#MeToo Meets Meetings

#MeTooEstablishing code of conduct at events is now a top priority as nearly 60 percent of women event planners report having endured sexual harassment at some stage in their careers, and work toward turning the tide.

This statistic, reported by Prevue Meetings & Incentives and the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence in a soon-to-be-released joint survey of 708 women, has found footing in the #MeToo movement and its growing outcry over sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. Establishing clearly communicated protocol and procedures for sexual harassment and assault at meetings and events is now a top priority. “That includes providing event staff and security with specific instructions on how to handle reports of harassment,” explains Annette Naif, founder of Naif Productions, a NYC-based strategic event planning, design and production firm.

“We also need our attendees to know that we will not tolerate sexual harassment at our events and that immediate action will be taken,” she says. Naif suggests adding language on clients’ event websites stating that there is a no-tolerance policy for sexual harassment with strict and immediate consequences, and vetting speakers for their content and any activities they have planned to be sure they are not offensive.

“It behooves employers, not just as a legal matter, but in terms of being a good employer, to have a culture that does not support harassment and to take real steps to ensure this.”

The Legality of Sexual Harassment

When you hear about sexual harassment cases, they are usually being brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, adds Tom Spiggle, founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, whose specialties include sexual harassment. While the federal act only applies to employers with 15 or more full-time employees, some US states and municipalities have similar statutes. “It behooves employers, not just as a legal matter, but in terms of being a good employer, to have a culture that does not support harassment and to take real steps to ensure this,” he says.

Legally, policies and training may look great on paper, but it’s what happens in practice that counts, Spiggle stressed.

Spiggle offers these 5 tips for preventing and mitigating #MeToo moments:

  • View written policies as a first step, but ensure that they are enforced in practice.
  • Provide training and ensure that the training is not just a dog and pony show that is forgotten the next day.
  • Make sure the company culture doesn’t support bad behavior and has a zero tolerance for sexual harassment. The current entertainment industry issues seem to be an example of not just an isolated bad actor, but a cultural problem.
  • Have a hotline for reporting problems and take reports seriously.
  • Don’t retaliate, ie don’t fire or demote the person who files the report. Retaliation is a separate claim from harassment and can get companies into even bigger trouble.

The most common mistake is trying to sweep allegations of harassment under the rug, he said. “When you become aware of a situation, it’s important to take immediate corrective action.”

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