#MeToo has become an all-too-daily topic on news channels. It’s inspired celebrities and public figures to unite in adopting a dress code for Hollywood events. And it’s been the impetus for widespread movements around the world. Sexual harassment and assault certainly isn’t a new issue, but the way we’re talking about it is.
The movement swept social media in October 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano fired off a tweet that sparked a major conversation about sexual misconduct. Her call to social media users to use the hashtag if they’d experienced sexual harassment or assault followed the highly publicized allegations against prolific filmmaker Harvey Weinstein.
While Milano’s hashtag campaign reignited the issue, “Me Too” was initially coined by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006.
In the months since the movement gained steam, high-profile individuals across all industries and professions have suffered the consequences. Media icons Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor all lost their jobs. USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar will likely spend the rest of his life in jail while a USA Swimming coach is now in hot water. Senator Al Franken is arguably the most well-known of a large number of politicians affected—a group including former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.
“Sexual harassment has been a problem in all industries for many years, but it wasn’t until 2017 that these conversations took center stage,” says Kiki J. Fox, co-founder and president of the Association for Women in Events.
It’s a sobering fact that has forced meeting and event professionals to practice introspection in their own field. After-hours networking, relationship building and functions filled with libations are all part of the drill, which means the extremely fine lines between business and pleasure can become blurred. When we look at numbers, things become a lot clearer.
A recent PCMA poll found 80 percent of respondents said that they had experienced some form of on-the-job sexual harassment. But nearly 75 percent of those event professionals didn’t report the problem. Other industry studies find the same conclusions, with concerns ranging from physical behavior to inappropriate comments.
Barna Group, a California-based research organization that explores faith and culture, put those figures in perspective. In a study Barna Group conducted in October 2017 and administered online to 1,019 American adults, 29 percent of respondents had been victims of sexual misconduct at some point in their lives (not exclusive to work), and 15 percent had witnessed another person being harassed.
Harassment at Events
As recent reports of sexual harassment have surfaced following prominent conferences and meetings, giants of the industry have grappled with how to respond while the rest of us watch. They face the difficult task of rendering justice for the victims who have come forward while also maintaining their reputations as respected leaders.
In October 2017, journalist Quinn Norton took to social media, accusing well-known tech blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble of sexual assault, which she says occurred at Foo Camp—an annual O’Reilly Media hacker conference—a few years back. As a result, Scoble was banned from all future O’Reilly Media events. He has since faced separate allegations from other women.
The National Association of Sports Commissions has also been forced to address allegations of misconduct. Robert Pozo, founder of Continental Event and Sports Management Group, has been prohibited from NASC’s annual symposium after he was accused of taking indecent liberties with fellow attendees last year in Sacramento.