Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2024

Industry Groups Speak Out
Against Sexual Harassment

The flood of high-profile reports of sexual harassment and assault coming from a wide swath of American entertainment, business and government entities has prompted a response from meetings groups decrying any form of harassment.

Meeting Professionals International (MPI) recently released a media advisory stating its official anti-harassment policy: “With the disturbing increase of sexual harassment stories appearing in the news and social media, I want to reiterate that MPI does not tolerate harassment of any kind within our community – whether at an event organized by MPI Global, in our chapters or in our workplace,” Paul Van Deventer, MPI’s president and CEO, said. “Per the MPI Principles of Professionalism, we expect our members to ‘foster an inclusive business climate of respect for all peoples regardless of national origin, race, religion, sex, marital status, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairment.’”

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has reissued a December 2013 article in its publication, Convene, called “Here’s What to Include in Your Meeting’s Harassment Policy.” The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) reconfirmed its commitment to anti-harassment policies by pointing to its long-established Meeting Safety & Responsibilities Policy.

A Big Issue for Some Meetings in Particular
Sexual harassment at certain types of meetings came into the spotlight earlier this year with the release of Open Secrets and Missing Stairs, a 2017 survey conducted by Sherry Marts, Ph.D., a speaker, facilitator, consultant and CEO of S*Marts Consulting. The survey polled attendees on the frequency and nature of harassment that occurs at science conferences and how such incidents influence the behavior of those who experience or witness harassment. More than 200 people completed the survey, 87 percent of them women. Among the findings:

• Sixty percent have experienced harassment at a scientific meeting at some point in their careers.
• Of those who were harassed at least once, 84 percent said the harasser commented on his or her appearance; 49 percent were asked for sex; and 39 percent were touched, groped or grabbed.
• Such incidents caused 52 percent of the targets surveyed to give greater thought to what they wear, 49 percent to worry more about their personal safety at meetings, 33 percent to avoid the social or networking events at the conference, and 13 percent to stop attending the meeting at which they were harassed.

Sexual harassment at comic and sci-fi conventions has also been in the spotlight for the past several years. To combat harassment, an increasing number of conventions have rolled out anti-harassment rules in a very visible way, including putting up large posters in the venue and notices in the event guide and website warning of zero-tolerance policies toward harassment. These include “Cosplay is Not Consent!” posters. (Cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book or video game.)

Regardless of the type of event, experts say establishing an effective anti-harassment policy for events will involve these key components, adapted from those developed by the Ada Initiative, a support group for women in technology:

• Put the policy in writing, and make it visible and available at the meeting, in the event guide and on the event website.
• Define harassment to include inappropriate and unwelcome comments, touching, attention, photographing, stalking or intimidating behavior.
• Spell out specific steps people should take if they feel they are being harassed.
• Institute penalties for harassment that have some teeth, such as expelling the person from the conference and/or sanctioning him or her from participating in future events.
— Regina McGee

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