No Women Allowed

Women, Appropriately Attired, Permitted After 5 p.m. in Dining Room Only

Can you imagine encountering a sign like that one above at a venue to which you took a group? Did you know not that many years ago signs at hotels and other venues, enforcing their policies, were far worse?  Can you imagine taking a group to a hotel with discriminatory signs directed towards a certain race or religion? People did.

Meeting Planning 101 teaches planners to know your audience to select dates, destinations and sites, to select the program and determine F&B, choose speakers and entertainers, and ensure all aspects of a meeting or event are planned to include the audience you want to attract and for whom the event is geared. 

What do these not-so-old discriminatory practices have to do with today’s industry?

If all we have been taught as best practices were employed, there would not be the following scenarios, taken from industry experiences, and just a fraction of what we all have seen or even directly witnessed. With colleagues and co-workers, your Board and other volunteers, discuss these scenarios. Ask if there have ever been conflicts like these that have resulted in a change in policies or practices. Use the results of the discussions to implement better, more inclusive practices.

Scenario 1:
Your Annual Meeting is always in August. You have never paid much attention to the calendar–after all, in August your only concerns about attracting attendance are family vacations and early school year starts. A post on social media about how hotels are preparing to provide for their staff and guests over Ramadan catches your eye. You wonder if you should:
a. Survey your participants and vendors (AV, decorators, speakers) to find out what their needs are.
b. Plan an iftar open to everyone at the conference to promote inclusion and increase knowledge.
c. Do nothing since no one you know is Muslim and besides, discussion of the religion makes too many uncomfortable.

Scenario 2
The only dates, in 2013, that are available in the facility and time period you must have for your event are September 4 and 5. You book these dates. After the dates are published, it is brought to your attention that these are the first of the two holiest days of the Jewish year–the beginning of the Days of Awe. You decide to:
a. Tell people it's no big deal–the program will be over by four on the 4th so local people can attend services.
b. Say that it's OK to hold meetings over these holidays because businesses don't close and stores are open.
c. Apologize, help people attend services if they are traveling, and put in place a policy that doesn't allow this to happen again.

Scenario 3:
You survey a portion of a group about dates for a Spring meeting because the meeting’s final day would be Palm Sunday. Those surveyed say it's OK–they can attend church near the meeting venue. Those who weren't surveyed are livid–saying they want to be at home in their own churches and with friends and family. You:
a. Apologize and accommodate those who will attend by providing transportation to and from a house of worship of their choice.
b. Apologize, provide accommodations noted in "a" and allow this never to happen again.
c. Blow it off–it's not necessary to accommodate just a few.

Scenario 4
A major meeting of your organization was booked to fall on both Palm Sunday and the first two nights of Passover. When this is called to your attention, you:
a. GASP realizing what a mistake it is and say there is nothing that can be done–it's booked and it would require too much work and staff time to change it.
b. Hit your head, not so hard that it's heard by the person on the phone who brought it to your attention, and immediately say you'll see what can be done.
c. Apologize and immediately work to move the meeting to different dates. You succeed and thank those who brought this to your attention and put in place practices to have a few people check dates before they are booked.

Scenario 5
In an organization with a membership that is 60% women, an off-site event is planned at a country club. On arrival, a sign that says Gentlemen Only is seen and those in attendance learn that the Club doesn't allow women during regular Club hours. You, the organization’s CEO:
a. Realize there wasn't a site visit performed and look the other way–it’s not a big deal to exclude women sometimes; they don't always have to "lean-in".
b. Wonder what questions weren't asked before booking the venue and realize many may not know that country clubs were often exclusionary. Without being critical of those who selected the venue, you address, at the next day’s general session, how to implement policies of inclusion.
c. Are grateful that it's "only" about women and doesn't say “No Jews, Blacks and dogs” as it could have in the not-so-distant past.

If these were one-time occurrences, mistakes could be forgiven if policies and practices were changed as a result of what was learned. Alas, these issues of exclusion have happened and continue to happen repeatedly. What that tells members and those who are considering membership is perhaps your organization is not for people like them.

Is it about being "PC"? After all, as one industry veteran said, “If we were careful not to meet on some holiday, we could never meet.” Or is it about being smart, knowing your group, knowing who you want your future members and customers to be, checking dates and learning the significance of holidays and holy days, and setting inclusive policies in our organizations?

Note: These scenarios are exactly what has happened. The responses in "a, b, c" may not be what was done in a particular scenario.

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