FIDI’s Sustainability and Strategic Communications Manager, Magali Horbert, discusses The Mover magazine’s recent article on harassment and intimidation at conferences – and invites your comments and suggestions on this important topic
Let’s start off by stating an obvious fact: conferences are great fun. Of course, people come for business; of course, networking and back-to-back meetings are hard work. But conferences are meant to be entertaining, and the organisers make sure to create spaces and moments for informal networking, where people can relax and enjoy themselves. However, the definition of ‘enjoyment’ can be blurry, and what one person might consider harmless fun can make somebody else feel uncomfortable – or worse.
In the July issue of The Mover magazine, Steve Jordan raised the delicate – but oh-so-important – topic of misconduct at industry events, highlighting how women (but not only women) sometimes suffer from the ‘inappropriate behaviour’ of some participants who just don’t know how to behave in a professional environment – or maybe just don’t care.
What is ‘inappropriate behaviour’?
For those who don’t understand what we mean by ‘inappropriate behaviour’, I’ll break it down into an easy rule of thumb: if you are acting in a way that would embarrass your mother, your behaviour is probably inappropriate for a business environment. Or imagine somebody doing or saying the same thing to your daughter: if this makes you feel uncomfortable or angry, then you most probably are not behaving appropriately.
If you need some real-life illustrations, Steve Jordan’s article gives examples based on true stories, ranging from the misplaced comment or gesture to downright sexual harassment.
Of course, human interactions are complicated, and things are rarely black and white, especially within a very international context. We all have different personalities and different educational backgrounds, which can easily give way to misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Some people might have difficulties reading social cues or lack the empathy to imagine how their actions might make others feel. But for others, it’s a power game meant to intimidate, ‘… an insidious attitude of entitlement that some, who believe they have the power, exude…’, to quote Steve’s excellent piece.
To be clear, this problem is not unique to the international moving industry; this is a recurring phenomenon whenever large groups of people come together. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to change mindsets in our sector, to ensure that everybody has fun at our conferences, without feeling threatened.
The FIDI Conference is the highlight event of our year. This is where we celebrate our community in its unique variety and cultural diversity. As organisers, we strive to make this event a pleasurable and unforgettable time for all participants. Rules and regulations are in place to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all participants. When we are made aware of breaches of these rules, we enforce them. We have excluded people from conferences before and will do it again if necessary.
Report the abuse
The problem with rules and codes of conduct is that they can only be enforced if a breach or misconduct is reported. This is where the responsibility of each one of us comes to play: if you are the victim or the witness of misbehaviour, FIDI’s rules can only be enforced if you report the abuse.
Sometimes rules are also outdated, confusing or irrelevant. We have reviewed our FIDI Conference code of conduct to make sure that the rules are clear, relevant, and impactful. We are also working closely with our sister associations to ensure the coherence of our individual rules and to tackle this problem together, as an industry.
However, it is difficult to know what the best way forward is if we don’t know the real nature and extent of the problem. We do hear some stories, mostly shared in a whisper over a coffee during a break. But we can’t address the elephant in the room if nobody speaks up and calls out the bad behaviour.
Let’s get the conversation going
Now don’t get me wrong: we are not asking you to become the fun police, snitching on your colleagues and ‘creating problems’. However, we can only adapt our processes if we know what’s really happening; as Steve says, ‘it’s bad enough for this kind of thing to happen at all, but keeping it hidden makes it worse’. Newcomers might feel especially intimidated and unsure of how to act. Those of you who have been around for some time, remember how you felt when you attended your first conferences: what would you have liked to know as a ‘rookie’? What advice or support would you have appreciated to be able to face difficult situations?
We invite you to share your stories with us, as well as your ideas on how we can avoid these bad experiences in the future. You can do so anonymously and without naming anyone if that’s your preference. We have set up an online platform for this purpose here: https://bit.ly/FIDIsurvey_ conferencestories . And should you ever be the victim or witness of inappropriate behaviour at a FIDI Conference, do let us know so that we can act accordingly. We guarantee that we will handle all cases with the greatest care and discretion.
Changing mindsets can be a drawn-out process, and we all have our part to play to make our events fun for everyone, as they should be. Let’s not forget that it’s a very small minority of individuals who cause trouble and create a bad reputation for our industry.
Our FIDI family’s uniqueness lies in the incredible diversity of its members and the strong ties that bind our community together.
And our conferences are great fun – let’s make sure that everybody can enjoy these precious moments.
If you have any thoughts or comments to share on this topic, please contact Magali Horbert at: firstname.lastname@example.org