Women and the new reality of meeting and event planning



Diversity and inclusion. Closing the gender gap. Breaking through the glass ceiling. Human trafficking and #MeToo. Maternity leave, caregiver leave, daycare and family care; self-care and work-life balance. Flats or heels; business suit or business casual; business travel and minding our safety. These are just a few of the ongoing issues women face, and who in Canada and the United States make up 80 per cent of the meeting, event, tourism and hospitality industry according to Meeting Professionals International. These are also the issues women in most industries face, the ones we serve as their meeting and event professionals.

Strong women, smart women, women who have battle scars as they overcame challenges; women just like us. And for the men, your wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and daughters — at some point in time they have all faced something that has surprised them in what should have been a safe place.

“We have all heard stories of people who spoke up but weren’t heard”


When we face challenges from others who stand in our way, and who don’t give credit we feel we’re due, or who push us — emotionally or physically, or worse — we need to have trusted routes to manage the challenges, or in a worst case report abuse should it occur. Many organizations have HR policies to guide appropriate behaviour, and many events have codes of conduct in place to do the same.

The practical reality is there is always the risk of a small percentage of people who simply don’t care to act appropriately, or that feel these rules don’t apply to them or abuse their positions of authority, and this is when we need our organizations and associations to have routes we can follow to safety. We have all heard stories of people who spoke up but weren’t heard, or whose stories were dismissed or overlooked, and this will never be acceptable and is not a situation you should remain in. Fear has no place in the workplace.

When we travel, there continue to be conundrums we face. We require safety and seek properties where we know security is paramount, where our comfort is key and amenities are suited to the modern business traveller of any gender. As lovely as many other options may appear, when I find myself travelling alone, I seek hotels with lobbies that are staffed 24 hours, are located on well-lit streets, decorated in bright corridors and that have rooms where I have secure access points.

As meeting professionals, when we source airlines and hotels, we can become part of the movement who ask our partners if they have taken measures including signing the EPCAT Code of Conduct (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), one giant step against this horrifying and still common occurrence. The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence educates planners on what they can do to affect positive change. So does the Global Business Travel Association. There are several groups working on this issue throughout the industry, and we can have an impact, particularly helping young women who have had their options removed.

“Fear has no place in the workplace”


In some events where planners know that the potential for harm is higher, like ComicCons that involve cosplay, which allows some wearers to hide behind a mask, they have both a code of conduct and an in-app hotline people can call for help. Even without cosplay, when we attend events and whether we are single or in a committed relationship, younger or older, male or female of any orientation, we dress to make a positive impression.

For evenings and galas we often all look fabulous, but we are doing this to abide by social norms and fit in with the event, not attract the attention of a potential partner, or worse, the attention of someone who means harm. Often, these party environments are off-site, shuttling people through dimly-lit corridors and surroundings. Alcohol is freely served with great music and dancing, which can further heighten the risk. We rely on using our own instincts and safety nets to mitigate any potential risks.

When attending conventions, especially if you are alone, this may mean having an on-site buddy or small group of friends to ensure a safe zone at receptions and to make sure we get from party to hotel room without incident. Most of all, it’s incumbent on planners to make it clear that predatory behaviour won’t be tolerated, and to facilitate a safe environment for all attendees.

We are slowly moving industries away from “booth babes” and the thinking that we sell products not through their own merits, but through the sexual connotations of having attractive people presenting and promoting them. Humans are just this: human. We live in a world of visual stimulation, and from music videos to MCs, bartenders to booths, we are attracted to attractive humans, but that doesn’t mean decency falls by the wayside.

“Most of all, it’s incumbent on planners to make it clear that predatory behaviour won’t be tolerated”


As event professionals, it is our role to ensure that when we create environments for open communication to happen, we also ensure it is safe and comfortable for all the humans who attend, from the most extroverted to the quietest, from the largest to the smallest, and if this means codes of conduct, extra eyes on the floor with visible and invisible security, limiting alcohol and other inhibitors, this is also now in our duty of care and can’t be something we ignore.

On the flip side, it’s likely we all have stories of people who helped us along the way. Those with empathy, and others offering encouragement and others, mentorship. We continue to see more deserving women earning leadership roles in organizations of all sizes. In many countries, maternity and paternity leaves are being extended, and family and care leave for parents and others in need is more prevalent and available with support and without judgement. We see more investors seeking companies where women are both founders and executives as they recognize the value of gender balance to create better services, products and ultimately better organizations. We see positive relationships that cross boundaries of nationality and origin, beliefs and education levels, age and gender, ability and aptitude, as they should. It’s when we seek new perspectives and find ways to work collaboratively, and use kindness as a filter, that we grow and enable the same in others, our organizations and our lives.

But, we still have a long way to go, and with #MeToo seen as a mainstream, cross-industry issue we can use the influence we have in planning events that affect millions to share the stories and to create environments where we promote all the positive diversity, inclusion, communication and safety we strive for. Together, one event at a time, we can do this.

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