Friday, Oct. 5, marks the one-year anniversary of what has been dubbed the #MeToo movement. It’s been a rocky year. Viewing #MeToo and the implications for the meeting industry, there are a number of aspects of our professional lives that require scrutiny:
- The emphasis on appearance in hiring.
- The use of “booth babes” at trade shows.
- The vulnerability of hotel housekeeping staff to sexual harassment and assault.
- The excessive consumption of alcohol at some trade shows and corporate events.
- The pressure on women to wear revealing attire when working at or hostessing certain events.
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It is significant that the day after this anniversary, there’s likely to be a crucial vote in the U.S. Senate involving an aspiring Supreme Court Justice and cases of alleged sexual misconduct. What will be the fallout from the testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the U.S. Senate?
Clearly, thorough background checks need to be conducted during the hiring process. One controversial aspect of the Judge Kavanaugh case is that his actions as a minor have been scrutinized and tried in the court of public opinion. It is a slippery slope when organizations start digging into the behavior of individuals when they were minors. In Canada, where I am based, this would never have been permitted. With few exceptions, there are strict publication bans on:
- Information about offenses or alleged offenses committed when someone is a minor.
- The names of complainants in sexual assault cases.
Even in jurisdictions where these bans are not in effect, trial by media should be avoided.
Another area of concern is any practice that would involve hiring private investigators to interview former classmates and colleagues. This would open the door to hiring decisions based on rumor, gossip and innuendo.
Best practices need to include the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. There have been a number of instances in which individuals have been immediately fired as the result of allegations. A fairer approach would be to have individuals placed on suspension with pay while an investigation is completed. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, a decision can be made about the appropriate course of action.
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Any allegations of sexual assault should immediately be referred to local law enforcement for investigation, rather than reported to the media. Statutes of limitation can be short in some jurisdictions, so delays could result in fewer options for complainants. Also, while there are many who believe that women should automatically be believed, there have been instances in which false allegations have been made. Investigation should always precede publication. All organizations within the industry need to ensure that they provide:
- Clear channels for employees to report incidents involving sexual harassment, misconduct and assault.
- An investigation process that ensures due process for those who are accused and the protection of complainants from punitive action.
Here is an example of what has been done in the film and television industry.
The #MeToo movement began in the U.S. but the fallout is global. It is time for our industry to review current policies, practices and procedures to ensure that best practices are identified and followed. This won’t be easy, but it is necessary.
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