The winning agency of this year’s Digital Entrepreneur Awards (DEAs), Lab, is to return its Agency of the Year award after itself and a number of other nominees complained about the "sexist" tone of the ceremony.
During the Manchester-hosted event, the male awards presenter was escorted on stage at the start of the evening by dancing girls wearing feathers and hot pants. This was followed by entertainment from the narrator of ITV’s hit reality series Love Island, Iain Sterling, who also proved unpopular with the room while describing his job as “watching people shagging,” according to Mando managing director, Ian Finch.
Finch also claimed while writing about the event in a Linkedin post, that it had predominantly awarded men but that women who did receive or hand out awards were subsequently faced with “tired, arguably sexist jokes,” in doing so.
— Emma Bridge (@Emma_Banks) November 22, 2017
Sad to see this on Instagram this morning. @ukdea: for an industry where equality and inclusivity is on everyone's mind...
— Tim Dobson (@tdobson) November 23, 2017
“Over the course of the evening, the general unease mounted and as we left and journeyed home, the gravity of what had happened started to sink in, the flat feeling of a less-than great night out became anger and frustration at how something like this could happen,” he added.
Many attendees took to Twitter to complain about the events that unfolded during the night too. Jonny Tooze, co-founder and managing director of Lab, which took home the Agency of the Year award has since said that he will return their award in protest; a move he has since confirmed to The Drum.
Writing on Linkedin, Tooze said of the ceremony, and returning the trophy: “Their recent event in the North contained strong sexist themes. On top of that the events have been peppered with scantily dressed dancers. This is 2017. We're all pushing so hard to create equality in our industry and this makes us sad… As an agency we don't share these values, so we can't be associated with the DEAs until they totally reboot their attitude.”
It was initially a tough decision to not sponsor #DEA2017. But looking through the hashtag I think we made the right decision. I definitely don't support events that makes the very few women in our industry feel uncomfortable and any women looking in feel like they don't belong. https://t.co/ZjF5R8aqvd
— Michael Howe (@MichaelEHowe) November 22, 2017
Following the highly negative response to the event, the organisers issued a response that was then deleted. The initial response explained to those complaining that the claims of sexism were incorrect as the event was run by an all-female team.
To be entirely oblivious to major issues in your own industry is pretty bad, but to be completely unwilling to learn and grow from the experience is another level of facepalm where my hand has gone all the way through my face. #DEA2017https://t.co/XTbKgRNqPN
— Bex (@RebeccaWho) November 24, 2017
This was subsequently followed up with a more contrite apology entitled: "We’re sorry", which read: “Our aim was to celebrate tech and never to undermine the incredible women in the industry or do anything to negate the work everyone in the industry is doing to promote equality and redress the balance.” The full remaining apology can be read in the tweet below:
— DEAs (@UKDEA) November 24, 2017
The apology also questioned whether the awards would run again following the outcry from Wednesday night.
The event did not escape the watchful eye of industry lightening rod and champion of female professionals, Cindy Gallop who condemned what she was seeing over Twitter.
We're battling sexual harassment, sexism, lack of gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the tech industry everywhere, and this is what you're doing @UKDEA@IainDoesJokes#DEA2017? #changetheratio#diversity#metoohttps://t.co/GRZkTQfyjA
— Cindy Gallop (@cindygallop) November 22, 2017