Associations Fight Sexual Harassment at Events
The leading associations in the meetings and events industry are banding together to address sexual harassment in the industry. “It's imperative that our organizations present a united front against sexual harassment in the industry," said Kiki Fox, president of the Association for Women in Events (AWE), who helped create the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force (EISHTF). "Together, we are declaring zero tolerance for behavior that harasses or discriminates."

The task force includes representatives from AWE; American Society of Association Executives (ASAE); the Events Industry Council; IMEX; the Joint Meetings Industry Council; Meeting Professionals International (MPI); Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA); and Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE).

A recent survey by MeetingsNet of meeting planners and suppliers found that 56 percent of women and 31 percent of men said they had been sexually harassed at a conference.

"The mission of the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force is to eliminate sexual harassment by increasing awareness and providing resources and education to the meetings and events industry,” said Carrie Abernathy, co-founder of AWE and the chair of the task force.

Each of the organizations represented in the task force have already been addressing sexual harassment prevention separately. For example, Meeting Professionals International recently updated its Principles of Professionalism to state that MPI will not tolerate harassment of any kind and will implement non-harassment training for all staff, board members, and chapter volunteer leaders. It also established a confidential, independently serviced harassment hotline for complaints to be raised and investigated.

PCMA launched an initiative called the Ascent CEO Promise, which asks CEOs in the events industry to commit to embracing a culture of inclusiveness in their organizations and events. The goals are to make workplaces and events open and trusting settings, to provide education on barriers to inclusivity, and to share solutions and challenges. Already, more than 100 industry CEOs have signed.

Associations outside of the events industry are also addressing harassment. For example, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) has an anti-harassment policy that states its commitment to providing a safe meeting environment for attendees, suppliers, and staff. “ASBMR is committed to providing a safe, welcoming and productive meeting environment that fosters open dialogue and the exchange of scientific ideas, promotes equal opportunities and treatment for all participants, and is free of harassment and discrimination. All participants are expected to treat others with respect and consideration, follow venue rules, and alert staff or security of any dangerous situations or anyone in distress,” the statement reads. “ASBMR prohibits any form of harassment, sexual or otherwise. Harassment should be reported immediately to ASBMR staff.” The policy also defines what harassment is, outlines the process for reporting an incident, and details the disciplinary actions of violating the policy.

The task force will develop guiding principles and tips that associations and other organizations can use to build their own anti-harassment programs and initiatives. The idea is to come up with standards that go beyond the confines of each organization to reach the entire industry. While the task force will be releasing educational materials, webinars, and other resources in the coming weeks and months, a good place for associations to start is to create a code of conduct policy for meetings and events, Abernathy said.

“We want to make sure momentum isn't lost after the #metoo movement,” explained Abernathy. “We want to ensure that it doesn't lose any importance in the events industry, as it is a topic that must be tackled.”
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