On International Women’s Day, it's important to reflect on the countless issues that affect women and gender equality around the world, as well as to come together to find solutions that will help drive us forward to a more balanced society. Over the last few years, no issue has impacted women more than the #MeToo movement, and its effects have caused just about every industry to change, especially the world of meetings and events.
Let's take a look back at the history of the #MeToo movement, how the industry has made positive steps forward in its wake, and what more we can do to combat sexual assault at meetings and events.
A Recap of the #MeToo Movement
In 2006, Tarana Burke launched the "Me Too" movement to support survivors of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, with a focus on young black women and girls from low-income communities. In 2017, the hashtag became popularized when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” and the tweet went viral. By the end of the day on October 15, 2017, the hashtag had been used 200,000 times, and millions of posts were shared on Facebook within the first 24 hours. Celebrities shared their stories, and the culture surrounding sexual assault had clearly been, in some way or another, altered. Later, Milano acknowledged Burke’s organization’s earlier work on the movement. This acknowledgment is important because Burke’s decade of work with underprivileged women ought not to be overshadowed, and has played an important role in the consequential impact of the #MeToo movement as a whole.
In the wake of this viral tweet, many powerful men were ousted in the public eye—think Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Larry Nassar, Matt Lauer—and many stories were brought to light. The movement drew attention to sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and beyond, and has given due attention to the unfair treatment of women across many industries.
How Did the Events Industry Change in the Wake of #MeToo?
The #MeToo movement had an effect on many industries, from the restructuring of leadership to creations of task forces, from panels about workplace harassment to policy changes. The events industry was no different.
Here are just a few of the changes:
- In 2018, industry leaders came together from a variety of associations to create a coalition. The Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force was formed “to eradicate sexual harassment in the events industry and workplace,” by “identify[ing] tools and develop[ing] new resources to assist in educating individuals and the events industry about sexual harassment.” The coalition included leaders from the following associations: American Society of Association Executives (ASAE); Association for Women in Events (AWE), the Events Industry Council (EIC), the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), IMEX, JMIC, Meeting Planners International (MPI), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and SITE.
- For a variety of event industry companies, management has made an effort to edit their policies and principles to include “explicit wording stating that the organization will not tolerate harassment of any kind,” and implementing stronger zero-tolerance policies. Additionally, many companies have progressed in executing training programs surrounding inclusion, diversity, and workplace appropriate behavior.
- Others have worked to open up conversations surrounding equality, sexual assault, workplace standards and diversity by publishing resources: blog posts, webinars, panels and more. Educating employees and event professionals about these issues is an important step that cannot be overlooked.
- Companies went out of their way to draw attention to and recognize their female leaders for overcoming obstacles and making changes to their companies. Smaller-scale efforts to empower women in the workplace can be just as crucial to changing industry culture as large-scale efforts.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There have been extraordinary changes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but progress does not end here. It is important not to treat the #MeToo movement as a trend or fad. According to this article in Meetings & Conventions magazine, “almost two-thirds of meeting professionals have experienced work-related sexual harassment. Of 250 respondents (27 percent of whom were male), nearly half have been harassed at meetings.” There are still existing problems within the events industry, and so these conversations need to continue.
Additionally, zero-tolerance policies are not the standard at every company, and task forces should continue to push for progress in policy making, educating and employee training. Diversity should remain at the forefront of these discussions, as well. Companies should continue to create spaces for victims to report their stories if they decide to, and these stories and allegations should be taken seriously, rather than turning a blind eye.
The #MeToo movement has impacted the events industry and the world in many ways, but as the world continues to change, so will the conversations. The events industry and its leaders should continue making the powerful changes they’ve made, and—as they do with their events—always aim to improve, to push the boundaries of success.