Ten women gathered around a table in a meeting room too brightly lit for a 9 p.m. session titled “Industry After Dark” at the 2014 SPINCon annual event in St. Louis. Described as a discussion about “The Stuff No One Talks About,” it came close to fitting the pitch, which proposed topics ranging from gender and generational inequality to bullying by co-workers or bosses. Part confessional, the stories shared by both planners and suppliers were not surprising. Every woman at the table had experienced some form of harassment or job discrimination, sexual or gender-based, either in industry jobs or at conventions, or both.
You’ve probably heard similar stories: room keys exchanged at an alcohol-fueled networking event, invitations to a client “dinner” that turned out to be at a strip club, and unequal pay or lack of advancement for equal jobs. The experiences are not limited to age, or even gender. Yet, as an industry and at our events, we rarely talk about these issues. Mostly, we keep them to ourselves, having learned to shoulder them quietly and politely, or they become a subject of gossip. (The media attention surrounding the most recent allegations against Bill Cosby is an example of how poorly we deal with this common problem in our society.)
The choice should not be about survival in the industry, as one woman put it, but instead about integrity, responsibility, respect and ethics. We pride ourselves in the meetings and hospitality business with a commitment to bettering the world through our events. CSR activities, sustainability policies, mentoring initiatives and cultural outreach are included in many conferences. Planners and hoteliers have even helped raise awareness about human trafficking associated with the convention and travel industry.
“The motto that when we meet we change the world expresses our aspiration to host experiences that generate improvements in the world we live in.” —Event Manager Blog
We can and should go further to educate staff, particularly younger people entering the industry, as well as attendees about professional standards of conduct and responsible behavior at events. What is required of you at networking events, especially after hours? What do you do if faced with an offensive remark or proposal from an important client? How do you prove your value, seek transparency in the industry and request compensation based solely on performance?
Controversial issues? Yes. Worthy of discussion, not only after hours, but also as part of regular programming? Definitely.
If you’d like to share your experience or action plans, please contact me <email link?>. I will be writing a larger story on these topics in a future issue.
Related: 3 Taboo Topics for Meeting Planners