DOCKSIDE JOURNAL ENTRY / April 12, 2018

#MeToo: How You Can Help Prevent Sexual Harassment at Events

Since the #MeToo movement began gaining momentum in October, people from all professions have shared stories of workplace harassment. Six months later, the topic is still top of mind, showing how far the issue reached. The events industry is no excpetion.  

 Ally Coll Steele is an attorney and President and Cofounder of the Purple Campaign, a non-profit organization to address workplace sexual harassment. Before launching the Purple Campaign earlier this year, Steele was litigator in private practice in Washington D.C., where she also worked for several years in electoral politics and on Capitol Hill as a staffer in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Most recently, she joined Hillary Clinton's legal department in headquarters as the Deputy National Voter Protection Director, overseeing Election Day operations in the battleground states and the campaign's volunteer lawyer program. Steele received her law degree  magna cum laude  from Harvard Law School, where she served on the Board of the Harvard Women's Law Association and the American Constitution Society, and as the Executive Policy Editor of the  Harvard Law and Policy Review . 

Ally Coll Steele is an attorney and President and Cofounder of the Purple Campaign, a non-profit organization to address workplace sexual harassment. Before launching the Purple Campaign earlier this year, Steele was litigator in private practice in Washington D.C., where she also worked for several years in electoral politics and on Capitol Hill as a staffer in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Most recently, she joined Hillary Clinton's legal department in headquarters as the Deputy National Voter Protection Director, overseeing Election Day operations in the battleground states and the campaign's volunteer lawyer program. Steele received her law degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she served on the Board of the Harvard Women's Law Association and the American Constitution Society, and as the Executive Policy Editor of the Harvard Law and Policy Review

Ally Coll Steele, co-founder of The Purple Campaign, commented on the complexity of the issue when the abuse occurs in quasi-work places. “People often forget that sexual harassment frequently occurs outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship,” she said. Ally gave the example of politics, where lobbyists often interact with staffers on Capitol Hill at work functions, but aren’t governed by the same HR policies for reporting sexual harassment. Events and conferences can hold the same dynamic, so it’s important to take the extra steps to create a safe and productive meeting. 

The Purple Campaign is a non-profit organization co-founded by Ally and Jessica Patterson with the goal of ending the systemic issue of workplace sexual harassment across all industries through education, advocacy, and policy initiatives. When they’re not working on pushing for effective policy changes, they work with companies across the U.S. to help educate leaders and employees, implement effective codes of conduct and reporting systems, and more.

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Here are a few steps you can take to help prevent sexual harassment at your next event, whether you’re an attendee or an event professional. Ally reminds us that personal responsibility is the first step to changing a culture, and everyone plays a part. As a planner, taking these extra steps as part of your program’s risk management strategy can be integral to the success of your event year over year.

We also recognize that while women experience the majority of sexual harassment, it’s something that can happen to anyone, no matter what gender they identify as. These tips are meant to spark a discussion on the issue and encourage people to take the first step toward creating a safe and transparent culture.

For Planners  

1. Establish a code of conduct before the event starts.

Publish a code of conduct ahead of the event that protects your attendees from any inappropriate behavior while they’re attending the conference, and make sure to keep it somewhat open-ended. You can set the tone during registration, and let attendees know that your event values integrity and mutual respect, and then provide a link to your official code of conduct.

Event organizers should therefore make sure that any code of conduct applies not only to the people who have registered to attend the event, but also to volunteers, on-site hospitality or catering staff, AV consultants, or outside vendors—and make sure that everyone has agreed to abide by it.

2. Implement an effective and anonymous reporting system.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Task Force Report on Sexual Harassment, as many as 70% women don’t report workplace sexual assault, and as many as 75% experienced professional retaliation, so when you can’t prevent it, it’s important to make sure that attendees feel safe reporting any misconduct.

3. Train event staff on how to handle complaints from attendees.

It’s important to make sure that when victims report incidents, your event staff knows where to go and what to say. When you’re training your event staff, make sure they know who’s the point-person onsite taking reports.

Staff should also know that once a victim reports, they should be personally escorted to whomever will handle the situation. This way, they aren’t left alone and feel supported.

For Attendees

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1. Don’t hold business meetings in hotel rooms.

This might seem obvious, but a surprising number of attendees make this common practice. If you’re looking to hold a small meeting during an event you’re attending, consider asking the hotel concierge about available meeting spaces. Most hotels will offer business lounges or conference rooms that you can reserve at little or no cost.

2. Stay in groups.

Meetings and conferences are, above all, fantastic networking opportunities, so it’s not too hard to find people to connect with. Sticking in groups can help to make sure that nobody feels “cornered” in a conversation. While the responsibility shouldn’t fall on those being harassed, having multiple people can help act as a buffer, or provide them with a quiet way to remove themselves if they choose.

3. If you see something, say something.

One of the biggest issues is that victims may not always feel safe reporting incidents of sexual harassment. One of the most effective ways to prevent harassment in the moment is intervening as a bystander. If you see something going on, don’t be afraid to step in. You don’t have to address the harasser directly (unless you feel it’s OK to), and sometimes this can be as simple as helping remove someone from the situation. For example, if someone starts to speak or act inappropriately during a conversation, offer the person it’s directed towards to visit the refreshments station or go meet the speaker from the last session that you both loved.

To learn more about The Purple Campaign and how to start creating change in your own workplace, you can visit their website or email info@purplecampaign.org. For more information on how to incorporate these tools into your event’s risk management strategies, you can reach us at info@shworldwide.com.