has spoken out on sexual harassment, bullying and inequality in the hospitality and meetings industry at her “Industry After Dark” sessions at MPI and other industry events, as well as published articles and posted blogs on the topic.
What kinds of responses have you had from people attending your sessions?
I always have been pleased with the reactions I get from people in the audience. Most are willing to share stories and are quite transparent and honest about their experiences.
Were people engaged, or did some feel the topics were inappropriate in a professional or business setting?
That is kind of the point. People have been very open when sharing their stories. Once the first person speaks, it’s like a domino effect. It is kind of scary how much sexual harassment happens at conferences and how many people can relate to each story.
Is there any pattern in the makeup of the participants
There are usually two types of people sitting in audience: people who have had an experience they can relate and share, and those who haven’t. These conversations tend to transform into a mentor-mentee atmosphere, with more experienced veterans sharing stories and younger attendees asking for advice. The question that vets usually ask younger members is, “Is the issue still as bad today as it was when I entered the industry?” The answer is always yes.
Do any of the stories shock or surprise you?
An eye-opening moment during one session was an experience shared by a woman who was looking forward to transitioning from working in Latin America to North America. She felt there would be less sexual harassment and more opportunities in North America. She found there weren’t.
Do men share stories too?
Yes, I have had men tell stories. At IMEX, the audience consisted of mostly young professionals. They were willing to share their perspectives, not so much about their personal journey, but rather their shock about it happening at all or to someone they know. They were interested in how they could help prevent it.
What advice do you give them?
The people who are sharing typically have had more than one incident, and can share their suggestions on how to handle or prevent them from happening again. The discussion is not only a platform to share stories, but also a way to collectively work on what we can do to prevent this behavior. People do feel a little bit stuck. They can relate and maybe give some advice, but putting a stop to the problem, people don’t quite know where to turn. The best advice I can give to anyone is to keep talking about these issues. The conversation is a spark. Let’s start a blazing fire and create solutions together.
What conclusions have you come to?
There are not always actionable outcomes, but the sessions keep the conversation going. Even if there is not a hard sell or takeaway, it ignites conversation. These are fairly new topics—at least, to be discussing out in the open. People have heard about it and are interested in learning more. One session led to more invitations to speak or write about these issues, so it’s the domino effect in action.
I’d like to start having this conversation in other industries, start blogging frequently and have even more men and women share their stories and solutions.
Courtney Stanley is a strategic partnership manager at EventMobi in Toronto and co-founder of Stiletto Empire, a professional/social movement empowering mentorship and camaraderie among women in the workplace.
3 Taboo Topics for Meeting Planners
The Stuff No One Talks About