Originally published Meetings Focus.
Originally published Meetings Focus.
Originally published Meetings Focus.
Food and beverage (F&B) can make or break a meeting or event. And certainly, the complete absence of F&B can set in motion kvetching like you haven’t heard since the last time you managed a meeting without it. Just try to have a meeting break with no coffee!
I’ve been in this industry a long time. Years before my own company, Eisenstodt Associates, celebrated its 38th anniversary on June 1 of 2019.
Planning meals has never been my favorite thing to do. In fact, I would place it among my least favorite things tied to the involved process of planning meetings and events.
Guessing what others would want to eat on a given day is a nightmare especially when we are planning months out and have no idea what will be fresh, what will be available, and what factors impact what a chef can best prepare.
Or what an audience will want to consume.
In planning events where food and beverage elements play a starring role or for when any sort of F&B is offered, we must consider, at least, the following key items:
**These are likely to change if we are booking six months or more from the planned event.
Not only must we consider the above items related to F&B, we must convey all this information in our RFPs for meetings and events.
And we must clearly state that in order for us to respond appropriately and then create a contract, we need full and complete information.
In all my years in this profession, there is rarely a month—or even a week!—that goes by when the cost of a gallon of coffee is not discussed.
As in, “Why does a gallon of coffee cost x?” Lately and frequently again on social media, the cost per gallon discussion has reared its head.
(We used to look at the cost of “dry snacks”—potato chips, peanuts, pretzels—when those were considered the budgetary best for cocktail receptions without “real” food!).
The discussions have been accompanied with questions about the amounts billed for taxes, service, and ancillary fees, on top of per plate or per person costs for various F&B offerings.
Other popular topics of discussion related to F&B include:
Nothing in the discussion seems to change.
I looked back at 2012 menus*** from a contract negotiated for a client’s 2016 meeting.
At that time, a major Las Vegas hotel at which the meeting was booked charged $70.00 per gallon of Kona coffee plus 21% service charge plus 8.1% tax on both the coffee and on the service charge.
If one calculates that, and assumes 20 cups per gallon, it’s about $4.57 per cup.
In emails with James Filtz, interviewed here, I asked about the cost of coffee.
He said “In 2014 coffee at The Venetian in Las Vegas was $86 per gallon. Today it is $100 per gallon. That’s about a 16% increase.”
I checked with the same unnamed Vegas hotel above for their current prices. The price of coffee at the major Las Vegas hotel previously contracted, came out to $95.00 per gallon, with a service charge of 23%, tax of 8.5%, and the service charge taxed slightly over 4%.
How does that compare to what a cup of made-at-home coffee using a Keurig costs, considering the purchasing and labor that goes into how a hotel provides coffee?
Is it cheaper for each guest to run back to their rooms, use the in-room coffee maker (if there is one and the condiments are to their liking), and the time it takes for them to return for valuable networking?
I found this about Keurig, where the cost per cup is measured on a 5-6 ounce cup.
Most hotel menus are now electronic.
When you negotiate more than a year out with an escalation clause on food and beverage, the menus from which you are negotiating will no longer be live on the website.
I recommend printing them out—on post-consumer paper—and attaching to the final signed version of the contract and saved as a PDF in your files and saved with the printed contract and menus and other policy documents on paper.
Otherwise, you have nothing from which to gauge prices.
Hotel owners and management companies want to make money. Now more than ever. We want hotels to be kept up—that is, furnishings to be clean and updated.
I hope all or most of us want people who work in hotels, especially those who provide service, to make “livable” wages—though I’m not sure even $15.00/hour in most markets is “livable.”
Or is it “not on my group” mentality among meeting and event planners that is the issue—you know, charge other groups what you need but negotiate my costs to what I want to pay?
My meeting and event clients have almost exclusively been not-for-profit groups for whom budgets are tight. Yet, as chef and humanitarian José Andrés says:
“I realized very early the power of food to evoke memory, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
If we skimp on food or beverage, it reflects badly on the hotel, caterer or our group.
Food makes memories. Food brings people together. Harrison Owen, back in 1985, knew the power of breaks on the overall experience of learning at meetings. We know the power of available food and beverage to make or break a meeting or event experience.
See what three planners interviewed had to say about what’s important to them and their questions about costs. When will we budget differently and realistically and think about what the two NACE officers have to say when we plan and negotiate meetings?
Oh, and don’t miss the “bonus section” of the August 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter: I had the pleasure of dining with Tom Sietsema, food critic for The Washington Post, at a José Andrés restaurant. Read more about how noodging can pay, the ethics of dining with a food critic and Sietsema’s “go-to” food when he’s not on-duty—one of my favorites too!
Original post Meetings Today Blog
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – Rebecca West (1892 – 1983), author and journalist.
Each time I’ve asked women in our industry if they consider themselves feminists they hesitate. Not all of them—but enough and in different age cohorts that I think there is a fear of being a strong woman, showing you are a strong woman, and identifying as a feminist.
All my life I’ve known women who worked in and outside the home.
Women who work outside the home are known to work far more than men if their spouses or partners are male.
Let me digress briefly. Many of us are aware of the plight of women in situations far more dire than fighting for standing and pay equity in the workplace:
I know I’m addressing more of what are called “first world problems.”
Yes, I’d like to be able to fix the world for all people and in particular for women. I can only tackle so much while raising the consciousness of many.
So for the purpose of the March 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter, published the week before International Women’s Day, I start “at home” with the hospitality industry.
Which for our purposes here, also includes the meetings and event industry.
In 2018, more women were elected to the U.S. Congress and to U.S. State Houses than ever before. On March 8, just weeks before GMID, International Women’s Day will be observed.
Its theme for International Women’s Day in 2019 is #BalanceforBetter.
“Balance” meaning striving for a more “gender-balanced” world.
As we look at issues impacting women—including those in our industry, from sales and meeting professionals to those in catering, management and housekeeping roles—we recognize that if we fail to communicate why our positions, titles and pay matter, we will fall behind. This is a reality that has held true for all women.
Yes, even event planners, who are predominantly female and are given the authority to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts and provide updates to boards of directors on the financial impact of meetings, must explain their worth or suffer the consequences.
An MPI blog post titled “Reinforcing A Sense of Belonging,” declared that the organization I call my “mothership” will now provide a “pipeline of women to lead MPI.”
This statement made me stop and think. I served on my MPI Chapter Board, as Chapter President, and on the International Board, when women including Marta Hayden, Beverly Kinkade and Anna Chabot were leading MPI. That’s quite the pipeline of women!
I was asked for input prior to MPI launching their first women’s leadership initiative, and I saw its demise. Which, based on the above blog post, held no discernable lasting power.
MPI, like most of the EIC member organizations, has not had a woman CEO in its history—though I know of women who applied.
Why is that the case in an industry where anecdotally there are a majority of women? What I’ve noted about MPI is not a knock on MPI—they are trying again.
It’s a question posed to an industry that we believe is populated mainly by women.
Why do we still hold so little visible power?
In compiling the results of its “A Sense of Belonging” study, MPI asked “In what ways are women treated differently than men at work?” The responses from women were as follows:
14% of respondents chose “Other.”
As one who grew up in a world where women fought for pay equity, I am painfully aware of and pay attention to what may hold us back. Is it the way we speak, the image we present and the images of us that are presented? We often apologize for saying something.
We’ll say “I just wanted to say” and negate whatever it is with “just.”
Should we applaud MPI and others for again focusing on women or be dismayed that again there is a focus on women in leadership when we didn’t make it stick before?
Doug Heath, MPI’s second executive director, heard me when I asked why MPI’s three representatives to the (then) CLC Board of Directors included no women though around me at MPI meetings I saw a majority of women in the audience. It wasn’t unusual—most of the delegates from the industry organization members were men.
Doug appointed me to be one of MPI’s three delegates knowing I would speak up strongly for MPI and what the industry needed.
And here’s what happened at my first meeting, an event that, though long ago, is in my head as if it were yesterday: I prepared for my first CLC Board meeting. I read my CLC board book and discussed the relevant issues with Doug and others in MPI’s leadership
Then I spoke up at the meeting.
At the first break, a man, not much older though considerably taller than I, patted me on the head and said “just wait until you’re older and more experienced. You’ll understand why…”
He was conveying this message: “don’t speak up ‘little lady’—know your place.”
This explains how women hesitate versus speaking their minds.
I did not equivocate in anything I said.
You too know how men often take credit for what women say or “translate” women’s words to their own. You’ve certainly witnessed it in interactions at meetings and events.
Case in point: I was co-presenting with a male colleague at an industry meeting and after each thing I said, he said “What Joan means is…” and then repeated what I’d said in his words. He swears he meant nothing by it and yet this happens to women all the time.
Then too, women are interrupted by men when speaking and we let it happen.
Here’s some advice from the above article to take to heart: “Women, if you are interrupted for any reason other than someone asking for clarification, say to the interrupter:
“’There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?’” or ‘I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?’”
This may also come in handy when you’re negotiating for a pay raise.
Or while you’re in a negotiation with a buyer or seller.
Here’s what I hope, individually, you who identify as female, will do:
Those who identify as male, please:
For our industry:
Tell us more … about your experiences by completing the poll and commenting on the blog and within the comments on the second part of this newsletter.
What do you think can be done for women to gain equal footing at the least in an industry where we predominate but don’t get the pay and recognition we deserve?
And consider this: “Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in full equality of men and women or you do not.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Award”) and author of “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.”
Related Reading From the March 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan
Originally published Meeting Today Blog
Prologue: Picture this … it’s the season of gift giving and of year-end hotel contract deadlines. I’m working feverishly to finish a number of complex hotel contracts for clients before everyone takes time off for the Christmas holidays. My spouse brings a box from our mail room to my home office.
I ask, as I continue to write contract provisions, from whom the box was sent, thinking it must be from a family member or friend. When the sender is mentioned—a salesperson with whom we are in difficult (politely said!) negotiations—I loudly say “DROP IT!”*
In one of my favorite films, Defending Your Life, we see that after death, one’s ‘first stop” is a place that looks remarkably like Epcot Center. There, we are tasked with watching videos of our lives and “defending” our every action. It has a wonderfully funny tie-in to our industry with scenes about who gets the “better” hotels with the “better” turn-down amenities as a result of what appears from our lives. Chuckling as I write this—thinking not unlike who gets the upgrades in real life, huh?
The film is amusing, down-right funny (think whether you want to be seen by important people as you slurp your linguini in a restaurant) thoughtful and insightful.
Differently staged and with similar intent, is The Good Life, a TV production that so fascinated me, I now have a desire to recommend viewing episodes in preparation for ethics discussions in classes I teach and programs I facilitate. Is there a “good” place or a “bad” place after we die? Is it like Epcot Center? I don’t know. I do know that my actions after receiving the box would have to be defended.
The point? Many of you will give or receive gifts or entertain or be entertained by those with whom you are doing business, have done business, referred business or one day may do business. What goes into your thinking as you chose to whom to give or entertain, and for the recipients, to accept a gift or invitation or not?
How much would the potential of “defending” your actions—now, to an ethics committee or an HR or other officials in your company or professional organization—play in your choice of what and how much you gift to, or accept from, someone?
Research: In preparation to write the initial blog post in the October 2018 newsletter and for this post you’re reading, I did extensive new research: conversations with current and former hotel executives, industry attorneys, and EIC and EIC-member organizations’ representatives; reading articles about our industry’s and others’ ethics practices; reading hotel companies’ ethics policies [highly recommend and easily found with a search**]; and asking, via social media for those interested in responding to questions about industry ethics to contact me. A compilation of those responses can be found here.
I also asked questions of three industry recruiters—MeetingJobs, Searchwide, and Vetted Solutions. The responses from their CEOs are in this section of the December 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter.
Preview: I was … well, read it and you might figure out my response after reading on.
And once read, please answer the Friday With Joan poll questions.
Analysis: EIC, our industry’s umbrella organization, was unable to tell me which of its members has an enforceable code of ethics and/or conduct. In my research I learned that of those who do, two are NSA and NACE. I know that MPI, PCMA, and ASAE do not have enforceable codes, although MPI did at one time. ASAE has a separate, enforceable code for those who have achieved their CAE—Certified Association Executive—designation; the code for all other members is aspirational.
Those who have achieved their CMP—Certified Meeting Professional—are bound by this code, which is worded much like the codes of many of the EIC organizations that have codes of conduct or ethics.
(Use this link to EIC members; go to their sites to read the codes. Even if you are not a member of one of these organizations, it is likely you will do business with someone who is).
I verified with colleagues with whom I served on the then-CLC Board some years ago that our umbrella organization formerly required an enforceable code of ethics to be an EIC member. Now, it is asked that a code be submitted with the membership application, but it is not required for membership.
I confirmed that HSMAI, for example, does not have a code of conduct or ethics.
I imagine others do not as well.
Of those with enforceable codes, I was told the main charge of an ethics violation is the use of a certification when it has not been earned or renewed.
This was believed, by those with whom I spoke, to be a belief that few are violating the codes.
And now, ‘tis the season of gifts and entertainment. Many feel valued if they receive a gift or an invitation. Those on the receiving end believe it is perhaps their due for the hard work they have performed. Perhaps the invitation to an event is viewed as an opportunity to network even if they have no business to offer; the receipt of a gift, seen as one of friendship beyond the business relationship.
How do we decide when it’s appropriate to offer and accept gifts or invitations? And more, when is it appropriate to flaunt these gifts and entertainment on social media for all to see and perhaps question if a code of ethics—that of an employer or industry association—has been violated?
During this season of giving, it is also the season of year-end business and for some independent meeting planners and others who work for commissions, a season of meeting a deadline before commissions are lowered by some hotel companies. To that, many are posting that they are going around the “system” and finding ways to receive what they believe is their “due”—a commission amount that is greater than that announced by hotel companies. More details here and here.
In my research again, I was told by many current and former hoteliers and others that this practice will face consequences. This was stated to me, and I’ve agreed to, as I do with many, keep the confidence of the person who provided this input:
“By encouraging hotels to breach the requirement that they adhere to brand standards, or to hide the payment in some fashion to deceive, planners need to evaluate whether they could potentially be liable for interfering with the contract or if they are perpetrating some kind of fraud. Even more disturbing however is that this takes the profession back not just a step, but a mile.
“It seems a lot like the concepts that planners finally overcame when some were asking for blind commissions. If the planners are handling the commission in this fashion, they need to be mindful that are acting on behalf of the group [for whom they are doing business].
“They need to be concerned about this being a potential violation of the group’s code of ethics.”
And as noted above, it may also be a violation of the brand’s code of ethics.
From everything I see and hear, from the justifications in classes and other conversations and those in social media, and from the many reports in the news and the investigation of us by the U.S. Congress, I think we are moving into even more dangerous territory in and outside of our industry. Many find ways to justify their actions in the request for and acceptance of gifts, perks, and entertainment: we’re underpaid, under-appreciated, work long hours, need to network to find a new job, etc.
Suggested Actions to Help Avoid Unethical Gifting Situations:
May the light of this season and the hope of the new year bring our industry and us individually to new thinking about how we do business and how we want to be seen.
*You wanted to know what happened, right? I called the client immediately and was told that they too had received a box.
Neither of us had opened it. I asked what we should do.
It was agreed I’d call the salesperson and say that we could not accept the gifts.
I was told that these were not practical to return. The client agreed that they would use them in an office gifting event and that I could dispose of the gift by donating it.
**You will find, in your search, codes for how hotel companies deal with their own vendors, customers and staff. The codes are enlightening.
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 December 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan
Click here to view additional content in the 12.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.
Originally published Meetings Today Blog
When the meetings industry first introduced the CMP—referred to as “Certified Meeting Planner”—it was to help ensure that those who planned meetings be considered professionals.
As the program evolved, it became possible for suppliers in our industry to be tested and to receive the designation, which as a result was changed to “Certified Meeting Professional.”
For most of the years I’ve been in this industry, I’ve questioned the business practices that are considered “standard” or “normal” and sought evidence of those practices being ethical and professional.
I’ve looked to other professions—accounting, medicine, law, journalism, association management, counseling, among them—and saw that there were standards of conduct that must be adhered to in order to maintain one’s license to practice in that profession.
No such thing exists for planning, sales, or convention services in our industry.
In preparing to write this blog post—one of two (or more) that will look at practices and perceptions of those of us who plan and supply services and venues for meetings—this part of the definition of “professional” struck me:
“characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.”
In fact, in the 9th Edition of the EIC Manual, subtitled “A working guide for effective events, meetings and conventions”, there is no separate chapter on “ethics.”
Instead, it is included in “Domain J: Professionalism” where “Sub Skill 30.01” is “Demonstrate Ethical Behaviour.”
APEX, The Accepted Practices Exchange Initiative, and the CMP give us the technical “standards” of the profession. To be a member of the Events Industry Council (EIC)(founded in 1949 as the “Convention Liaison Council,” then renamed “Convention Industry Council”), it was, for years, a requirement to have a code of conduct or ethics.
Now, it is required to submit a code but it is no longer a requirement for membership. No one could tell me when and why the requirements for membership changed.
In talking with staff of a number of EIC member organizations, I learned that some don’t have codes of conduct or codes of ethics at all.
And if they do, many, like that of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)are, for all but Certified Association Executives (CAE), aspirational. Only for CAEs is there an enforceable code of conduct referred to as “CAE Standing Rules and Policies.”
If one has attained and maintained the CMP designation, one agrees to abide by the CMP Code of Ethics. But (and I do mean “but” not “and” as improvisation teaches) it is rarely used to strip someone of their CMP for unethical behavior.
I was told by EIC that the ethics complaints are almost always about a person using the designation who has not been attained or maintained and not for behaviors that violate the code as I believe those in the stories below do.
In e-mail exchanges and voice conversations with staff members of EIC member organizations, there seems to be little done now if there are ethics violations.
MPI, which used to have an enforceable and lengthy code of conduct, changed it years ago to the Principles of Professionalism for which there is no reporting body.
It seems, an already existing program—MPICares—was created to advance service projects and report and examine issues of sexual harassment and ethics violations.
(Interestingly, featured in the news recently and also reported on this week by Meetings Today was the MPI Foundation Executive Director who has been accused of a crime, who has since resigned from her position but claims innocence).
There is a fine ethical/legal line that I am sure will be sorted out as this proceeds.
Why write now—again—about these issues?
There are multiple reasons:
1. I’ve been asked repeatedly what I want my legacy to be. I hope that a) it’s that we learn to create interactive, well-conceived and executed meetings with no more theatre or schoolroom sets, and really, b) we all agree to operate in a manner that reflects well on us individually and on our profession which, I believe, means working ethically.
2. Colleagues and strangers have for years and continue to contact me to sort out ethical issues. Most recently, some have discussed the quid pro quo of booking meetings: suppliers want their numbers to gain their bonuses or keep their jobs. Planners or others who sign meeting contracts are often willing to sign multi-year or exaggerated room-block contracts or make up fake and contract meetings to “help a seller friend” achieve their goals to earn more money or bonuses, knowing full well that what they both are doing is not ethical and may, in fact, be illegal.
Strangely, the example most often cited as unethical behavior in our industry is of sellers who offer and planners who accept familiarization (“fam”) trips (or hosted buyer invitations) for destinations and/or properties the parties know are not in the pipeline for use, justifying that “someday” they may work elsewhere or that “someday” they may convince someone to book the city or site because they were once there.
Forget that the wining and dining and gifts that come with many of these trips may have dollar values above what one’s employer’s code of ethics note is permissible.
Over the many years I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve seen the results of unethical behavior and the cost to organizations as a result.
Here are but a few specific examples, never reported to the CMP Board, in which planners and suppliers who were CMPs (or in one case a CAE) were involved.
Story 1: Full-time planners at an organization created their own side company to receive commission on meetings they booked for their employer. The commission agreements were inserted after the contracts were signed. Adding to the behavior, the planners often used the CEO’s electronic signature to sign these bogus contracts.
The hotels? They got the numbers they wanted as did the sales people who received their bonuses. The planners? Perks for getting the business signed and an expectation of commission.
Though these planners were eventually fired when an audit uncovered the fraudulent meetings, I know the planners were hired by others because, by law, a past employer cannot ask about such behaviors. Because nothing was reported to the CMP Board, even the CMP designation wasn’t stripped.
Story 2: An organization’s CEO, a CAE, and planner, a CMP, booked a future meeting with a vastly inflated room block. The contracted block was not remotely achievable given the group’s pattern and expectations. The hotel salesperson, if history had been submitted by the group or checked by the hotel, would have questioned the numbers.
What did the CEO and planner receive for contracting this meeting? Super Bowl tickets and other perks.* What happened to the organization? They paid more than $100,000 in attrition and almost went bankrupt. The salesperson? Bonus and promotion based on the nights booked even though they were never actualized.
[Yes, this is a discussion for another time—how our industry sets up conditions for incentives for salespeople. It was a conversation, in research for this blog that surfaced with many hotel personnel.]
*Both were eventually fired though no charges were brought. The planner went on to tout expertise in the job and was praised by suppliers for good work.
Story 3: A planner wanted to help a supplier partner who was having trouble booking enough business to meet their year-end goals. The planner made up multiple meetings that were not on anyone else’s radar—basically fake business.
The planner, a CMP, received trips and other perks for themselves and for their family. The supplier? Made their numbers and received a bonus. The organization? Hefty legal fees, some cancellation fees, and a new meeting created to mitigate what would have been additional millions of dollars in cancellation fees.
Uncovered in an audit and review of emails, the planner was fired.
When the action was reported to the hotel company, despite their ethics’ code, the salesperson remained on the job.
Story 4: A planner needed promotional products (aka “tchotchkes”) for a meeting.
When ordering it was not specified that the items could not come from China—just that the price had to be “the lowest.” The lowest priced items were made in China and were ordered by the promotional products company.
When received, the planner told (not asked!) the supplier to remove all labels on boxes and other packaging indicating that the items were from China. It was the supplier who came to me with the story of the issue and the dilemma: does one report this action to an employer or to the CMP ethics review board and risk losing a good client or comply?
[I know the outcome—I’ll let you suss this one out and consider what you’d do].
There are many more situations I’ve seen and about which others have told me. Included in the current issues are those about third parties who receive commissions and about which I wrote previously for a Friday With Joan newsletter and blog post.
I was told directly by someone doing this that they and others are going to the franchise properties’ owners and demanding the higher commission and in some cases getting it.
In talking with an industry attorney, I was told that in an audit, when discovered, the franchisee could be in jeopardy.
Among stories known to many are those surrounding what U.S. government planners faced over one particular Las Vegas meeting that was reported in national news and by our industry’s press. As a result, all of our industry and all meetings were made to look like boondoggles.
Where do we go from here?
If we are to be thought of as professionals, regardless of our job titles or in which industry segment we work, is it appropriate to look more closely at behaviors?
Consider, as you chew on the stories noted above and your own experiences, these questions:
Will you help me and help our profession? Either in the comments section below or in the comments area in the sidebar interview with Paul A. Greenberg who is a professor of journalism and was in our industry, or to me personally at FridayWithJoan@aol.com, write and tell me what guides you ethically. Answer the poll questions.
Read the codes of ethics for the industry segment to which you belong. And watch for the continuing discussion based on input from a variety of industry professionals in the next weeks about hiring and interviewing with ethics in mind, specific language and reaction to that in the CMP Code, and more.
If we can’t get this right, what then is the point of pretending to be professionals?
November 6, 2018, is the U.S. midterm election.
I, and those affiliated with Meetings Today, encourage you to vote. There are issues on ballots throughout the U.S. that will impact meetings including taxes and initiatives important to how and where we do business.
There are elections of individuals who you may want to question at town hall meetings about their stands that impact your particular employer or clients and their meetings.
Having written about what happens when laws are passed that cause groups to reconsider where their meetings are held, it’s a time to be more informed. For those who are not U.S. citizens, we encourage you to vote in elections of your own countries.
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 October 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan
Originally published Meetings Today Blog
Did you know early in life that you wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe you did—depending on your age and family or other influences in your life.
As the school year begins, and for some of us, a new year with Rosh Hashanah, it is a time of reflection or even, for some, declaring a major. It is a time of renewal as the leaves turn. And many are considering what now or what’s next in their careers.
And I, having discovered yet another parent-child duo both in hospitality, began thinking about that song: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys.”*
Although I’d never heard the song in its entirety, the title always made me smile. Then I read the lyrics and thought how apropos for our industry! (Do note that clearly some part of me wanted to be a cowgirl … and perhaps a detective—thus the garb in the main photo for this blog post from my early years!).
Liz Erikson Marnul, an industry icon and someone I’ve known for more than 35 years said “You should really tell people how you got into this industry.”
I was surprised somehow that she didn’t know.
Other than the very early years of wearing clothing that seemed to reflect two possible professions, I thought I wanted to teach—I loved “playing school”—and then I considered social work. If I had had “school smarts” rather than being a life-long learner who learns by reading, observing, discussing and practicing a craft, I might have been a social anthropologist or, because I love words and how they fit together, a lawyer.
As a meeting professional, and in the areas in which I’m involved now in our profession, I think that I have been able to incorporate some of my passion for those areas.
As a child in the ‘50s, I put on street fairs to raise money for polio research when the boy next door was diagnosed with polio. In grade and high school, I helped organize events. Later, I helped plan and run city-wide ones and national events for a museum and then for an organization.
After dropping out of full-time college after a year—even working while in school didn’t provide the financial resources, and the learning by sitting and absorbing lectures and spitting back information was not my learning style—I worked a variety of jobs: ad sales at a newspaper, bookstore sales, in the family poultry business, and as a teacher’s aide. Until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978, I didn’t know there was a profession for what I was doing.
What influenced me? Did I truly fall into this profession—this industry? Was it pre-destined? Was I, in a past life (if you’ve followed me for any time, you know one of my favorite films is “Defending Your Life” on which John Chen and I based a discussion) was I one of “those” meeting participants who, at a bad meeting, said “Sheesh, I can do this better”?
My parents, of blessed memory, worked in various professions including sales; some cousins were lawyers; others teachers. One branch of the family founded a successful chain of restaurants and though I visited that part of the family, I don’t remember that they influenced my choice of profession. Unlike those interviewed there was no one to guide me into a hospitality career.
In conversations with many who choose to go into our industry, I hear the influencers are still the love of people, travel and details.
Those already in the industry are seeking more fulfillment, whether it’s moving away from logistics only or putting a spin on logistics or finding a way to better serve customers.
If love of people, travel and details were the main reasons to be a planner, I’d not be in this industry. An introvert, I like people in small doses; a mobility disability has made travel a greater challenge, and details? If it’s contracts and words, yes. If it’s meeting logistics, not so much anymore.
When I read the articles linked in the additional reading, none of them applied.
There are studies to show why being an entrepreneur may run in families. The number of self-employed people in various professions—lawyers, doctors, small business owners—prevalent in my family is evidence. And there are lots of teachers among my first cousins and a niece. There was also a rabbi—a profession I once considered and as Rod Abraham, an MPI Founder, said about me when he introduced me when I received an award, I was a “rabbi”—a teacher.
I’m grateful to have learned how those interviewed—parents and children, sisters, and a granddaughter—were influenced to go into and stay in the hospitality industry. There are others not interviewed (Steve and Adam Ferran, Patti Shock, Vanessa Vlay and Michele Koch Hansen among them) who I hope will share their stories in the comments section below this blog post.
I hope, as you consider what now and what next, you will think about your Strengths[yes, capital “S” because it refers to a specific tool], and read Barbara Sher’s marvelous books (in particular, “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” and “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) to learn more about yourself.
I think this industry has opportunities (careers in eldercare for example) galore that we are only beginning to discover and certainly one where there aren’t enough people (hospitality law); and areas of privacy and technology for use in learning and serving customers. The sky isn’t even the limit, is it? Some will need to be the pioneers to plan the hotels and meetings in space!
Keep this story in mind too: an actor who has had great roles also needed income to keep going. He took a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. The story is inspiring. If you want to start in a position or as a volunteer that others think are “below” you, do it anyway.
Experience is what gets us where we need to be. And the more broad our experience is, the more we show our desire to work, the better our chances are, regardless of lineage, to find the job or next job that is best for you.
As you read these stories of careers intentional and unintentional that brought people to our industry, I hope you’ll reflect on the influences and influencers and then share yours.
This is an industry that can make a difference in how people learn, work and serve others.
What’s next in your future?
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 September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan
Originally published Meetings Today Blog
“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:
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:
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
Originally posted Meetings Today Blog
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:
* 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
‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?
What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?
Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success
Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?
When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?
Contracts: Accommodations (Meetings Today Webinar)
Contracts: Critical Clauses (Meetings Today Webinar)
“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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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,
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.