Setting the Tone
Klopper’s attitude comes from experience. At her first job out of college, she was encouraged to mingle with executives at a meeting only to be asked up to one of the men’s rooms. She refused, and left the company after feeling that it condoned that type of behavior. “Folks at the top set the tone,” says Wallgren. “But I haven’t seen any of them doing it.”
“The stories are disturbing and infuriating. We are mostly women and very vulnerable in the industry.” —Tracey Smith, contract meeting manager, Tracey Smith Events | Marketing
Smith recalls being harassed when she was younger, although she didn’t recognize the behavior as such until reading an empowering article on the subject. In part, that’s because harassment can take many forms, whether it’s sexual, hateful or involves other forms of bullying.
Conference organizers need to be on the watch for these actions, says Barbara Dunn, a hospitality lawyer and partner at Barnes & Thornburg, headquartered in Chicago. Educating on-site staff on what is appropriate behavior, whom to report to and how to handle reports is an essential part of event risk management.
“You train for a fire drill, why not this issue?” says Dunn. “You need to empower your staff. Let them know even if they have a concern, but aren’t quite sure how seriously to take it, they should call you. You want to know.”
Not only must employers stress the importance of coming forward, they also need to have a responsible person to whom employees can report. The company needs to make it clear that it does not want an environment of harassment and won’t retaliate for an honest report.
“A hostile work environment is not a women’s issue,” adds Dunn. “An employer shouldn’t challenge whether it is hostile or not. It opens up the employer’s liability.”