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Sirk: All-male events 'should have been on scrapheap decades ago'

ICCA chief executive says Presidents Club Dinner an 'outlier' and signals guideline update

Pictured: Martin Sirk

Men-only business events and 'decorative hostesses' should have been ‘thrown on the scrapheap decades ago’, according to the CEO of one of the meetings industry’s leading associations.

However Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), said the Presidents Club Dinner should not be seen as typical of the business events industry.

He said: “We have to protect our whole sector against being tarred by the actions of a few organisations or individuals for whom harassment isn’t taken seriously, which is a real risk if the Presidents Club Dinner is seen to be a normal event, rather than an outlier. All-male business leader meetings and decorative hostesses have nothing to do with the modern business events industry, and should have been thrown on the scrapheap decades ago.”

Regarding ICCA’s own annual congress – one of the key dates in the business events calendar – Sirk said a 60-40 per cent gender split in favour of women, many of whom held senior positions in the industry, helped ensure the ‘culture and interactions were open and friendly’.

He said the association did not currently have a policy to deal with harassment, ‘because it hasn’t been perceived to be a major challenge’. However he signalled that was likely to change.

“In the current climate I believe it’s a step we should make, especially to reassure those delegates who are more shy and reserved that ICCA is proactively taking steps to prevent individuals from behaving inappropriately. Ultimately, we want to encourage friendships, trust and good business relations at our meetings, and that requires an environment where everyone feels safe and relaxed.”

Industry association Meetings Professional International has recently updated its governance documents to include guidelines specifically addressing  sexual harassment.

In a message to members CEO Paul Van Deventer said: “It is important that we make our position clear – MPI will not tolerate harassment of any kind at events we organise, whether by MPI Global or by our chapters, or in our workplace. In addition, we will provide annual harassment prevention training to staff, boards and chapter leaders. Since MPI’s volunteer leaders are responsible for representing MPI in local communities around the world, it is important they understand what harassment is and feel empowered to speak up and report instances of harassment to MPI Global. The bottom line is I want our community to feel safe and comfortable. Harassment of any kind, whether toward women or men, is not welcome within any MPI environment.”

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