On Aug. 8, PCMA convened a roundtable discussion among association planners and executives and DMO and convention center representatives on how to navigate events in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision.
The week before, a Town Hall at the CEMA Summit at the JW Marriott in Nashville had touched on this dilemma — among several other industry challenges — from several corporate event marketers’ perspectives.
Gigi Gleason, new in her role as director of event operations at streamlinevents, was on the CEMA panel. Convene followed up with her after the event to learn more about how a corporate event planner’s approach to the challenge of holding events in states that limit or ban access to abortions may — or may not — differ from that of an association planner. Here is what Gleason had to say:
“The first thing is safety. I think that has to be front and center,” Gleason said. Her previous employer, a technology company, Gleason shared, was having an event in Atlanta in May when the Supreme Court decision was leaked. A female employee had reached out to her individually and said she was really concerned because she was pregnant and she had a scare so she went to the emergency room in Atlanta. Everything turned out to be fine, she told Gleason, but now, she said, “I would have to really think about traveling to any state while pregnant.”
Gleason sees “the duty of care piece” as being especially important for companies asking their employees to travel for their events. “In the worst-case scenario, it may mean airlifting someone out to go where they can get medical care,” she said, if a pregnant employee is in a destination banning abortions and their health is at risk. “So I think that has to be the first thing,” she said. “And I know if I was pregnant, if I did not have that assurance, I wouldn’t go. And that has nothing to do with my political beliefs or anything like that — it’s just safety.”
Company culture and values come in at a close second. “And I think that is a trickier thing in a way because most of the major meeting destinations, regardless of what state they’re in, they’re in progressive cities,” Gleason said. “So I think it’s not really quite as simple as just saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to boycott.’ Nobody is going to know that your 5,000-person event pulled out of New Orleans or Dallas or Nashville or Atlanta — like nobody’s even going to know. And as I said on [the CEMA panel], who you’re really hurting are the people who are not going to be working if there’s not a meeting. The unfortunate situation that we’re in right now is that it’s so widespread. It’s not like it’s one or two destinations that you’re working with. It’s pretty much half of the country.”
At the same time, Gleason thinks the business events industry is “in kind of a special place to have impact on diversity issues in super concrete ways. And I wouldn’t blame anyone for saying that they need to make a stand — like our culture code, our values say this, and we have to live by that. Then they’re going to pay the cancellation fees. And you can’t blame anyone for doing that. I think at a lot of companies, employees are going to really drive that. But I still think there’s a case to be made that it’s not effective and it hurts the wrong people who are really on the front lines trying to fight the good fight.”
Gleason also thinks that companies will have to offer alternatives to their in-person events because “no one is going to be required to go to any destination they don’t want to go to. So if they feel like, ‘Well, I just don’t want my tax revenue going there,’ or ‘I’m pregnant, I’m concerned about my health’ or what have you, they won’t be required to attend. If you’re a corporation, you kind of need that flexibility [to let employees know] you’re really, truly not going to be penalized and you’ll have another way to participate, maybe virtually.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.