By Annamaria Ruffini
The current wave of accusations of sexual and other harassment in the workplace and at events are not new. Like most industries, incidences of sexual harassment have been whispered about, but have not been openly discussed or addressed. We think it is important that this issue is now at the forefront of civil discourse and that companies are putting measures in place to protect against unlawful discrimination of any kind.
Meetings and events professionals are inherently social and demonstrative. We often greet each other with a hug or a cheek kiss, but sometimes these actions can be misinterpreted or unwelcome. Behavior that is acceptable in one culture may not be in another. The notion of physical contact, personal space and appropriate language varies greatly whether you are in Asia, Latin America or North America.
Within Europe itself, there are great differences. It is therefore very hard to establish a norm. Consequently, individuals must use discretion and common sense to ensure that their words and actions communicate respect for others. What we don’t want to see happen is an environment where people, specifically men, are afraid to show affection. That said, there are clearly limits not to be crossed, not only legally but also ethically.
The best way for companies to protect attendees and employees from harassment is to include a clause in their contracts/RFP’s that states what conduct are acceptable and what is not, and outlines repercussions should verifiable reports be made.
Here is a good example of an Event Code of Conduct created by Salesforce.com.
We also encourage all companies – both buyers and suppliers - to consider adopting an Event Code of Conduct that includes:
- Questions in RFP’s about suppliers’ policies on sexual harassment and whether they have received any allegations or have any pending suits
- Educating attendees in advance that specific behaviors are not acceptable at the event.
- Telling attendees how to report unacceptable behavior and assure attendees that they will be treated respectfully if they do
- Establishing documented procedures on how event staff will respond to these reports
SITE is deeply committed to providing a supportive professional community where all members are treated with dignity, decency and respect. Upon joining SITE our members agree to abide by a Code of Ethics and Conduct built on mutual trust and a fundamental respect for the rights, dignity and value of all persons. Harassment or intimidation of any kind, included but not limited to sexual harassment, is violation of our professional ethics and should be regarded and treated as such by our members.
About Annamaria Ruffini:
Annamaria Ruffini, CIS, CMP, is President of the SITE International Board of Directors and President & CEO Events In & Out S. R. L., Rome, Italy.