Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 29 2013

Create a Sexual Harassment Policy for Your Conference

Jim Louis, MS, CMP

After being in this industry for so many years, I hoped that these policies were no longer necessary.  Unfortunately, there seems to be an ever-increasing need for anti-harassment policies, especially at events where the general public or people from more than one company are attending.  If alcohol is served, I would also recommend having a policy regarding serving of alcohol.  One of the conferences I help manage is for a very male-dominated profession.  However, the percentage of women attending has increased every year, up to the current 18% of the group.  This year we introduced an Anti-Harassment Policy at the conference.  We had never had any major issues, but we wanted to be proactive.

The process started with this site, which lays out a framework to create a policy for a conference:  http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy

The Steering Committee modified it to fit our needs and posted it on our website.  Next, we informed the speakers, attendees and sponsors.

Pycon has over 70 breakout sessions.  The Content Advisory Board (CAB) now would review the slides to make sure there was no offensive imagery or examples in the slides.  The committee already reviewed presentations to make sure the content met conference standards.

In the exhibit hall we had never had trouble with inappropriately dressed “Booth Girls” or questionable materials.  We needed to make sure, however, that exhibitors and sponsors understood the new policy and knew that we would ask them to remove any inappropriate content from their booth.

The policy was emailed to attendees, and onsite it was in the program guide.  A separate double-sided handout with attendee reporting procedures was included in the conference bag.  We also covered the policy in our first-time attendee orientation and at the beginning of the opening session.

Before the event began, staff and volunteers were trained on how to deal with any situations that might arise during the convention, since they would be the ones receiving any reports of harassment.

Here is a great site for resources:

My conference switched to this site to post the final policy:

This policy was originally designed by the Pycon conference organizers, but after the conference they decided to let their community work on the policy and make it their own after a very public incident that led to two people at the conference being fired from their jobs; one was the victim and the other was one of the harassers.  The conference did everything correctly and neither the victim nor the harassers have faulted the conference’s actions in handling this incident.  For more information, Google search Pycon incident.

The only other incident involved a third party who thought that one of the Steering Committee members was trying to take advantage of a slightly intoxicated attendee after the opening reception.  He was actually escorting her to her room because someone else (a fourth party) had been making her uncomfortable.  We confirmed this with her the next morning.  He was the Steering Committee member who had been the least in favor of needing the policy before the conference, but was the most thankful for it afterwards because the formal investigation procedure cleared him of any wrongdoing.

If you need further help please feel free to contact me and I will do what I can to provide resources.

Jim Louis, MS CMP
President of Best Meetings Inc. and Founder/Weekend Moderator of the Meetings Community (MeCo)