill.”

BIO executives took note. STAT reported that the committee on workforce development, diversity, and inclusion discussed the event on an emergency phone call on Tuesday and decided members who continue to sponsor the even would not be welcome in the trade group. Ken Lisaius, BIO’s SVP of communications, later clarified that since the event conflicted with their principles, they would encourage members to speak to event organizers to ensure future events feature “more appropriate entertainment.”

“We cannot stand for an event like that that is debasing and is frankly not consistent with our standards around inclusion,” said John Maraganore, BIO chairman and CEO of Alnylam, to STAT.


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