Event Dates Impact on Attendance and Inclusion

Meeting and Event Planning and Hotel Sales 101:
  • Know your audience.
  • Make no assumptions about who they are and what will impact their attendance.
  • Check calendars*. You may know Christmas is December 25, Boxing Day on December 26; in the US, Thanksgiving on the 3rd Thursday of November, and US Independence Day is July 4.  You won't know without checking when Ramadan begins (in and outside North America), or Easter or Palm Sundeay, or Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or other holy days, or banking or other national holidays. If you are unsure of a holiday's meaning or observances, do a web search, ask others, and learn more. Not all holidays in all countries or religions or ethnic groups have the same "weight"; make no assumptions.

In the last ten days, I've received invitations to two events, one industry-related and one in an area of other interest, one to be held over Rosh Hashanah and one over Yom Kippur. (For those unfamiliar with those holidays, the beginning and end of Judaism's "Days of Awe", read more here.)

The response from the industry-related event sponsor, when the date conflict was called to their attention, was "sorry you can't attend."  To someone else who pointed it out, the response (often heard) was "these are the only dates the hotel had." (The other group has not yet responded nor have the two industry association chapters, meeting jointly, or the industry association having a chapter leaders event necessitating travel on Yom Kippur. I'll update when I hear more.)

To their immense credit, ASAE changed the dates and venue for their Great Ideas 2013 conference after publicizing then being told the original dates were on the first two nights of Passover and on Palm Sunday. (I am hopeful that ASAE and the hotel at which the meeting had been booked will do more training with their staffs. ASAE's Diversity & Inclusion Committee, with the Ethics Committe, which I Chair, is looking at how we can better educate all ASAE members.)

Right now, during Ramadan, MPI has is holding the WEC and, soon, ASAE will hold their Annual Meeting. I also believe PCMA just concluded an international meeting outside the US that was also held over Ramadan. (A few links to more about Ramadan: a diversity calendar from a medical center which has other great information**, and this one. Other resources requested in comments to this blog.) 

Learning from ASAE, MPI, and PCMA - and other organizations holding meetings over Ramadan - the accommodation made just as it has been at the Olympics for those who are Muslim and those who are fasting in support of Islam and family members would be helpful to all of us.  (I'm going to see if the recently completed International AIDS conference can advise what they did. With 25,000 people, and the careful preparation for the conference, I am hopeful there will be lots to learn.)

We all make mistakes booking meetings. I did it: a small(er than 25) event was scheduled over Palm Sunday. A few of the group who might be impacted were queried; they were ok. Others not asked were not okay. Never again will I do that.

Our industry, OTOH, seems to make the error again and again and again. Imagine being one who observes other holidays or doesn't observe any and the hurt and isolation that is felt. If you can't imagine, perhaps talk with someone who has been intentionally ignored with "the

[Ironic humor: when I pointed out to an industry association staff member some years ago that their meeting was being held over Passover, I was told "Oh well, we can serve the right food."  I suggested, instead, that they move it to Easter and "serve the right food." They didn't move it; they've held other meetings over holidays.]

In such a diverse world, one cannot make assumptions about anyone or their families, their practices or their needs. When organizations hold meetings over holidays and holy days, it sends messages of "we are not smart enough to check the calendar" and "we don't care about you."  (And yes, there are more issues of inclusion to cover. That will be done.)

We're gonna show that we are smarter than that, right?

** Where is the long-needed link on any industry association's web site to calendars showing holidays? If they are there, and I've missed them, they must be "buried". Do post the links from MPI, PCMA, ASAE, HSMAI, etc., if you know where they are. Our gratitude will be overwhelming!
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