Author Archives: Joan Eisenstodt

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Immediately upon hearing about the Branson, Missouri, duck boat catastrophe, in addition to feeling a profound sadness for the families, my risk management thinking went into high gear.

Tyler Davidson, content director with Meetings Today, and I agreed that something must be written to help us all grasp the responsibilities in what we review—for our individual leisure plans, and for the activities often enthusiastically suggested to us by a hotel concierge or convention services staff.

Not to mention additional recommendations from DMOs, DMCs, colleagues or salespeople.

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

I’m also grateful to a duck boat franchise that provided answers to questions I had about safety and operations. Respecting its privacy, I am not including the contact’s name or the location of operations.

“I certainly understand the hesitation [about riding duck boats after the accident]. What happened in Branson was so unfortunate and has sent shockwaves throughout all of the duck companies nationwide.

“[In response to your query about the photos on the website] the reason you don’t see anyone wearing life jackets … is not because we don’t have them. At any time during the tour you are welcome to put one on. If you want to put one on, you can. The pictures on the website are from a photo shoot last year. And no one [among the passengers at that time] wanted to put their [life jacket] on.

“I cannot speak for what the Branson ducks did, but here’s what we do and what we have done for the past 15+ plus years [that I’ve been associated with this company, although it has been in business longer].

“Every morning, the captains come in at 7:00 a.m. The first thing they do is pull up the weather.

“In my opinion before Branson and after Branson, our master captains (all of them have a masters’ captain license) are better meteorologists than those you see on TV.

“Weather is what our captains deal with every day. There is ALWAYS a captain set aside to watch the weather. That’s all they do that day. No tours, just weather watching.

“They have two computers, one TV and four phones. They are obsessed with the weather.

“The other captains scheduled on that day then do two pre-trip inspections. One that is DOT required and one that is Coast Guard required. Any discrepancy, the duck doesn’t go out. Any issue, the duck doesn’t go out.

“We don’t go out when the wind is high. We don’t go out when the tide is high. We don’t go out when the tide is low. We don’t go out when there is lightning and thunder.

“And no captain works for more than 12 hours per DOT rules.”

Use the above responses, in addition to the checklist questions that accompany this blog post as a separate article, to ask about the duck boat or other like operations for a personal or group activity.

Given this information and what was said in interviews with the survivor, Tia Coleman (that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets), and from emails and posts on social media from friends and colleagues who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations … I am not confident that it is suggested that one wear life vests aboard all duck boats.

Pay attention to the follow-up articles and read what the investigator from the NTSB said about the storm that was predicted. Note the mention of another duck boat that went out about the same time and returned before the storm worsened.

And here’s a former NTSB Chair calling for a duck boat ban.

Read the list that Tyra Hilliard, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I compiled of questions to ask before taking part in any sort of boating or other water-based transportation activity. Think how these or like questions apply to any form of transportation or venues you book.

Consider that what happened in Branson could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you. If not recommended by you, maybe by your supplier partners with DMOs or hotels or DMCs.

In the initial Meetings Today article, we shared five key areas to consider when assessing transportation risk (with questions). Those are now expanded in the accompanying checklist presented in the Friday With Joan newsletter. Please add your safety precautions for any of these areas in the comments. We all are safer because of the experiences of others and by sharing information.

Be safe. If you are out on the water, wear a life vest or jacket. If you are on land and riding a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet. If you are planning to be in or hire land vehicles—car (private or contracted) or bus—ask if they have a seat belt, then tell your participants to do what you do: wear seatbelts. When you are on a plane or a train, no matter how many trips you’ve taken, put down your reading materials and listen to the information about safety. In a hotel or other meeting facility? Count the steps from your guest room to the nearest evacuation area; look for evacuation and shelter-in-place areas.

Pay attention to all that will keep you and your participants safe.

As you inspect the car services and other companies with whom you contract, channel me! Each time I ask and want to contract safety issues, I’m told “no one has ever asked that before.” It is high time others did ask! In talking with industry attorneys, it was said that yes, those who hold designations such as CMP are likely to be held to a higher standard in the due diligence they perform in their recommendations.

CMP or not, make it safe for everyone.

I offer my continued condolences to those so horribly impacted by this tragedy—the families, their friends, the employees of the franchise and all others. How can we help but feel for them?

As I reflect on all the life-ending events suffered in our world and in our industry in particular, I ask as I have for years: How can we not put safety first in all we do as professionals on any side of this industry?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the August 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 08.03.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

3 Professional Development Obstacles (And Ways to Work Around Them)

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

In June 2018, I had the privilege of going to Duke University to speak at the Duke Special Events Planner Council’s Education Day. Those in attendance included people who plan meetings and events across the Duke system—for the medical and law schools, museums, hospitals and more.

Accompanying all of the planners in attendance at the event were local vendors who were showing their wares as well as learning with the planners. I so appreciated their participation in the education!

I had been asked to present a program on professional development. I began with this wonderful quote from the late author, Doris Lessing: “That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”

As they arrived that morning each person was given a box of crayons. To set up the day, I had asked that Sunni Brown’s TED Talk on doodling and learning be viewed ahead of time. My initial gift was that of permission to doodle and thus retain more of what was learned.

As I began, after lunch, I asked those in attendance to reflect on what they had learned so far and what they hoped to get out of the afternoon. It was gratifying to hear that both the Sunni Brown video and the programs that morning had made an impression. And, as I do, especially for after lunch programs, I brought Peppermint Smencils™ to wake up brains and spinners on which it is printed “more than brain surgery.”

The messages were to ensure that a) you need to continue to stimulate your brain and b) what we do is more than brain surgery!

What I talked about there stimulated the thinking for this blog. There are so many professional development needs and so many obstacles that we face:

  1. Time – There’s never enough time to keep up on “real” work and continuing education. Although professional development should be considered a regular part of each day by one’s employer, we know that’s not the case, especially when there are deadlines.
  2. Resources – Even though we have access to the world via the internet, there are competing priorities and the time it may take to find those resources can be a hardship. In many cases, budgets (personal and academic or company/employer) may not support professional development. Attending conferences is expensive*.
  3. “Circuit” Overload – Although we may make time and have resources, we all have other obligations; all of us are overloaded. Keeping up, let alone getting ahead, is not easy.

*[The Duke Planners are fortunate to have colleagues who care enough to continue to find and present ways for them to meet and learn].

And still I think that we can do better. I suggested then these action steps to help overcome the professional development obstacles and offer them to all reading this:

  • Make time to learn.
  • Ask more questions, request resources.
  • Lurk or participate in online groups and activities.
  • Take an improv class to open yourself up to new avenues of thinking!
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Pat yourself and each other on the back.

Among the resources I provided were two great local-to-Duke ones: Daniel Mayer at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, N.C.—a place of wonderful programs and art to stimulate brains a la Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (see resources on the accompanying portion of the newsletter), and inviting Gentleman Cartoonist Keith Knight of the Keef Chronicles and (th)ink™, located near Duke, as a guest speaker to talk about the intersection of art, policy and social justice. In each of our communities—and accessible online—are so many resources we forget can help us think differently.

(Both Dan, a long-time friend, and Keith, a friend of newer acquaintance, and I had dinner together while I was in Durham. Stimulating conversation and superb food and ambience and service at Gocciolina where we each paid our own checks. The conversation was stimulating and far-ranging. It in itself was education!).

So why this blog and the not usual interview sidebar to the blog? It’s summer.

It’s a time when many say they are going to read more. Magazines and books suggest “summer” or “beach” reading. Not all of us get that opportunity.

So I offer some reading and viewing suggestions to help you think, make you laugh and to help you achieve professional development, despite the obstacles.

I welcome your input below or on the reading suggestions page, or if you’d prefer to email me directly for my eyes only or for me to post anonymously, do so to FridayWithJoan@aol.com.

Good reading and thinking!

Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along

Originally posted Meetings Today

Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along

If you were looking for a job or negotiating the conditions under which you’d work, of these, which would you not want?

  • Fair and equitable wages/salary.
  • Working hours and conditions to meet your needs and those of your family.
  • Vacation time (and time to use it).
  • Overtime compensation (whether in dollars or “comp” time).
  • Protection from sexual and other harassment by management, coworkers, customers or members, and vendors.
  • Job security against outsourcing.
  • Training for new technology and assurance your job would not be outsourced to a robot.
  • Training to keep up with changes in your job responsibilities.

As I finish the edits for this blog for the June 2018 edition of Friday With Joan, we wait to see if the Las Vegas hotel companies, including Caesars, MGM and others, will settle with the Culinary Workers Union whose contracts expire on May 31, 2018.

Editor’s Note: On June 1, a tentative agreement was reached with Caesars.

99% of those in the Culinary Union eligible to vote, voted to strike if their contracts were not renewed to include or expand upon many of the conditions noted above.

If they walk out, 50,000 workers who serve meeting-goers, business travelers, tourists and sports fans will not be on the job, and easily 100,000 people in the families of affected workers will be impacted. In addition to many of the items noted above, these workers also want to share in the profits of the hotels and casinos for whom they work and of the tax benefits afforded corporations from the new U.S. tax bill.

In fact, one need only look at the salaries of the casino CEOs in Nevada to see the discrepancy in what is being paid and wonder why the contracts have not easily been settled. In one article, one of those who voted to strike was quoted as saying:

“I don’t want to go on strike, but I will. The company is more profitable than ever because of the hard work we do, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure we have a fair share of that success,” added MGM Resorts International guest room attendant Adela Montes de Oca.

My research causes me to wonder if planners do not want decent wages and working conditions, including safety from harassment, for our supplier partners.

Or do we not see as “partners” those who change our sheets, prepare and serve our food, wash the dishes, make the drinks, and do the work that enables meetings to happen?

I talked with a former hotel concierge who loved the job at which they’d worked for years, and who saw others being treated badly by management, owners and guests. In attempting to organize for better conditions, this person was penalized.

Thankfully, the now former concierge went on to do work that is helping others achieve protection in their jobs.

I talked with and read about many who faced hardships in the last strike in 1984 and who know that by voting to strike now could be endangering their livelihood.

Hockey fans wonder if the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals [yes, I have a favorite!], all part of the players’ union, will cross picket lines, even informational picket lines, if a walkout occurs.

[Follow @meetingstoday on Twitter for updates on the strike].

Our industry overall (meetings and hospitality), and as reflected in some of the comments in the Q&A, has seemed anti-union, or at least anti-union for their meetings. I find it ironic that the overall industry, and some in particular, have not spoken in support of the Culinary Union workers. Some of the ironies I’ve noticed are noted below.

Irony 1: Some hotel brands have cut commissions for some third parties/independent planners who work on commissions about which I’ve written.

There are now at least two groups organizing, in essence, for collective bargaining for those third parties not affiliated with what have been called the “favored four,” the larger companies whose higher commissions will last a bit longer.

These two organizations have not yet spoken out in support of the Culinary Workers.

Irony 2: Industry associations say they are putting “teeth” into anti-sexual harassment policies. To the best of my knowledge, these organizations did not stand behind the Seattle initiative for “panic buttons” for hotel workers or sign on to the UNITE HERE-supported #HandsOffPantsOn ordinance in Chicago.

There has not been industry-wide support for this demand from the Culinary Workers Union to protect its members and others in the industry from being sexually harassed.

Irony 3: Our industry touts the contributions to the economy of tourism, travel and meetings but I’ve not seen support by industry associations for unions.

In particular, I have not seen support for the 50,000 people whose lives are made better and who can move toward financial stability who are part of the Culinary Workers Union.

Interestingly, studies show that Millennials are supportive of the labor movement. Maybe we have to wait for them to move into management for this to take hold.

Or, as with previous movements, it’s possible they just need to start voting.

UNITE HERE’s Side of the Story

Look, I know that UNITE HERE has angered planners and organizations because of the calls to planners and to organizations’ boards of directors encouraging some groups to not book properties or cities where the contracts with union labor are in dispute.

Like others, I have questioned the practice and wondered if it were the best way to reach out to planners and organizations.

I asked Levi Pine, Boycott Organizer from UNITE HERE, who though not an unbiased party, is someone who has given me reasons to trust him, how to explain this. This is a portion of his response, edited for length and clarity, and in some cases paraphrased.

We always attempt to communicate with meeting planners first, by phone and email. When we do reach that person, we try to convey the seriousness of the labor dispute and make a follow-up plan with them about relocating their event.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to find out who the meeting planner is [suppliers will verify this], or hard to find accurate contact information.

“And, even if we can find the planner, often they try to cut off communication with us. Thus we have reached out to other organization staff or sometimes boards of directors.

We know there are many who want to support workers, and even more who would be upset to arrive at their event and be faced with a labor dispute especially if a hotel or DMO had not informed the group, or the planner had not asked, in selecting the site and contracting, what labor issues were on the table.

“Groups have chosen to relocate their events to avoid a boycott. Some organizations look back on a decision to relocate as a real defining moment that demonstrates their integrity.

“When customers use that form of economic advocacy, it really does have a big impact. Boycotts have contributed to settling good union contracts that helped workers.”

[Joan’s note: oh the many gray areas of and the other discussions of boycotts for reasons of laws passed and commissions changed. We do need much more discussion].

“We suggest that groups incorporate the strongest protective language in event contracts to protect themselves and their events against the unforeseen.

“Our lawyers have written language that incorporates protections against various forms of a labor dispute, and that is available here.

“Meeting planners should [during site selection and after for groups booking far out] check the list of hotels and labor disputes at www.fairhotel.org. If you don’t find a property on the “FairHotel” list, a labor dispute is possible there. Planners can also call a FairHotel representative for the most current news on hotel labor disputes.

“Meeting planners can reach a representative at 773.383.5758.”

Making the Case for Unions

So yes, I’m pro-union. No one in my family of mostly self-employed people were, to the best of my knowledge, members of unions.

Maybe it was the Pete Seeger songs played or the general attitude about respect for all workers or the neighbors who were part of unions at the General Motors plants in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, that made me aware of the importance of organized labor.

Maybe it’s because without the Labor Movement, children might still have to work, and hours would be far greater than 40 per week [yes, I know you work more than that—imagine if you had a union representing you to help you!], or the conditions under which those in the U.S. work would result in more Triangle Shirtwaist Fire disasters.

I’ve been self-employed for nearly 40 years and with my own company 37 as of Friday, June 1, 2018. I had to negotiate for salary and working conditions before I was self-employed, and for fees, expense reimbursements, specific work and conditions, since I became self-employed. Having an organization to support me and others might have resulted in a better standard of living and conditions for us.

So what do you do if the Culinary Workers in Las Vegas, or any other workers where you have a meeting booked, do walk out or if you learn that there may be a walkout or informational pickets taking place?

In 2011, this Meetings Today article explained what planners could do in the event of a strike. While some references may be dated, it still is relevant and important to consider.

Consider this too: Become a FairHotel Partner just as others are, and negotiate the Model Protective Language provided here into your contracts just as you are considering the language we’ve come to call the “ASAE Clause” regarding non-discrimination.

Take time to read the second part of the Friday With Joan Q&A—featuring one of the FairHotel Partners—to understand more.

I am grateful to those with UNITE HERE and with the Culinary Workers Union (Levi Pine, Jeremy Pollard, Rachel Gumpert and Bethany Khan) among those who first helped me research the #HandsOffPantsOn Ordinance in Chicago, and for the #MeToo blog here at MeetingsToday. I’d also like to thank Christine Busiek, CMP, of INMEX, for information.

I stand with you, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 (and those workers outside the union as well) in solidarity. I hope the contracts are settled and that your families—and our industry—will not suffer.

Additional Reading

Following are links to the growing concern about technology and robots taking hospitality jobs. Planners, don’t assume your job is not at risk!

Already with the ability for automated site selection, why would our jobs entirely not be among the 6% that may be automated by 2021?

A Final Note From Joan: If you are someone who would like to be on my list of those to be considered for expressing opinions on a variety of Friday With Joan and Meetings Today Blog subjects, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with the subject line “Blog Interest” and in the body of the email, your expertise and issues about which you care about that relate to meetings and hospitality. Let’s get in touch!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the June 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 06.01.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

A Tribute to the Memory of Arlene Sheff and Others in the Meetings Industry

Originally published Meetings Today

A Tribute to the Memory of Arlene Sheff and Others in the Meetings Industry

(Note from Joan: This blog post is updated from the original version. Attribute some of the misinformation to my emotions and desire to ensure Arlene’s life was honored as quickly as possible. My thanks to Arlene’s and Richard’s daughter, Brenda, for setting the record straight).

Our world moves too fast. We rush from one meeting to another. From one crisis to another. From one believed crisis to another.

And while we rush, we forget so many who meant so much—family, friends, colleagues—who came before us. In our industry, though we have the EIC Hall of Leaders to commemorate people who were once honored for their contributions, few rarely visit to learn of the standard-bearers for our industry.

This list of industry advocates includes Bill Just, Bob Dallmeyer, Jack Vaughn, among the many honored who had such an impact on my life, and others, and are now gone.

Though she was never honored by the larger industry, many of us were influenced and taught by someone I loved and now have lost.

On Saturday, May 12, 2018, Arlene Sheff—wife, mother, bubbe, friend, colleague, mentor, teacher—the self- and other-described “Queen of Everything”—died. She was my early morning/her middle-of-the-night instant message pal for years.

We taught together at MPI’s Institute programs where we were once accused of conspiring or maybe it was colluding … on what, we never knew but oh the wonderful clandestine calls and laughter we shared!

Arlene battled a non-cancerous brain tumor and then it returned—stage 4 brain cancer that she hid from many—in October 2017. The initial brain tumor pushed her to more-or-less retire earlier than she’d planned.

She epitomized the phrase battled when it came to an illness.

She was a warrior, doing all it took in treatment, whether that meant eating a better diet or exercising regularly [Joan’s note: this is really what she told me! Brenda said Arlene did use a treadmill now and then! That seems more like it but I wanted to believe she was doing what I couldn’t!] which she came to sorta love, to live and live well.

Through it all, she continued to teach and participate in interviews for industry publications, as always, sharing her knowledge. When I told one of Meetings Today’s editors, Eric Andersen, that Arlene had passed away, what he said described Arlene to a “t”: “I interviewed Arlene at least once for a feature story and remember she shared a good amount of knowledge with me when I was just starting up with [Meetings Today]. She took the time to explain things more thoroughly when I mentioned I was new to the position and just learning the ins-and-outs of the industry. [I’m] sorry to hear about her passing.”

Even in retirement (do planners ever really retire?!), Arlene planned the bicycle trips for her sweet husband, Richard, and his group of bicyclist friends. Never riding herself, she ensured every detail was taken care of, worrying that even the smallest detail might be overlooked. OY! Such a professional!

Arlene would tell me about the holiday (you name it—she’d make it a holiday!) parties she’d throw for family and friends. She’d send photos of the outfits and costumes she made for her granddaughters. She kvelled at each thing the girls did.

And about her daughters, Brenda and Debbi, more kvelling!

Then the damn tumor returned and even then, robbed of so much, Arlene worked like crazy to regain movement and speech. She, Richard, Brenda and Debbi and so many friends did all in their power to make her well. But our prayers and energies and love just couldn’t. Many of us lost a dear friend. Richard lost his wife, his love, his partner.

Brenda and Debbi, both who work for aspects of our industry, lost far more—a mother on the eve of Mother’s Day and just months before a birthday for Debbi [Brenda reminded me that Debbi’s birthday is in July when I originally implied it was sooner. Let’s celebrate her then].

As I spent the weekend grieving and still grieving for Arlene, memories of others who have gone too young, too soon, flooded back. I thought of dear Michael Conod, my first Convention Services Manager (CSM) at the then-Omni Shoreham, who even after a diagnosis of AIDS made him so sick, would call me nightly so we could talk through Jeopardy and the contestants and what we knew that they didn’t.

Doris Sklar, planner for General Electric, for whom an IACC scholarship is named. Teller of “Zelda and Max” jokes so well that we called her “Zelda,” and who, with Jim Daggett, Keith Sexton-Patrick and me, received the first HSMAI Pacesetter Award in 1995.

Jim Fausel who died, oddly, on the same day albeit in a different year that Doris died, which is also Arlene’s birthday—October 18—a stalwart in the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP), who cared deeply about safety and helped begin an industry safety conference in Arizona.

Howard Mills, a founder of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals, who was inducted into the EIC Hall of Leaders, and who helped me adjust to the first Events Industry Council (EIC, then the CLC) Board meeting to which we were both delegates.

Sally Karwowski, a D.C. planner, who died six years ago of breast cancer and who was the one in the D.C. Metro area who ensured those on the old MIMList (a meetings forum) got together once a month for the virtual-to-face-to-face lunches to learn more.

Rosie Ledesma-Bernaducci, the queen (sorry Arlene—Rosie gets a small “q”!) of pharma meetings whose life ended so tragically and without the ability of any of us to help her but oh the void she left in our industry and in our lives!

Laurie Meyer, who operated a speakers’ bureau and had finally taken improvisation classes and started doing stand-up comedy. I treasure the copy of a few of her routines sent to me before her untimely death.

Dan Krueger, “Boston Dan” to many on Facebook, who lived a complicated life and died an untimely death, who knew travel and transportation in and out and would do so much for each of us who asked for help.

And dear Stan Aaronson who was a friend and brilliant man when it came to everything related to production and AV, gone over too few months of a horrible cancer.

Before I close this blog post to share, with permission, the beautiful tribute Richard Sheff wrote about Arlene, I ask this of you: please share in the comments section below your memories of those who have gone before us who made a difference in your life and the life of our industry. Tell stories. Share humor they shared with you. Share appreciation.

Then remember to say thank you to those still among the living who are making a difference and are ensuring that we grow as an industry.

We say we are a relationship industry. Let’s prove it! My list isn’t even close to comprehensive of those I loved and lost.

Please add names so that we can have a memorial wall here.

I will, each year on the yahrzeits of those I loved, say Kaddish to commemorate their lives just as I do for my family of blessed memory.

Arlene, and each of you who have gone before, who set standards for us all in the meetings industry and in life in general, your memories will forever be for blessings. With gratitude for his love of Arlene and his words, here is Richard Sheff’s tribute to Arlene.

Dear Family & Friends,

Saturday, May 12th at 12:25 pm, we lost our Queen.

Arlene was my wife of 38 years, best friend, business consultant, legal adviser, event planner, Rabbi, travel agent, editor, parole officer, the love of my life, and the Queen of our family.

Long live the Queen.

Her reign was an all too short 71 years, 206 days. She was far too young to leave us. Arlene led a charmed life. Yet her zest for living and the body it ruled was in the end, no match for the universe of complications caused by brain cancer.

Shakespeare expressed it so well in Romeo & Juliet; it bears repeating:

“Death lies on her, like an untimely frost.”

“Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.”

Arlene was our family’s spiritual leader. She orchestrated the Passover Seder, purchased synagogue tickets and led us to prayer during the high holidays.

She became a loyal congregant at Shabbat (Sabbath) Services streamed live from New York City’s beautiful Central Synagogue. Watching this religious reality show on the big screen in our bedroom became a Friday night ritual for her. If you have a moment, I think she would appreciate hearing you recite Psalm 121 … it was her favorite.

A Song of Assents

“I lift my eyes to the mountains—from where will my help come?

“My help will come from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot falter; your guardian does not slumber. Indeed, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.

“The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your protective shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

“The Lord will guard you from all evil; He will guard your soul.

“The Lord will guard your going and coming from now and for all time.

A complete biography of her life would fill the pages of a very large book. I’ll leave you with one fact you may not have known about the Queen … she was the best at everything she did.

When Arlene worked at Bridgestone Tire, she received the highest mark ever recorded on their “Tire Test.”

She studied all the English language practice exams at the DMV and memorized their study guide. Her test score was perfect. She was a knowledgeable instructor in her chosen profession and consistently received glowing reviews from all her students.

Her performance reviews at work were always “outstanding” and included bonus and stock option rewards. Her second grade report card—yes, I have it—informed her parents that she excelled at talking.

There’s no easy way to say goodbye. Arlene lived every minute well and she lived her life at the speed of light. She flew first class. Stayed in the nicest hotels. Applied her make up with artistic perfection and made sure her hair was stylishly quaffed.

Her cologne was divine and expensive. Her wardrobe, endless.

She was always in charge. She was the Queen of our family and we weep from this indescribable loss.

It’s been said that weeping is God’s antidote for sorrow. With time, that may be so. For now, I will continue weeping while battling the silence that fills our home.

Thank you for your cards and kind words of condolence. No flowers, please. If you want to remember Arlene in a meaningful way, do what she did … help fill the land of Israel with a forest of trees. This was always her way of honoring the departed. Order trees here.

May Arlene’s memory be an eternal blessing.

Richard Sheff

Moving GMID, Meetings and Our Industry Forward

Originally published Meetings Today

Moving GMID, Meetings and Our Industry Forward

May 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of my first vote in a U.S. and local election in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, to date, the proudest day of my life!

I had gone to the polls with one or both of my parents during many elections, “practiced” voting with my school classes in the old voting booths with curtains, and was fortunate to live in a household that, regardless of how little income there was, ensured we read newspapers and watched the news daily. I was educated and ready to vote!

Since that first vote, I have not missed voting in any election regardless of where I lived. And even now, as a nearly 40-year resident of the District of Columbia (where we have taxation without voting representation), I continue to be informed and involved.

And I always vote.

Helping to educate and engage with others is the main purpose of this blog and my monthly Friday With Joan newsletter that includes additional relevant content.

Thus, I was pleased to recently be invited to participate as a speaker for the Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) event in Chicago, Industry Exchange or iX.

As I perused other GMID 2018 programs listed on the Meetings Mean Business (MMB) website, I was surprised to see how many were purely celebratory—or as I refer to them “boozing and schmoozing”—exactly the behaviors the U.S. Congress and the media have called out critically and that have caused curtailment of meetings or participation therein.

One event did bill itself as a way to learn advocacy, though when asked, it was … boozing and schmoozing in a great venue, where I was told, the advocacy part would be to meet others in and outside of the meetings industry. Doesn’t sound like advocacy to me.

I’m grateful to report that Chicago’s event, planned by a savvy committee (thank you all!), with advice from John Nawn of The Perfect Meeting, gave me confidence the Industry Exchange would be educational as well as celebratory right from the start.

I was also confident that the topics and other speakers and I would be able to provide substance allowing those in attendance to go forth and advocate.

My topic for discussion at the Industry Exchange was #MeToo in meetings and hospitality.

To prepare, I researched online, read and then talked at length with both the Chicago Clerk’s Office and with UniteHere.

UniteHere was the union representing, in this case, Chicago’s hotel housekeepers. As a result of their advocacy, and unlike in Seattle where the hotel community fought policies and procuring panic buttons for housekeepers, Chicago was in full support.

I am indebted to both the Chicago Clerk’s Office and UniteHere for all they did to make housekeepers safe by passing the “HandsOffPantsOn” ordinance and by celebrating with this cake for “No Harveys in Chicago.”

That’s in addition to the information they shared at length with me.

Look, all who work in hospitality need celebrations! We’re all overworked and many are undercompensated. We hear all the time “anyone can do this—it’s not brain surgery or rocket science,” to which I say (well, it’s a family publication so instead of what the students at March for Our Lives said, I say) “WRONG!”

What we do—what housekeepers do, what restaurant workers do, what sales and convention service people do—is often as complex as brain surgery: we are responsible for the health, safety, education and lives of tens of thousands.

We deserve to participate in celebrations and in education.

We deserve to be informed, to register to vote and to vote.

My improvisation training tells me to say “yes, and” (thanks, Izzy Gesell!) versus “Yes but” so: “Yes, we need to celebrate meetings and what they bring and we need to do more than booze and schmooze. We need to educate others on the issues impacting our world and the impact all of those issues have on meetings, travel and tourism.

We need to help register people to vote, and we need to encourage voting [See my interview with Roger Rickard for more on that].

We also need to find a way to highlight and work to educate, especially on September 25, 2018, National Voter Registration Day.

We are facing huge changes in our world, few if any that do not or will not impact meetings and hospitality. Some of the many changes include:

  • Automation which may eliminate once entry-level jobs (front desk jobs, for example).
  • Declining U.S. and world infrastructure impacting where and how and how safely we conduct meetings.
  • Rising food and beverage prices sometimes attributed to drought or other climate conditions, sometimes to increased labor costs.
  • Increasing hotel and tourism taxes to fund projects in cities in which we meet.
  • Sexual harassment for which panic buttons and other areas of safety for workers will be needed; and far more.

Nancy Zavada and others have done so much to highlight sustainability.

Sandy Biback is working tirelessly on issues of human trafficking.

(Here’s updated information from NBC 4 Washington on a lawsuit aimed at hotels, their owners and shareholders because of trafficking).

Around the world, everyone is waiting to see what the U.S. Supreme Court says about travel bans or restrictions that have impacted meetings, especially for those inbound to the U.S. who have been held up at borders and in airports.

Another state has passed, and more are considering, laws restricting the rights of LGBTQ people, which for some will be a reason to curtail travel there, for others, a reason to flock to that state. Regardless, it has an impact.

Immigration and refugee status around the world will impact the service economy, more about which a future Friday With Joan will explore. And certainly Brexit has been called out for the problems it will cause in Europe for the service economy.

Meetings Mean Business states the following:

“Meetings Mean Business is an industry-wide coalition to showcase the undeniable value that business meetings, trade shows, incentive travel, exhibitions, conferences and conventions bring to people, businesses and communities. By rallying industry advocates, working with stakeholders, conducting original research, engaging with outside voices and more, the coalition brings the industry together to emphasize its importance.

“Comprised of over 60 members, the coalition unites the meetings industry with one strong and powerful voice.”

After rereading this statement, I thought how obvious it was to me that GMID events should showcase the importance of what happens at meetings—the education that leads to better job performance; the tradeshows that result in sales; the research presented that leads to medical and scientific breakthroughs—versus the alcohol and food consumed.

I wonder if GMID 2019 will have a focus on voter registration, education on the issues, and voting. Just as one of the amazing students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said at the Washington, D.C. “March for Our Lives” rally, let’s also make REV (Register, Educate, Vote) part of GMID and our industry.

C’mon MMB and EIC and each member organization and company of those coalitions: every year is an election year so don’t say we’ll consider stressing voter registration more in an election year! Let’s highlight the issues that impact meetings at all the chapter programs of each industry association and let’s do it year-round.

And for all the independent organizations holding events or those with websites or social media pages, highlight registering to vote and voting all the time.

Footnote: In addition to coming from a family of news consumers and voters, the next-next generation is actively promoting voting. I present my cousin Joel Moss Levinson’s efforts in his community of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he and spouse are raising two children to be active participants in their community by example. See the video below [or on Facebook].

Travel Packing Tips for Meeting and Event Planners

Originally published Meetings Today 

 Travel Packing Tips for Meeting and Event Planners

Travel is exhausting; it didn’t used to be.

My first flight was in the late ’40s, which means I’ve been a frequent flyer for more than 70 years albeit not earning frequent flyer points until the start of the programs in the ’80s, with my Dad on a prop plane from Ohio to New Jersey.

I only remember it from photos commemorating my first flight.

That first flight took place during the days when we walked on the tarmac and up steps to board planes and when we arrived, those greeting us came to the tarmac as well.

For that first trip, I didn’t have to pack and I’m sure what was in Dad’s suitcases for both of us was far different than what I later needed as an adult for my travels!

Being a prepared and well-packed traveler allows us to make one part of the experience less stressful. After months of writing about critical industry issues, this April 2018 edition of Friday With Joan is taking a break from issues that impact our industry to issues that impact us and our sanity as individual business travelers.

For those among us who are experienced; for those still acquiring business travel experience; and for the hospitality and meetings students that are in this to travel, here are some travel and packing tips.

The Basics

My esteemed colleague, Marlys Arnold, has written and prepared an interactive CD-ROM entitled “Pack Your Bags: Tips and Tools for Savvy Travelers”—and it’s currently on sale!

She provides lots of information for non-business travelers as well including a reminder of “3-1-1”, the TSA travel rule for liquids and gels where each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of 3.4-ounce containers.

Keep in mind that you may know how to travel but for your meetings and shows there will always be a first time traveler for whom basic information is useful. Note too that the rules do keep changing especially for international flights.

Keep up to date by following @TSA or @AskTSA on Twitter.

1. Buy good luggage: Though the initial investment may be greater and sturdy luggage may be a bit tough for all to afford, if you plan to travel more than a few times a year, it’s worth every penny.

Frequent travelers have learned that luggage takes a beating whether it’s checked or carried on. Ensure what you buy meets the carrier’s requirements and can be locked with a TSA-approved lock.

Sometimes gate-checking is required when a plane is full and your hoped-to-carry-on bag has to go below. You want to make sure your valuables (which for me includes medications, makeup, clothing, emergency radio and files) are as safe as you can make them if you cannot carry them with you.

When you consider a wheeled bag, if possible, test it first. Handles are of varying length and depending on your height, may be awkward to pull through an airport. And there are different types of wheels, too.

And if you think a bag over your shoulder is a good idea, take it from me: the damage to your neck and shoulders from years of schlepping shoulder bags is now terribly painful.

Roll, don’t carry.

The most useful device I recently acquired is a Bag Bungee. It has allowed me to attach my backpack with laptop inside to my rolling bag far more easily than I had before with the hook on the suitcase or sliding it over the suitcase handle.

2. Ticketing: Whether traveling by air or rail, booking through discount websites may be a great way to save money. I don’t. I’ve heard and read too many stories of those denied boarding or not having the seats they thought they had when doing so.

Or if a flight is canceled or changed, the inability to then change other legs of trips, including changing carriers, may not be as easy as booking elsewhere.

I prefer booking using a travel agent or directly with the airline.

For train travel, I book directly with Amtrak on their websites or by phone.

Note: some airlines charge an additional fee to book using their reservations agents. Decide if it’s worth it by checking the airline’s website or asking when you call if there is an additional fee. Amtrak now too has fare rules similar to airlines regarding cancellation or changes.

Check before you commit.

Like many business travelers, I’m very picky about seat location. The sooner a ticket is booked (on most airlines) the more options one has for flights and seats.

Caution: there are now as many classes of seats and fees for specific seats including seats allowing you to sit with traveling companions as there are airfares. Check frequently. Aircraft changes for your flights may cause seat reconfigurations.

If you are flying on a commuter jet or smaller plane, find out the ability to take carry-on luggage on board. This will also help you decide which luggage to purchase and use.

Additionally, it will help you decide what to pack.

3. Boarding: If you are in a “priority” boarding class, arrive in time to do so. This is more likely to ensure space overhead for luggage.

And if you are traveling by rail, most Amtrak stations have great Red Caps who can board you early especially if you want an Amtrak Quiet Car seat which quickly fill.

Do remember to tip those who assist you.

What’s in your suitcase?

It was delightful to learn what colleagues pack for business trips. Each has different priorities. Of those queried, none noted required medical devices such as a CPAP machine, which is not included in the two-bag maximum for most carry-on luggage on U.S. flights. It may mean you have to schlep a bit more and you should plan accordingly.

I try to limit what I take with me. The ability to do so goes back to my dad, of blessed memory, who traveled by car as a salesperson.

Dad limited his wardrobe to easy, interchangeable items.

Like him, I have a “uniform.” His was khaki slacks or, in winter, gray flannel, button-down collar shirts and navy blazers of different weights for different seasons. Mine? A black jumper dress, good T-shirts, and shawls along with jewelry, the latter two the equivalent of Dad’s tie changes to create different looks.

Make a list

I’ve learned that without a list, something is forgotten. And even with an always-packed-with-essentials suitcase, items (shampoo and soap* for example) need to be replenished.

For me, writing the list helps me think versus using a pre-printed list to check things off. I think from head to toe, literally, and what I’ll need, always planning at least one extra of most items “just in case” a connecting flight is canceled and I need to spend a night.

In addition to the usual for some (laptop, iPhone, chargers, medications, makeup, underwear, something to wear to sleep, and clothing accessories—for me, jewelry, for others, belts or ties), I take:

  • Unscented or scents-I-can-tolerate toiletries*: hotels if you’re reading this, please have an option for unscented products! Some of us have chemical sensitivities and cannot use the soaps (or shampoos, conditioners, lotions) in the rooms.
  • An emergency radio for its many components (There are other brands and places to purchase).
  • A travel-size white noise device. Yes, there are apps for that and sometimes no convenient electrical outlets. Having this makes a difference for a good night’s sleep.
  • Traveling duct tape. It comes in rolls or flat packs and can be your best friend for anything that needs to be fixed from hems to tacking down electrical cords in your guest or meeting room.
  • Multiple small flashlights (in my luggage and purse), extra batteries and two battery-operated alarm clocks, one of which has a flashlight built in.
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses, or when I wore them, contact lenses plus eyeglasses.
  • Antiseptic wipes to wipe down armrests, tray tables, hair dryers, TV remotes and other items where germs flourish.
  • “Emergency” (Mylar) blanket(s) like a shawl or sweater, this is great for flights, delayed flights sitting on cold tarmac, or cold meeting rooms.
  • A small personal fan for flights delayed without air conditioning on or in over-heated meeting rooms, or, well, you know, women of a certain age!
  • A collapsible wind-resistant umbrella and a hat that repels rain.
  • Face masks especially during flu season.
  • My passport, D.C. ID [I don’t drive so it’s a non-driver ID] and TSA Pre-Check card because even though my boarding pass shows I’m Pre-Check, it always pays to have, as Timothy Lam notes, extra ID.

What about packing clothing?

Above I noted that my dad was very simple in what he packed.

I’m fascinated by those who take many multiple outfits and shoes while I travel with minimal clean clothes that can be mixed and matched and try to get away with one pair of shoes that can look fine for business or casual wear.

If I worked out, I’d ship the extra items that I would need. As Reiko Tate said, a large shawl is great as an accessory and an airplane blanket or warmth in a cold meeting room.

Like others have noted and Marlys Arnold stresses, roll your clothes.

They are neater and take up less space. Use the inside of shoes, if you take extra, for smaller items like sox, jewelry, belts, and scarves.

What about checked luggage?

Only when absolutely necessary.

Waiting for checked luggage is for me a colossal waste of time. Years ago, on a trip to the neighborhood dry cleaners, I ran in to a colleague who was picking up her clean clothes to be put in a box to ship to her next meeting.

I began doing the same.

There are now luggage services that ship and some airlines provide that service.

I put clothes and other items that may be too bulky for a carry-on, like a small battery operated table fan for stuffy rooms, neatly in plastic bags and directly in a box and send them by overnight or two-day service.

If you do this, check ahead to ensure the availability at hotels for accessing your box if you arrive late or on a weekend and the handling charge for their receiving (and reshipping) the box (with dirty clothes and other items not needed) for the next stop.

Hotels with in-house UPS and FedEx outlets can, even when you have an account with the service, charge a significant fee for handling and delivering the box to your room.

As a number of those interviewed said, check to see if you can do your own laundry at the hotel [for that I have to send unscented detergent and softener or dryer sheets] or the cost of dry cleaning. It may be worth it to take fewer clothes.

Hot shipping tip

Although I love USPS Priority Mail flat rate box service, I learned the hard way (is there any other?) that not all mail addressed to a hotel goes to the hotel itself. Rather it may go to a post office to be picked up by the hotel … and never seen again!

Ask before you mail or ship what the services are.

Ensure your box or luggage has additional labels (to the shipping label) inside and on the outside with your name and arrival, hotel name and address (An inside label is smart for inside your checked and carry-on luggage too).

If you’ve read my blogs and comments long enough you probably wonder if I’m worried someone will see that information and have more than I want them to about my whereabouts.

Yes, I do think about it and yes, I still ship.

Lastly, as others noted, take less than you think you want. Overpacking is easy and causes overstuffed or too heavy bags. No one is going to care if you wear the same outfit with different accessories (ties, jewelry, scarves or shawls) daily.

Pack in a way that allows you some flexibility.

Now, tell us your travel, and especially packing, tips in the comments below.

We all learn from each other.

Safe travels!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Any products or services noted are for reference and do not constitute an endorsement.

Related Reading From the April 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Are You on the Right Side of Ethics?

Originally posted The Meeting Magazines

Let These Meetings Industry Pros — and Your Conscience — Be Your Guide By 

Every industry faces ethics challenges, and meeting planning certainly is no exception. Something that looks like an incentive can be intended as a bribe. Planners are offered so many things so often that the right thing to do can be confusing, especially for novices.

Experts say several factors contribute to ethical lapses and quandaries including: not enough ethics education opportunities; industry guidelines are unclear about specific, ethically ambiguous situations; some planners, particularly those who are independent, have tighter budgets and may count on FAM trips, frequent flyer miles, hotel-stay points and other perks to defray expenses.

No wonder planners face ethics challenges as a routine part of their jobs.

According to Joan Eisenstodt, founder of Washington, DC-based Eisenstodt Associates LLC, a meetings consulting and training firm focusing on ethics issues, “I think our industry is far less ethical than it ever was because of high turnover, the complicity of vendors, younger and newer people who aren’t members of industry organizations, and because many people believe they are underpaid and overworked and are ‘due’ the perks offered.”

Sometimes the right ethical choice is clear, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the decision is ethically correct but gives the appearance of being unethical or at least inappropriate.

Ethics Education

Eisenstodt believes that more ethics education is needed to make planners aware of potential issues, especially those that fall into gray areas. “We need far more education now than ever,” she says. “I think ethics needs to be on the agenda of every industry organization at every national, international and chapter meeting. If a national organization or chapter does one ethics program every few years, they believe it is okay.”

Karen Kotowski, CEO of the Events Industry Council (EIC), offers a different assessment. “I think we do a fairly good job, particularly for the CMP community,” she says. “Our Events Industry Council Manual 9th Edition is the primary study resource (for the EIC’s CMP certification) and covers professionalism, ethical behavior, best practices, and how to develop and implement a code of ethics for your own organization.”

The EIC has an enforceable CMP Code of Ethics, which says that planners shouldn’t use their “position for undue personal gain and to promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.” In addition, the code says planners should “actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”

Questions about the EIC standards are included on the organization’s CMP exam. According to Kotowski, “CMPs are required to read and agree to abide by the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct on their initial certification application, as well as every time they recertify.”

The EIC can remove certification from planners who violate the standards. “The process ensures a CMP receives due process and the procedures are consistently enforced if a complaint is made,” says Kotowski.

Ethics Violations

Kotowski adds that the most frequent violations involve people who use the CMP designation after they fail to recertify. “A more infrequent, but equally serious occurrence, has been occasions where someone uses the credential who never earned it,” says Kotowski. “We can’t ensure ethical behavior. We can encourage, educate and enforce it if need be.”

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has its Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct, which asks members to “avoid any and all conflicts of interest and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.”

The PCMA principles also ask professionals to “refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.”

Some industry ethics experts say that industry standards provide general guidelines but aren’t uniform, are infrequently enforced and don’t cover many specific ethics challenges that planners commonly face.

According to Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM, CEO and master strategist at Bernardsville, New Jersey-based Strategic Meetings & Events, “If the industry were more strategic in how we planned and came together to form unilateral goals, standards and practices, we would be seen differently, treated differently, and better behavior on all sides would result.”

Knowing Ethics Codes

But many planners aren’t familiar with industry standards. According to Eisenstodt, “I think if you asked members of the various industry organizations when they last read the code for the organization for which they are a member or hold a certification, you’d find that few have.”

Unfamiliarity with ethics standards is especially common among numerous people who plan meetings but aren’t trained planners. “I think that the gap in awareness, if any exists, may be with those non-professional/part-time planners who are asked to plan a meeting, but it is not their day-to-day job,” says Kotowski.

Kotowski believes that untrained, part-time planners are even less aware than professional planners of potential ethical pitfalls. “I would urge those non-full-time planners to use our EIC manual as a desk reference for these practices and to become more professional in performing these activities that may not be their full-time job,” says Kotowski.

Lamagna agrees: “Those who plan meetings aside from their full-time responsibilities often make the wrong decisions as they are not exposed to guidelines and ethics codes. The bigger problem is that the industry is too segmented. If we had a universal platform to stand on or required a licensing procedure for this role, then we’d eliminate enormous amounts of unethical behavior.”

It’s also difficult to curb unethical behavior because suppliers and vendors may have inadequate ethics standards or none at all. Suppliers may not be clear to planners up front about the intention of their perks and gifts.

According to Eisenstodt, “The piece of this that is not addressed is whether the vendor or supplier is complicit in any unethical behavior and, if so, how should it be addressed. Having seen clients fire planners who violated ethics codes with the complicity of vendors, and seeing the vendors continue working for their companies, means we have no real standards across the industry.”

FAM Trips

Knotty ethics issues can result from FAM trips — expense-paid trips that hotels, venues and CVBs offer planners to acquaint them with properties and destinations.

Some planners accept FAM trips with no intention of ever considering the destination for a meeting. That’s not ethical, says Lamagna. “If you know your client base will never go to a destination, don’t accept the invite. These trips cost money and are investments in future business. Be respectful of that. If you don’t have business to share at that moment, but believe you may in the future, then consider going,” says Lamagna.

How can planners who want to do the right thing ensure that personal biases don’t influence their recommendations?

Lamagna offers the following advice: “I always repeat the mantra, ‘it’s not about me’ with every component of a program from menus to gifts, flowers or wine selection. I remind myself that I am not the audience. I base my recommendations on the group’s goals for the meeting, personality of executives and guests, budget, tolerance for travel, etc.”

While FAM trips are a problem, some experts believe that other ethical problems are more common.

Perks and Gifts

Says Eisenstodt: “I think FAM trips are the least of our concerns. They happen less frequently. I think the issue of prizes at trade shows/hosted buyer events and even the hosted buyer events themselves are of far greater concern as are the gifts given, the undisclosed commissions, the hidden fees and so much more.”

Indeed, many ethical issues stem from perks, rewards, points and gifts offered to planners or that they rarely request. Suppliers such as hotels and venues as well as CVBs bombard planners with perks such as hotel nights, airfare points, spa treatments, five-star dinners, limo rides, tickets to sporting events and concerts, and trips for family and friends.

It can be difficult for planners, especially novices, to decide when it’s ethical to accept freebies. A perk may also be a bribe, or at least give the appearance of one.

Organizations, corporations and event stakeholders know that planners are offered perks. Still, not revealing the acceptance of the gifts could be unethical if the offerings favorably impact a planner’s recommendation or decision about a property or destination. Even if a reward doesn’t influence the decision, non-disclosure could give the appearance of being unethical if the perk is revealed later.

Lamagna offers the following advice for dealing with perks, points, rewards and gifts. “We give any gifts we receive to the client,” she says. “For instance, a property awarded us a watch after the event. We had them send it to our client’s CEO. If you are upfront with the client and they are okay with you accepting points, use them as a perk for employees.”

Gray Areas

Many planners perceive some perks as gray areas. Here are two examples:

A hotel, vendor or other supplier offers an expensive dinner at a swanky restaurant: “Five-star dinners should not be the norm,” says Lamagna. “That said, if a relationship has developed with a vendor who takes you out to celebrate or as a thank you, and you can separate that from ‘owing’ them something in the form of business in the future, then that may be okay. Nothing should ever be expected, done in excess or abused.”

A hotel offers a room upgrade: “Accepting upgrades while on a site visit is not unethical but it is inappropriate,” says Lamagna. “Upgrades offered onsite during a program should also be declined because the meeting is not about you. You are staff, not a guest. We put into our preshow notes that no one from our team is ever to be upgraded so there is a clear path for everyone to follow.”

Should a planner who has accepted points and perks not recommend the hotel even if it is a good match for the meeting? Why? “When you have to start asking yourself these questions you are blurring a line,” says Lamagna. “Focus on the client’s goals and best interests, and be transparent in your behavior. That eliminates most challenges.”

Eisenstodt agrees that transparency is the best course. “Destination, venue and vendor salespeople have quotas to make, and we all have been begged to get contracts signed,” says Eisenstodt. “We have an obligation to know and disclose the criteria on which we base decisions. Discussing with an internal or external stakeholder the selection criteria means that one can be more objective, and show the objectivity in the decision-making.”

The need for ethical behavior among meeting planners grows as more join the events industry. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of meeting and convention planners will continue to grow 16 percent through 2018 — faster than the average for all occupations.

Expert Advice

Planners can take the following steps to increase awareness about ethics:

  • Experienced planners should serve as ethics mentors to new planners, and newcomers should seek advice from experienced peers.
  • Talk to a boss or coworker about a situation when the course of action isn’t clear.
  • Put the best interests of stakeholders and clients first.
  • Be aware of how actions might be perceived and interpreted even if they are technically ethical.
  • Planners facing an ethical dilemma should ask themselves how they would feel if their actions were posted on social media.
  • Corporations that lack their own codes of ethics should create such standards.

Corporate Ethics Codes

According to Eisenstodt, “Most corporations, if not all, have codes of conduct/ethics.  Of the corporate planners I know, all have said they are asked once a year to do an online evaluation of ethics issues. I have helped clients write specifics, using their overall codes, for their meetings departments so that individuals knew, for example, the value of gifts or meals or entertainment they could accept.”

Kotowski offers advice on what the corporate codes should cover. “It would include their own specific practices and standards regarding how they interact with their clients and conduct their business,” says Kotowski.

The codes also would cover company-specific “financial practices, how they report their activities to the client, transparency in billing practices and expectation of employee interactions with vendors and suppliers,” says Kotowski.

Hold Peers Accountable

Planners should know and abide by ethics codes and hold their peers accountable for doing the same. Suppose a corporate planner finds out that a peer within the same company has acted unethically. What steps should the planner take?

Eisenstodt offers the following advice: “It is generally thought that one should approach (not report) the person thought to have acted unethically based on the company’s code and say something like, ‘I think you did X and it seems like it might be in opposition to the company’s code of conduct in section Y,” says Eisenstodt. “Please tell me a bit more so I can understand how to apply the code to my own work.”

Eisenstodt advises that planners talk to human resources when in doubt about what to do, or use the company’s anonymous reporting system. “Use what works best and most comfortably for you. If the person believed to have acted unethically holds a certification, determine what you need to do and how to report the information to (the certifying organization). Do that only when certain of the information.”

According to Lamagna, corporate planners have a duty to report ethics violations. “There is no middle ground with ethics,” says Lamagna. “Once you know something is happening that is unethical, it is incumbent on you to share the information. If you are unsure and it is not your responsibility to follow up, share the concern, not an accusation, with the appropriate person and then step aside.”

The right ethical decision isn’t always clear, and planners may see the same situations differently. However, it’s crucial that planners approach issues with a knowledge of ethics standards and a willingness to make the best efforts to apply them.  C&IT

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

“Diversity fatigue is real,” said Greg DeShields, CEO of PHLDiversity.

And it’s true. People groan when they hear the words “diversity and inclusion.”

They’ve been through training at work, in their spiritual homes, in their communities. Yet, the fear of those “not like us” is great and the lessons learned are not sticking.

The following was posted to the Meetings Today Twitter account from a presentation on storytelling at the MPI Northern California Chapter’s Annual Conference & Exhibition:

“The story always came first. Without a great story, everything would unravel.” The quote is attributed to Matthew Luhn, who worked with Pixar on the Toy Story films and others.

Because the subject is not sexy—a bit like ethics or contingency planning, as I was once told by an industry association staff person—diversity and inclusion at meetings often gets overlooked or, perhaps even worse, we assume that it’s no longer an issue.

I began to write this blog post with the intention of identifying the many things you can do to ensure your meetings, conferences and events are more inclusive.

My initial advice included, but certainly is not limited to the following:

  • Destination and Site Selection: Don’t meet in destinations where laws are passed that discriminate against those who attend or want to attend your meetings. Don’t give business to places where people may be in danger because of who they are, what they look like or their abilities, such as states with “papers please” laws or anti-LGBT laws. Instead, seek out venues with facilities that don’t exclude people who are transgender and where accessibility goes beyond the minimal ADA standards.
  • Speakers: Enlist representative speakers versus the example making its way around the internet of the math-for-women poster showing a panel of four men. Present different points of view and make sure that those who speak are inclusive.
  • Room Sets, Lighting and Activities: Create environments and opportunities that are designed for different learning styles. Ensure you ask what people need to fully participate at your meeting or event and that you then provide for those needs. Some people may require Interpreters, including ASL Interpreters. Some people may need assistance in seeing or taking notes. Make sure to include seating that is appropriate for those using mobility devices. At networking events you should ensure that food is appropriate and labeled and that noise is low enough to allow conversation.

Possible additions to my list included the offering of printed handouts versus having everything web or cloud based because not everyone has a device capable of access.

We also know people learn better by writing than by “keyboarding.” And let’s not forget to ensure that images used in all levels and types of marketing are representative of different ethnicities, gender, attire, age and visible ability.

Then I thought: you know this. You get it.

You are a unique person who wants to be included versus excluded; you hate the pain you see in children and adults when they come to an event dressed differently than others because no one told them or showed them what was acceptable.

At some time in your life, you too were left out for being different. We all were.

I thought the examples shared by those I interviewed for the March 2018 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter would help. And yet, only a few shared personal stories.

As noted earlier in this blog post, the “story comes first.”

Here are some of my own experiences that have instilled a desire to seek out and ensure inclusiveness and diversity in the world in which I live and work.

I am or was:

  • the child who was kept at school to be “babysat” by teachers when all the others who weren’t like me went off (public school) campus to Bible School.
  • the young person called a “Christ-killer” on the playground because of my religion.
  • pained when other children were bullied or left out because of their looks or income or weight or other circumstances that they most often could not control.
  • the child who saw her parents fight “redlining” and “blockbusting” [look them up; they continue today] and whose family hosted people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Greece, Norway and other countries and who realized, by the age of 16, how big the world really was and why it mattered and was grateful.
  • the younger-than-many representative on an industry board who was patted on the head and told “honey just wait until you’re older—you’ll know more.”
  • the industry professional who, in too many negotiations was told I was trying to “Jew down” the salesperson and “oh, don’t take offense—it’s just a saying.”
  • the industry professional who was tired of trying to explain why the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners existed and was needed in our industry.
  • the planner of LGBT events who had to explain to a Director of Catering why it was acceptable to have men dancing with men and women with women at a fundraiser.
  • the non-college degree holder who constantly hears that people without college degrees can’t make it anywhere and wouldn’t be hired even by my own clients who, still though, want my expertise, and who realize I have, by sheer will and lots of continuous learning, done pretty well.
  • the person dealing with a mobility disability and who, upon finally getting the white hair my great-grandmother had and that I had for years thought I wanted, is now experiencing age and ability discrimination and exclusion.
  • and the highly sensitive person who notices exclusion and wonders why it has to be hurtful—or why it even has to be in the first place.

You can check calendars for dates to avoid so that you don’t meet over holidays and you can delve into why some religious holidays are more important than others.

You can learn by talking with people who aren’t like you—that includes those who are your members or customers or who want to and could be if they were just asked. You can talk with your HR departments and those who conduct diversity training like Jessica Pettitt and learn more about the importance of diversity and inclusion for all.

You can read what people are posting about the “math for women” conference that showcased a panel of four men and realize your marketing isn’t showing who you want to attract—you too hotels and cities!

You can read the U.S. Department of Justice website to understand your obligations to help people with disabilities attend and participate in your meeting and you can stop asking why you have to provide sign language Interpreters because they’re expensive.

You can read what Tracy Stuckrath has written about food and beverage and shared elsewhere in our industry. Or why meeting the needs of those who “claim to be vegan” really means they need to eat what they need to eat so they feel valued.

It’s pretty easy to understand why people want to be included in all the activities at your conferences and in your facilities. And why it hurts so much when people are not.

We need to be hospitable and welcoming in all that we do.

It all matters because we live in a global society and we all need to support each other, no matter how much we or others might think or say otherwise. It all matters. It just does.

Related Reading From the March 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

Marriott Planner Clash: What’s Commission Got to Do With It?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Marriott Planner Clash: What's Commission Got to Do With It?

In Houston and Puerto Rico people are still homeless and without power. Though I have no statistics, I imagine some of those people are in the hospitality industry.

Flu is spreading around the United States and killing people; many cities are without shots or medicine or IV bags, the latter made in Puerto Rico.

Among those getting the flu are workers who don’t get paid sick leave and some, no doubt, work in our industry or the wider hospitality industry.

There is talk of war with North Korea that few take seriously.

Housekeepers and others in hotels are demanding “panic buttons” in cities where they are not currently mandated because of the attacks that are real and were documented in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue and also noted in the January 2018 edition of Friday With Joan.

Wildfires, drought, floods and other natural disasters; refugees crowded into camps; the United States proposing to deport hundreds of thousands of people among whom we are certain are people who work in hospitality jobs.

All of these people and issues occupy my thinking.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s examine the extensive industry energy and conversations that are focused on Marriott’s reduction of commission from 10 to 7 percent for those who work solely or partially for commission from hotels.

It’s a greater amount of energy than I’ve seen directed toward the other issues.

First, some background and a disclaimer: I founded my meeting planning/consulting business, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, in 1981 after working for an art museum, then full-time part of the year for a not-for-profit in D.C.

During off-time from the not-for-profit employment, I did contract meeting planning work for organizations in and outside D.C., my home base.

In all but one instance since then (when a client had already negotiated a rate with a rebate that would off-set fees from a third party and then hired my company), I have been paid hourly or daily or project fees from clients.

How did I determine what the source of payment would be?

When I started Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, I talked with others—there weren’t many “third parties” or “independent planners” in 1981—and all, except one, with whom I spoke said they worked on a fee-for-service payment system.

It was a model that made sense to me and didn’t present a conflict of interest, which proved to be a smart move in light of recent (and previous) events.

This blog post is not intended as legal or business advice.

It is opinion based on 40+ years in our industry and additional research. It is also based on my experience testifying as an expert witness in industry disputes and in a dispute in which I was directly involved, a situation where, had I not been paid fees versus commissions, there might have been a very different outcome.

Here’s that story, illustrative of the commission versus fee dilemma:

In 1984 I was a defendant in a case that involved a canceled and relocated meeting, the site selection and contract negotiation for which were done by an in-house planner at the time the site was selected. The judge found that, though the suit was against the group, me individually and my company, I had nothing to gain because I was not receiving commission or higher commission as a result of the move of the meeting.

Thus the cases against me and against my company were thrown out.

Because of that and other experiences, I have, for years, on the issue of commission paid to third-party/independent planners or companies from hotels and other industry suppliers, which is certainly not a new concern for our industry, engaged in discussions.

Most recently, on the issue of the Marriott commission structure change, the discussions have been across social media, in interviews by numerous industry publications—including Meetings Today for which I write regular blog posts that are featured in a newsletter—and in conversations with people on different sides of this issue including various third-party models, attorneys, hoteliers and DMOs.

In fact, the discussion around the “agency” model of commission pay versus fees has been one on the list of futurists and others as a model that is not sustainable.

It even contributed to the demise of many travel companies.

AND I get it—the anger and frustration … why a cut in one’s projected income is a blow, in any situation. And while I understand the anger, I think that we are long overdue in discussing the model and even more overdue in showing how our segment of the hospitality industry has changed and why the commission model as we’ve known it may be outdated.

Our industry has no standards of how one is to be paid; it has been left to individuals and their clients to figure out. Right, we cannot discuss specific fee-setting amounts. But the equity or appropriateness of commissions for varied levels of services is verboten except in private conversations … in hushed tones especially when it is verified that someone will pay higher guest room rates or other costs because others received commission. Thus we each negotiate the scope of work, time and fees with clients directly.

While the voices are loud over a change in commission for some, I also know that no one has fought for those of us who work for fees—who conduct training (being told that instead of an appropriate honorarium we should “do it for the exposure”), select sites, design meetings, negotiate contracts and provide site management—to be paid what we’re worth by clients versus depending on room pickup to determine what we earn.

Though I know I’m not alone, it appears others that share my experiences and views on the problematic commission payment model for third-party planners are a minority.

Or at least, other than in a few examples I’ve seen, many are not speaking up.

My objections to the Marriott commission brouhaha and boycott center on these key points:

1. Not all third parties are equal: I’ve seen the work of many who do site selection only and in fact, do only “lead generation,” and who are not providing other services such as contract negotiation, meeting management, on-site management, etc.

I know that not all third parties have contracts with their clients and thus are not protected or even smart in how they work. I know because I’ve seen it—and been told by many—that people are in for a quick buck for even just recommending a property and expect to be paid and have found that being paid by hotels is a far easier way than doing more, such as contract negotiation.

(An incomparable example from years ago on an industry listserv: planners would post asking for recommendations of properties and third parties would copy the request, put it on letterhead and send to hotels as if it were their client and expect and receive commission for the lead generation).

Of course, it’s not all and yet, it seems to be a growing number. Without standards of operation or adherence to industry ethics policies (see point 5), there is no regulation on how people operate.

2. Legal and tax implications: As noted above, in the lawsuit in which I was involved as a defendant and in ones in which I’ve testified, commission can clarify or cloud the outcome. If it appears that one is making more as a result of a commission because a meeting cancels and moves or one hotel is selected over another because the commission is greater, it can if not in fact, in appearance, be a conflict of interest.

In talking with a third party that accepts commission and then rebates some or all to the client, I was curious about the tax (and ethical and legal) implications for both parties. The initial recipient of the (usually) larger amount is taxed on that amount. Those to whom a portion of that amount is rebated, are taxed on the lesser amount.

It’s not “free money” in any case.

In talking with Josh Grimes, Esq., an attorney on the group side for our industry, he said: “In terms of the boycott, I suppose that planners can do what they want.

“But if they are going to ignore Marriott [properties] in favor of other properties that pay higher commission, then planners may have an ethical and legal (i.e., remember Sarbanes-Oxley – SOX – accountability rules?) obligation to let their clients know that they aren’t going to evaluate properties solely on the basis of what’s best for the client, but that planner compensation will also be a factor.

“The client ought to consent to this different way of sourcing properties.

“I remember the days when I did SOX presentations, when planners rejected any notion that some might choose one property over another based upon the amount of commission paid. I was told repeatedly that professional meeting planners would never let commissions be a factor,” he added. “It appears that something has changed.

Lastly, I fear that with the deadline of March 31, 2018, for contract signing (when Marriott will pay less commission to some third parties than they had been), there will be rushed, bad contracts. Is there anyone still in the industry who doesn’t know what happens when contracts are rushed?

“Do-overs” are not easy when the terms are not well vetted.

3. Professionalism: Some have said that by paying some third parties less it means we are not well-regarded as professionals. C’mon! We have, sadly, never been.

And though platforms of various organizations have demanded we work harder at getting a “seat at the table”, by demanding commissions versus the seat, we are demeaning ourselves into commodities not professionals.

4. Boycotts: When a number of groups, including some of the clients with whom I work (and PCMA pre-emptively for Texas), said they would boycott cities or hotel companies or cancel meetings over the anti-transgender aka “bathroom bill” or other like civil and human rights policies and laws, there was much pooh-poohing that we were hurting cities, hotels and workers who were most impacted.

Somehow the “Say No to Marriott”—or #SayNotoMarriott if you’re on social media—boycott movement that is entirely about finances is acceptable.

In the case of the principle of cutting commissions to all but a few companies, it may in fact be principle. It is not being positioned as such.

5. Ethical implications: One of the organizations at the forefront of the protest about this change in commission amount does not have an ethics policy for its members though I, a past Chair of ASAE’s Ethics Committee, offered to help write one and the offer was refused (If I’m incorrect and one was created, my apologies. I couldn’t find it. Please provide the link in the comments).

Excerpts from major meeting and event industry organizations’ ethics policies could impact how the boycott of one brand is perceived:

The CMP Code of Conduct/Ethics is similar to others. In the CMP Code it says:

“As a recipient of the CMP designation by the Events Industry Council (‘Certificant’), a CMP must pledge to…

“Never use my position for undue personal gain* and promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.”

MPI’s Principles of Professionalism says this in the first section:

Avoid actions which are or could be perceived as a conflict of interest or for individual gain*

PCMA’s Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct has among its principles:

  • Respect the policies and regulations* of those organizations with whom I deal.
  • Refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.*
  • Avoid any and all conflicts of interest* and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.

Emphasis is the blog author’s.

There are also ethical and business implications for those cities and properties marketing higher-than-Marriott’s new commission and the “woo-hooing” of such offers on social media. How sustainable will this be?

Will these offers be applied across the board to all third parties? What about groups that have internal planners and want a discount that would reflect what a commissionable agent would receive? Or want a rebate to equal what others might receive?

Or an internal planner who doing the same work a third-party might do believing they are due perks for the work?

I think the waters are being muddied even more with these offers.

6. Do what you say: I’m mainly looking at the third parties who have always maintained that they do not book based on what they make in commission and instead book based on what is best for the client. If one rules out an entire company—or is it the ownership of hotels or the management companies as well as the brand?—because the person or company booking isn’t making enough, then can this be true?

7. When other hotel brands or owners follow suit: What then? Will there be a boycott of all brands? Will only brands—or owners of particular hotels who agree to pay the highest commission be considered?

Can a sustainable business model for brands and owners be groups who use a commissionable agent plus a housing company that receives a share of the room rate plus groups who want rebates to off-set their costs plus concessions that, in fact are not “free” but have a dollar value? When and where will it stop?

I understand economics and earning a living and the arguments in favor of the “trickle-down” effect as it relates here—those who don’t earn more can’t employ others or spend more to grow the economy. But where then, is the outcry for a higher minimum wage for those in our industry, especially for back-of-the-house workers and servers?

Some have cited the new U.S. tax laws and Marriott’s profitability as a reason they should pay third parties more or at least what they were paying. Why should commissionable agents receive more than those doing the, literal, heavy lifting in hotels? Or is it that some want everyone paid and the owners and brands to take the hit?

Could Marriott have handled this differently?

You betcha! IF instead of a letter sent without, it seems, warning, there had been conversations (which it appears there were not or at least not that anyone is disclosing) with large and small third parties to discuss this.

IF owners (where is AHLA’s voice?) were saying what we think they must be—that they are demanding greater ROI, would that matter to the protesting voices?

Or is this back to let them take the hit—they are getting tax breaks?

IF this had been applied across the board and not exempting four companies, who have allegedly been granted an exclusion from the commission cut until 2020, would it have been more palatable?

IF those 4 companies said “whoa—let’s do this across the board versus just for some” because “what’s good for all is best for the industry” would this have been more acceptable?

Is it that those who are contractors for some of these companies, especially among those exempted, and groused before about their smaller share of total commission and now will get even less, adding fuel to this fire?

Is a boycott for financial reasons for oneself now Kosher?

Really. I am trying to understand all the different viewpoints … and how the focus is so much on this issue and not on, say, Puerto Rico and the suffering of so many including many in our industry. I’m seeking answers and ethics versus rancor.

I know this is a tough topic and that you may want to contribute comments and prefer to do so anonymously. Comment below and if you prefer to comment anonymously, please send your comments to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I promise to add to the discussion here and to ensure your privacy by, as always, not disclosing your identify to anyone.

Finally, here are some additional resources for planners to consider when confronting issues of ethics, payment and more:

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/306/how-to-network-and-ethically-do-business-in-a-relationship-industry

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/288/ethical-negotiations-an-oxymoron

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?
http://www.meetingstoday.com/newsletters/friday_with_joan/2016_08_05.html

Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Magazines/ArticleDetails/RegionID/0/ArticleID/28848

Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/191/is-our-industry-corrupt

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/280/when-laws-and-meetings-intersect-go-stay-or-boycott

Contracts: Accommodations (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4093

Contracts: Critical Clauses (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4091

Q&A: Sexual Harassment in the Meetings Industry

Originally posted Meetings Today and Friday’s with Joan

         

Jessica Pettitt, Speaker and Consultant                 Sherry Marts, CEO, S*Marts Consulting

“Sexual harassment” as a term was not coined until 1975, as documented by Lin Farley in this Op-Ed piece for The New York Times. It was years later that the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added guidelines on sexual harassment.

For those of you who live in other parts of the world, I encourage you to comment on this article with more information (and links) about the protections against sexual harassment and other workplace bullying. Our goal is to ensure greater protection and knowledge for all that are in and related to our industry.

In selecting those to interview, I turned to Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt, both of whom have written extensively on issues of equality, inclusion and harassment. Their views are their own based on research and experience. They may not reflect all my views or those of the publisher of this blog and newsletter.

My gratitude for their time and sharing of experiences. If we’ve accidentally edited responses in a way that changes the meaning, forgive us and add please to the comments to correct our errors. In some cases, their words have been emphasized either in bold or italics or both by this author to call attention to certain concepts.

Q1. Those interviewed:

Sherry A. Marts (SM), Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, is a former association CEO with a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, regulatory affairs, nonprofit management, public education and research advocacy. She provides expert consulting and training services to nonprofits and academic institutions on diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying, and interpersonal communication. She also offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on career and leadership development for women.

Dr. Marts is a skilled workshop leader, facilitator, writer and speaker with a lively personality and a keen sense of humor. Her interest in the issue of harassment and bullying lies at the intersection of her professional life as a woman in science, and her previous experience as a women’s self-defense instructor.

Her most recent publications include:

Dr. Marts received her B.Sc. (Hons.) in Applied Biology from the University of Hertfordshire, and her Ph.D. in Physiology from Duke University.

You can connect with her at her website, www.smartsconsulting.com,

or via email at sherry@smartsconsulting.com.

Jessica Pettitt (JP), M.Ed., CSP™, pulls together her stand-up comedy years with 15-plus years of diversity trainings–about which she says on her website, “WARNING: Not your typical diversity trainer!”–in a wide range of organizations to serve groups to move from abstract fears to actionable habits that lead teams to want to work together. With a sense of belonging and understanding, colleagues take more risks with their ideation, converse precious resources through collaboration, and maintain real connections with clients over time.

You can read her full resume here, including the extensive list of publications, training and work she does. Jessica Pettitt can be contacted at jess@goodenoughnow.com, or text her about anything to 202.670.4262.

A personal note: I am grateful that Jess wrote Good Enough Now, about which you can read more about here and purchase copies of via the link provided on that page, if you so choose.

Q2. What is “sexual harassment?” What is non-sexual bullying or harassment? How are they alike and how do they differ? Why is it important to differentiate, especially since the current conversations are about sexual vs. general harassment?

SM: I hate the term “sexual harassment” and I don’t use it. I talk about gender-based harassment and bullying.

The term “sexual harassment” puts the focus on the content of the harassing behavior, rather than on the effects of that behavior. When you look at the effect of gender-based harassment on targets and bystanders you can clearly see that this is not about sex, sexuality or human intimacy–even when the harasser’s goal is some kind of sexual contact or activity. Harassment is all about power.

Whether we’re talking about gender-based harassment or harassment on the basis of any other personal characteristics (race, religion, age, ability, size, etc.), we’re talking about behavior that emerges from the difference in power between the harasser and the target. Harassment is all about who controls the space, and who is or is not safe in that space. Street harassment conveys the clear message that the target is not safe from unwelcome attention in public spaces simply because they are female, or transgender, or a person of color, or wearing a hijab, and so on. Workplace harassment conveys the message that the target is not safe and not welcome in that workplace, or in a particular role in that workplace.

Harassment is a form of bullying, one that focuses on a personal characteristic of the target. The bully’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it.” The harasser’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t belong here, and I can get away with treating you this way because you are a ____.”

I have heard from many women whose initial harassment experiences fit the legal and HR definitions of sexual harassment, and whose harasser shifted tactics after the woman complained. The harasser then turned bully–belittling her in meetings, sending all-caps email rants that he cc’d to everyone in the department, excluding her from important meetings or conversations about her work, and so on. Her further complaints to HR were dismissed because this was no longer “sexual” harassment. That’s one of the problems with segregating harassment and bullying with sexual content from other forms of harassment and bullying.

JP: I didn’t know the words bullying or harassment until I had been on the speaking circuit for a decade or so and they were suddenly topic areas of speakers. Similarly, I didn’t know the word lesbian until graduate school. Interestingly, to me at least, I was personally impacted and/or targeted by bullies, harassers and homophobes, long before I had access to the language that described me and the experiences.

As a diversity and inclusion speaker, author and consultant, I have always gravitated to the incongruences of oppression and work daily to bring light to those silenced and marginalized, even if I don’t know the right words. Most recently, I have learned that airlines don’t have a policy to deal with unwanted and/or unsolicited touching while in flight. They claim no responsibility, have no response protocol, and no criminal action is taken to prevent the perpetrator from leaving the plane. I don’t know anything about this–and this is my newest area of mind-blowing WTF moments where I, too, don’t have the language.

I don’t know that I agree that it is important to separate out sexual vs. general harassment. This is about power and not a sexual fetish or conquest of sorts. The feeling of being entitled to someone else’s space, body or a specific response can be problematic, and that is if the other person feels this as a use of power over their sense of agency or in exchange for something that feels limiting. This is a subjective definition and why this area is tricky. Sometimes, the motivation can be solved through education and sometimes it can’t be.

I draw a parallel between “in group” and “out group” language to some degree. There are stories, words and actions that are permitted (rightly or wrongly) within sub groups or communities to which you belong that are not promised to be permitted in other settings. One must learn each setting and follow often unwritten rules about what is permitted, and over time, these rules may change. An individual can also write their own rules about what is and isn’t permitted, and these rules apply to their own behavior–not others necessarily. I should mention, I am not a lawyer, I was a ceramics major so take my legal advice with that in mind.

Lastly, it is never appropriate to say or do anything without someone’s consent and yet we do this all the time, and most of the time it even seems to work out okay. We are not entitled to feedback, education, training or a conversation with someone that we have offended or hurt. It is our responsibility to listen to those that do give us feedback and assume that we don’t know everything.

Imagine what would happen if we entered a conversation prepared to be wrong–this isn’t at all about overpowering the other, but actually listening and connecting with them if they want to.

Q3. Our readers are in hospitality–as meeting professionals (aka planners or designers of content and delivery), sales for AV companies, hotels, convention centers, cities, conference centers and related services, and others. A friend once said to me that at hospitality gatherings it “feels like Hollywood” with all the hugging and kissing. If that’s the culture,

  • How is it contributing to potential harassment and the ability to say no to even a general greeting from a business contact that could involve a hug or kiss?
  • How do we turn it around to change the culture of the industry? Do we need to and why? And are industry associations (MPI, PCMA, IAEE, ASAE, etc.) responsible to help do so?

SM: Whether or not this kind of social behavior contributes to harassment, it is behavior that needs to be reconsidered because it is troubling and can be exclusionary. There are myriad reasons why someone doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed. Maybe they have a cold and don’t want to spread it. Maybe they are on the autism spectrum and physical contact is excruciating for them. Maybe they have severe germ phobia. Maybe they come from a cultural background in which that kind of touch is restricted to family members and spouses.

Who knows how many members, attendees, employees, even business contacts have stayed away from events just to avoid the unpleasantness of putting up with, or trying to avoid, unwanted touch? [Author note: I’m reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People and learning so much about myself and others. What Sherry says plays into lessons in this book as well.]

[On-site meetings] staff can help by modeling behavior that discourages this kind of contact without permission or consent. They can be the ones who ask first: “May I give you a hug?” which doesn’t take long and is a perfectly polite and reasonable question.

“Please don’t hug me without asking” is a perfectly polite and reasonable response to being forced into a hug. If this truly has become part of the culture, then work that as the association has become aware that this is a barrier to all members feeling safe at the meeting, everyone should ask before hugging–something like a gentler version of the DC Metro [mass transit] campaign, “If it is unwanted, it’s harassment.”

I know lots of people who proclaim, “But I’m a hugger, I hug everyone!” I really doubt that all of these folks are incapable of resisting the urge to wrap their arms around someone in public. Always, always, always ask before your grab and then wait for a positive response before you move in. Don’t assume that because this is someone you’ve hugged before, they are okay with being hugged again.

Consent is active, not passive, and past consent does not imply current consent.

And yes, I am fully aware of cultural differences in how people greet each other. Japanese bowing etiquette is a great example. It is amazing how much information (respect, dominance, deference, fondness) can be exchanged in the process of simply bowing from the waist, and physical contact is not required.

The custom in some cultures of cheek-kissing is one that comes up in discussions about “to hug or not to hug,” and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first is that if cheek kissing is NOT part of your culture, it is perfectly okay to decline to participate. You may have to let the cheek-kisser know that on first encounter, but there is no reason why you have to conform to their custom if that custom makes you uncomfortable.

The second is that, having experienced cheek-kissing rituals when doing business in Europe, I found them somewhat less invasive than some U.S. customs. They are certainly less invasive and less prone to “accidental” unwanted touching of body parts than hugs; they are even less invasive than the U.S. “handshake-elbow grab-pull in for a pat on the back” maneuver.

JP: I just spoke at a conference that was VERY huggy. When I say huggy, I mean deep long-lost friend hugs that genuinely seemed honest and loving with nothing but a “welcome to the community” intention. I am not a touchy, huggy person, and when at conferences, I know that the hugs will happen so I brace myself and enjoy being part of the community norm. I still get VERY uncomfortable when someone hugs me or approaches me from behind, and the depth, length and tightness of the hugs at the conference I just returned home from was a new level of discomfort. I simultaneously felt welcomed and emotionally drained until the last day of the conference, I was literally out of juice in a way I can’t really describe.

I don’t have direct answers or solutions. I also don’t want a world or meeting culture where people, specifically men, are terrified to emotionally connect, show respectful affection, etc. I don’t know that it is the meeting industry’s role to mediate what is an intention of a touch and the impact of that touch–I would like to think that our cultural norms can set these standards. I also would like to see people more confident that they have more to offer than a sexual object or are valued by society by how attractive or sexually active one is. This is a larger issue about respecting one another and ourselves differently and without connection to another person.

We all have work to do.

It is also true that someone can learn and behave differently than they did in the past. This can be both a positive progressive movement as well as a decline in rational choices and personal decisions. To make it even more complicated, though always about power, sexual harassment and bullying can be considered comedy, entertainment and harmless, and the next second it has gone too far.

At another conference I spoke at recently, a comedian introduced me following the [immediate past] Secretary of Education’s speech. [The person introducing me] talked about how young and attractive the Secretary of Education was while he was serving himself breakfast in the back of the room post-speech. He turned red and the audience laughed. The introducer continued and suddenly, it was too much. She kept going and as she walked off the stage she stated her phone number and said, “Most marriages don’t last–call me.”

This turned abhorrent. As I took the stage, and began my keynote, I named what had happened by saying, “With all that is going on in the world, that is an excellent example of sexual harassment and what not to do.” [During the] conference, [participants], men and women, thanked me for naming it as sexual harassment. It took almost nothing on my part to name it, and collectively, we in the industry could do this, too.

Q4. Much of what’s in the news is about sexual harassment by men toward women, except for the cover story in Time naming the #MeToo movement as “persons of the year” where men were included, and in the case of some celebrities and the spouse of a politician in Massachusetts. Is this what’s prevalent vs. same-gender harassment? Toward LGBTQ people? Toward transgender people?

SP: “Wait, what about me?!? I’m oppressed, too, you know!!” The age-old cry of those in power (i.e. white, straight, cis-gender men) whenever the rest of us object to being treated as less than human.

The vast majority of incidents in professional settings are men harassing women, and most often older men harassing younger women, or men higher in rank or power harassing women lower in rank or power. Yes, men do harass men, although it often takes the form of bullying rather than “sexual” harassment. And there is a lot of intersectional harassment and bullying–targets are selected and bullied because of their gender or gender identity AND their race, religion, appearance, age, etc.

Hair-splitting over who is more harassed than whom, and exactly what kind of harassment they experience, is a distraction from the real problem. The real problem is the steady and unrelenting abuse of the power dynamics in organization.

The goal of all this is pretty simple. Behave like an adult. Treat people like the human beings that they are. Don’t be an asshole.

JP: All harassment is about power. The harassment of trans folks, specifically transwomen of color, is significantly more likely to result in death or life long injury and disability. The indecipherable “femininity” of a person perceived to be a man, therefore assumed to be gay, and a person of color is a deadly combination of assumptions almost always resulting in acts of violence that are often supported by local, state and federal laws. LGBQ people, as long as they are white, upper class and conform to binary standards, they are less likely to be harassed or bullied, and yet are consistently starting in elementary school. Similarly, to show up as one’s full self, they (we) must come out to every person we come in contact with and every day of our lives. This alone can compound and feel like an act of violence, then add on bias or hate incidents where folks are targeted by others. Again, it is all about power. It is important to mention that a woman of color started the #MeToo campaign and was left off of the Time cover as well as the narrative of the hashtag that was eventually picked up by a straight white cis actress–then it got attention.

Q5. What do we all need to know and watch for? How do we, for ourselves and for our friends, colleagues, co-workers and families, help those who may be afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, including fear of job loss? What are the bullet points people can use to fend off unwanted touch, or more?

SM: Targets, and many witnesses, recognize bullying and harassment for what it is. If nothing else, that little gut clench when you hear a comment or see a behavior, so easily dismissed or overridden, is a sure sign that yes, that was unwelcome, unwanted, inappropriate and downright wrong.

It takes a lot of forethought and practice to speak up. The most effective responses follow a simple formula:

“You just did/said ____.

“I don’t like it.” Or “That violates our code of conduct.” Or “I don’t want to hear things like that.”

“Stop doing/saying _____.”

Say it with a straight face, neutral body language, no apology, no smiles, no being “nice” about it. Use volume and tone of voice to reflect the intensity of your upset over what they did or said.

If you want to intervene and you aren’t the target, don’t speak for the target; make it about you: “I find that extremely offensive.” “I don’t want to hear things like that at work.” “That violates our code of conduct.” “We don’t do that here.”

Self-defense classes usually include practicing this kind of response, which is generally effective and does not escalate the encounter. I recommend that anyone and everyone take a good empowerment self-defense class. (In the D.C. area, Defend Yourself http://defendyourself.org/ and Collective Action for Safe Spaces http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/ offer classes on harassment resistance and empowerment self-defense.)

[Author’s note: check if these organizations or in your location and, in the comments please, add names of other resources in other cities and countries of which you are aware].

JP: I suggest that trying to help and support others to do something may be frustrating as it varies person to person what is the right thing to do. The best thing to do is to take responsibility for yourself. Who and how we show up is our responsibility. When do you want to take power from someone else? If you answer “never” then you have work to do.

Stand up to those taking power away from others, especially if it really doesn’t cost you anything or feel like a risk. When you think something isn’t a big deal–this means there isn’t much of a risk for you. Say something. Notice who and how you are regarding power with and over others. Notice your own touch patterns as well as language you shift using with one person or group but not another and ask yourself why. If your own behaviors and language choices stand up to your own questioning process you can keep them or change them. Either way, if they survive your questioning processes, you can justify or explain them to others.

Q6. What have I not asked that you want to tell readers about sexual or other workplace and meeting harassment?

SM: Whether you’re the target or a bystander, effectively responding to harassment in the moment is a learned skill and takes practice. The more people learn and apply these skills, the faster we’ll see changes in behavior. That said, responding on an individual level does entail risks, from social sanctions (“Don’t talk to her, she’ll ream you out for harassment.”) to job loss and career derailment.

Harassment resistance and intervention by individuals is a start, but bigger changes are needed to eliminate this behavior in professional settings. Leaders in organizations, professions and workplaces have to make this a priority, and have to be willing to take rapid and effective action to eliminate harassers and bullies from every professional setting.

Until organizations and employers are willing to shoulder the risk of actually enforcing policies against harassment and bullying, cultures won’t change. As long as HR offices and Title IX offices are told their jobs are risk reduction and liability avoidance, complaints will continue to be investigated unto death and then dismissed as “unproven,” and this behavior will continue.

Until targets are listened to, believed, EFFECTIVELY protected from retaliation, and rewarded for their courage in coming forward, organizations will continue to lose talented, creative and productive people. As long as harassment and bullying are tolerated and even rewarded, harassers will harass and bullies will bully.

JP: Just know that harassment isn’t like the chicken pox. If you hear of someone’s experience(s), believe them and know that there are more experiences in their past and more to come in their future. This doesn’t happen just once and you are done. This is a lifelong experience. I think this has been the most shocking part for those new to this conversation.

I am a 43-year-old woman and I don’t know another woman that doesn’t experience sexualized violence, harassment and/or bullying throughout their lives. Let that sink in. It doesn’t have to be a problem for you to be a problem for others. Now, let’s do something about it.

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