GSMA Catches Flack for MWC Babygate

Should trade shows be accommodating of parents with infants? The GSMA is grappling with that question after one mom was denied entrance to MWC with her breastfed newborn.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

February 29, 2016

3 Min Read
GSMA Catches Flack for MWC Babygate

Security at Mobile World Congress is notoriously tough to get through -- they require passports, pre-registration and several checkpoints. This is in part because the show is massive and theft is common, as are people trying to sneak in without paying. This year's show was no different -- in fact, security was so tough a suspiciously adorable five-month old baby was denied entrance with her breastfeeding mother.

According to Francisco Hernandez Marcos, who blogged about the incident (in Spanish), his wife was denied entrance to MWC because she wanted to bring in her un-credentialed five-month old to keep her close by for breastfeeding.

Hernandez Marcos, who later met his wife outside the show to take the baby while she went in, was then asked to leave a bench outside the Fira despite the fact that it was in a public space and he did actually have MWC credentials.

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We know that MWC is a money-making machine for the GSM Association (GSMA) , so they were likely reluctant to let in a non-paying attendee of any age, but is this a women's rights issue or more simply a failure to think outside the box? (See MWC's Millions: Hot-for-Profit in Barcelona.)

GSMA rep Claire Cranton writes in a email to WiC that they are still investigating the issue, but extend sincere apologies to the family. The organization runs a Mobile Explorers Club with programs for children age 8 to 15 that may need to attend MWC with their parents and can also refer attendees to additional childcare services outside of the Club age range or hours of service. Cranton also points out that the Fira has a lactation room available for nursing mothers.

"While Mobile World Congress is a business event, we on occasion do allow children under the age of 16 to attend, provided that they are accompanied by an adult who would be responsible for them and who possesses a valid MWC pass," Cranton says. "Families would need to contact us in advance to make such arrangements and we would provide a signed letter that they would use to access the venue and carry with them inside the venue."

This is only something the GSMA does in exceptional circumstances and when done in advance. Hernandez Marcos did not make such a request, she says.

To me, the idea of bringing an infant to any trade show, let alone one as huge, over-stimulating and germ-infested as MWC, is a bit crazy. (Although, we have to start interest in STEM early, right?!) I would rather work for an employer understanding enough to let me sit out this year's show if breastfeeding were a priority that inhibited me from going.

That said, not letting a baby in is a bit silly as well. It's not likely to become a trend and could've generated great press for the GSMA rather than a situation they need to investigate and manage.

As I mentioned, the MWC security staff isn't exactly known for rule-bending. I've had trouble getting past security before and have had colleagues denied passes for all manner of silly reasons (as blogger David Benjamin also describes here). I imagine -- or hope -- that the situation would've been handled differently if someone with authority to waive the pre-reg requirement were involved.

This whole work-life balance thing means different things to different people, and it requires a little flexibility from everyone involved.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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