Emma Cartmell, CEO of CHS Group, says employers should empower their staff to take a stand against inappropriate behaviour.
I’ve recently filled in a survey about sexual harassment in the industry and one of the questions was whether I’ve been sexually harassed and if so, what did I do about it. I have never been sexually harassed but this question got me thinking about how we conduct ourselves at business events.
I enjoy the friendly hugs and the inevitable banter, but recently I had to reprimand someone for taking the banter too far. While enjoying some friendly chat at an exhibition, someone said something totally inappropriate, so I sharply berated them and told them that I would not tolerate their comments. They were embarrassed, very apologetic and we both went on our way.
This industry is incredibly hospitable and can be quite flirtatious. We all like to socialise and have fun together, but add some alcohol and that can inevitably lead to mild or sometimes quite scandalous flirting. Hollywood’s treatment of Harvey Weinstein is to be applauded but it did get me thinking. Where do we draw the line, and how do we decide if someone has crossed it? What do we do if things go from harmless banter to something more sinister?
I can hold my own, but is the next generation of people coming into our industry equipped and empowered to do the same? Do employers make sure that their staff can rebuke someone for inappropriate remarks – even if that person is a customer?
My team likes to have fun at our events, but they all know where to draw the line, and they know that I will support them if they ever feel uncomfortable in any situation.
Everyone will have their own ‘line’; what is harmless to one person may be deeply offensive to another. We have to recognise this and make sure we are creating a safe environment for people to enjoy the banter, but know they can say stop if things get too much for their own personal code. Event industry employers have to recognise this and ensure their staff feel confident and empowered to have some fun, but that they can reprimand someone if they cross that line – even if it’s a client.
I love our industry events and I would hate it if they became sterile and boring. But to ensure we keep the fun, we have to make sure that the next generation is equipped to enjoy it, and empowered to know what to do if they don’t.
This column first appeared in EN’s sister title Conference News.