As meetings have become more diverse, there is a requirement to be more sensitive to each group’s norms and customs. Dunn recalls an employee quitting her job after receiving a hug during a training board meeting and then suing the company. That example may shock some in an industry in which hugging is commonplace, but customs of proper behavior and even strict taboos are very real in today’s global business world.
Never is it more of an issue than when a meeting goes overseas to a country with different views on civil liberties than the United States.
“How do you address sexual orientation and gender quality in Dubai?” asks Trevor Lui, director of operations and sustainability at The International Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. “Does that become an element in destination decisions? Do you consider a destination’s policy on civil rights? We have a stronger measure of influence than we think we have, so we should be talking about these questions.”
Everyone interviewed for this story agreed that more awareness and open discussion could help prevent problems before they occur. “Talk to the meeting host about how they want to handle people who get over served or have medical issues,” says Smith. “There are psychotics among us. There might be a depressed person who is having an episode. Part of your job is to anticipate what can go wrong. If you don’t think about it [ahead of time], you’re not prepared.”