Business Events and Society: Divided We Fall

Business events shed light on complex issues of the day and can help make progress in bridging the political divide.

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

zippered orange jacket closing over yellow shirt

By bringing professionals together to share knowledge the business events industry has a role to play in closing societal divisions.

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat, CAE,
President & CEO, PCMA and CEMA

According to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted in 19 countries, three out of five people think their society is more divided now than it was before the pandemic. The U.S. has the highest share — 81 percent — who agree with that statement. Around three-quarters of citizens in the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and France also see more disunity in their respective countries.

Pew’s survey results show that the U.S. is one of the most divided countries along partisan lines when it comes to attitudes about COVID. For example, the partisan gap over the importance of getting the COVID vaccine is 44 percentage points, with Democrats and Independents who lean toward the Democratic Party far more likely than Republicans and GOP-leaners to say getting vaccinated is very important. And nearly seven out of 10 liberal Americans report that it’s very important to get vaccinated to be a good member of society, compared with only about one out of five conservatives who said the same.

The results of this survey bear out a disturbing trend that has been years in the making: Societies have become polarized around issues of health and safety. I find it perplexing that we would ignore science — whether it’s the efficacy of vaccinations or climate change — because we align with a political party.

This is where our industry has a role to play, by bringing professionals together to share the kind of fact-based knowledge that can change people’s minds and save lives, where research, expertise, and experience overcome groupthink. Business events are where different perspectives are shared and open discourse is encouraged. That’s critical in a world that grows only more complex, at both the macro and micro level — from the threat of global warming to the way we in the events industry carry out our day-to-day work.

I don’t think business event strategists have ever faced so many challenges, and respondents to Convene’s 2022 Salary Survey said as much. Now that face-to-face events have resumed, we grapple with talent shortages, inflation, changes in the way our audiences prefer to engage with us — and the latest wrinkle, holding events in states that limit access to or ban abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

A group of industry leaders met to explore that very issue last month in Washington, D.C. I was encouraged by the conversation between DMO and association leaders, the first in a series of continuing roundtables we are planning on this topic, as they came up with ideas on ways to remain true to stakeholder values and organizational missions that conflict with meeting in red-state destinations. We all sought to find common ground, which seems to have become unfamiliar territory.

Seeing Double

We were fortunate to have Bill Reed, chief event strategy officer at the American Society of Hematology (ASH), deftly facilitate the roundtable on the abortion issue’s impact on events. Bill is a former chairman of the PCMA Board of Directors, who also lent his expertise to a PCMA Community Conversation for medical meeting planners earlier this year, sharing ASH’s strategy for growing both online and in-person audiences.