In January, the Presidents Club, an all-male fundraising organization that has been in operation for more than 33 years, announced it would shut down. The decision followed a sexual harassment scandal that unfolded at a function the elite group hosted at The Dorchester in London. A Financial Times reporter who infiltrated the event by working undercover as a hostess witnessed several scenarios in which other hostesses were groped and verbally harassed by guests.
Most recently, hotel mogul Steve Wynn found himself under fire for allegations of harassment, which The Wall Street Journal made public. Though Wynn has vehemently denied the claims, he has resigned as CEO of Wynn Resorts, which he founded in 2002. He also resigned from his position as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.
All Too Common
But these types of incidents aren’t isolated to large-scale organizations, warns Crystal Washington, a marketing and social media consultant, author and speaker who has been recruited by companies like Google, Microsoft and General Electric for cues on corporate strategy.
“If you have a company, the potential for sexual harassment is there,” says Washington. “Everyone needs to be proactive.”
It’s the responsibility of meeting planners and event professionals to create atmospheres where attendees feel safe and respected. When they don’t, the event loses value, the organizer loses integrity and guests are discouraged from attending future engagements.
To uphold that responsibility, Washington says it’s imperative for every organization to develop and mandate a solid code of conduct for employees. Within that code, the company should articulate a zero-tolerance policy on sexual impropriety and state the consequences it carries. The code should also explain how and to whom employees can report violations. It should be shared repeatedly across all avenues, including digital and social media platforms, in employee handbooks and in companywide communications. Plus, to deter any nefarious behavior from the outside, it should be made public knowledge that the company has this kind of code in place.
Having a policy in place is essential, but executing it fairly and consistently is the most important part. When violations are reported, company leaders should respond respectfully and take swift and decisive action to thoroughly investigate the situation. And they should keep the reporting party updated throughout the process.
Fox points out it takes courage for a victim to come forward. They need to be confident that their complaints will be taken seriously without fear of retaliation.
Apart from policies, which she agrees are nonnegotiables, #RealTalk columnist and marketing strategist Courtney Stanley argues that meeting planners have the power to set a standard regarding sexual misconduct.
“Think about it,” says Stanley. “We create and manage the very environment where sexual harassment often occurs. We have the opportunity and responsibility to prevent, address and change the way people are being treated at meetings and events.”
Stanley has taken her own advice to heart. In October 2017, she exposed the issue in an edition of her #RealTalk column: “That’s What She Said: Sexual Harassment Is Wrong.” She has also advocated awareness through public speaking engagements. At Connect in August 2017, she paired up with Washington to facilitate a session called “Meet Me at Midnight.”
The two, who shared their own experiences as victims of sexual harassment, held an open forum in which they addressed workplace taboos. Topics ranged from sexual harassment to wage negotiation to workplace bullying. Members of the audience were encouraged to join the conversation and share their own stories.
“It was astounding how many people in the room had been victims of or had experienced sexual harassment at an event,” says Washington.