A file photograph of a party. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

Biotech Firms Run Away After Industry Party With Topless Dancers

(Bloomberg) -- Biotechnology and pharma companies scrambled to distance themselves from an industry party where topless dancers’ bodies were painted with sponsor logos.

Corporate sponsors of the event threatened to pull their backing after learning from attendees about the near-nudity. Photos provided by attendees of the June 6 party show a dancer clad only in a flower crown, boots, pasties and a bikini bottom with the name of Selexis SA, a Swiss biotech company, painted on her right thigh. Another firm’s name, Alpha Blue Ocean, was inscribed on her stomach. While held in Boston concurrently with the annual meeting of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the party is unaffiliated with the trade group.

“How in the world would they imagine this could be a good idea?” said Pierre Vannineuse, chief executive officer of Alpha Blue Ocean, a London-based investment firm that helped sponsor the event. Vannineuse said he had arrived late at the party and had only heard about the dancers after some party attendees aired their concerns this week. “I’m just very surprised.”

Concerns about the treatment of women in professional settings have risen amid the MeToo movement and prosecution of film producer Harvey Weinstein on charges of rape and sexual abuse. The name of the event, Party At BIO Not Associated With BIO, or PABNAB, suggested the event’s detachment from the trade organization.

Over the Line

Jim Greenwood, BIO’s president and CEO, called the inclusion of the dancers “inappropriate” and said their hiring “does not reflect the values of this industry, BIO or the event’s sponsors.”

“At a time when our industry and BIO are determined to come together to embrace equality, confront unconscious bias, and condemn sexist attitudes, this event -- which is independent of BIO -- showed lack of awareness and sensitivity,” he said.

The outcry echoed objections to a function at the 2016 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, where organizers hired models to attend in short, tight dresses. Two female executives wrote an open letter demanding action after the San Francisco party. On Monday, Kate Strayer-Benton, Director of Strategy at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc., re-issued the earlier letter with details from the Boston event, highlighting similarities between the incidents.

“One of the first things we noticed when we walked in was a topless dancer on a small stage,” said Strayer-Benton, who took photos at the event. “It was so far over the line. The fact they were topless was bad enough. The fact they were branded with sponsorship was really disturbing to me.”

Not Happy

A spokesman for Selexis, which also helped sponsor the event, said the company didn’t approve the painting of its name on the dancer and declined further comment. Vannineuse said his firm won’t sponsor the PABNAB event again next year if the actions are repeated. Nanobiotix, a Paris-based biotech, said continuing to sponsor the event is not an option.

“We were not aware of the entertainment, and we are not happy about it at all,” Nanobiotix spokeswoman Sarah Gaubert said in an email. “We didn’t have a check on how our brand was used here. This is not acceptable.”

More than 20 companies were sponsors plus another two dozen individuals. They included German drugmaker Bayer AG, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for another, Xencor Inc., said the company didn’t know about the dancers ahead of time and in the past, its sponsorship has been acknowledged “on signage and invitations.”

Anna Chrisman, a managing director at EBD Group whose company was a sponsor, said she learned about companies’ names on the dancers when she arrived and requested EBD not be included. She said that having names painted on dancers wasn’t part of her company’s sponsorship package. Chrisman pointed out the event is organized mainly by successful female business executives.

“It’s not run for or by an old boys club,” she said.

Devils’ Horns

Previous editions of PABNAB, an extravagant costume party held annually on the sidelines of the BIO International Convention, had featured women dancing in cages and bikini-clad go-go girls wearing glowing devils’ horns, according to photos posted on the event’s website and Facebook page.

PABNAB was organized by C14 Consulting Group, a Malvern, Pennsylvania-based firm owned by Martina Molsbergen. She said she wasn’t offended by the dancers. No party attendees complained, and previous years’ parties had also included topless women, she said. She called names on the bodies “an expression of art and marketing.”

Jamison La Guardia, director of marketing and special events at Royale Boston nightclub, where the party was held, said the venue referred a vendor to C14 to hire the dancers. “They definitely were not topless,” La Guardia said. “They had pasties on.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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