Zero Tolerance on the Show Floor

Author: Michelle Russell       

Given the recent media firestorm around sexual harassment in the workplace, entertainment industry, and among government officials, we’ve decided to put our own industry under the microscope. We’ve just republished a story from our November 2013 issue that proved why it’s important to circulate a sexual-harassment policy among attendees at your event and what to include in that code of conduct. And we’ve put together a short, anonymous survey to get a sense of whether business-event professionals have encountered and are still experiencing on-the-job harassment and how they’ve handled it.

We’ll be publishing an overview of survey responses in our January issue. But in the meantime,  just one day after our survey went live, The Washington Post published a story about ongoing sexual harassment allegations at TED. Already in our own survey, we’ve seen that quite a few respondents remain silent about being harassed for many reasons — the harasser is influential in the hospitality and events industry, there aren’t adequate channels to address the problem, and event professionals worry about straining business relationships with the people they rely on to execute their events. 

Which underscores the need to keep this issue out in the open — in terms of event professionals’ own experiences and as part of their responsibility in bringing a variety of people together for their events. When I looked back at the language in the harassment story four years ago, I realized that we may not have emphasized enough that everyone who takes part in your event needs to be aware of your zero-tolerance sexual-harassment policy — including exhibitors. 

PrintMediaCentr’s Deborah Corn

You can’t control everyone’s behavior, but as this recent post on a printing industry website makes it clear, exhibitors need to be made aware of event organizers’ zero-tolerance policies. As print producer Deborah Corn writes in the blog post, female design-school student attendees who were eager to learn more about digital-print services at a print industry trade show found that “a few of the exhibitors at the show were not as enthusiastic about helping them learn as they were about gawking at them, and making inappropriate sexual overtures.”

Corn communicated the students’ experience to show management, who was “upset to say the least,” she writes. Moreover, they “found out that one of their own team had experienced … comments of a sexual nature from an exhibitor at their own show! The magnitude of that truth should shake you to your core,” Corn continues. “If someone with a SHOW BADGE isn’t safe from sexual harassment at their own event, much worse is going on in the trade-show halls and within your office walls… and trust me, it is. I’ve seen it, heard about it, and experienced it first-hand. I am not alone.”

No, she’s not — the #metoo campaign and the response to our survey say that loud and clear. So together, let’s keep addressing this problem.

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