Dear Meetings Industry,
In June 2016, I attended Meeting Professionals International (MPI) World Education Congress. As usual, the international conference was well attended and a wonderful gathering of top industry professionals. We studied food and beverage topics, budgeting, international trends, hybrid and virtual meetings and more. Added to this year’s event was a celebration of inclusion … mostly.
Unfortunately, the convention occurred on the heels of the tragic LGBT nightclub shooting in Florida, where 49 people were killed, over 50 were injured, and over 200 were held hostage until the gunman’s death, when police stormed the club around 2 a.m.
Deemed one of America’s largest mass shootings, the event was fresh in the minds of MPI attendees and MPI leaders we were called upon to address the solemn tone of the conference. We held a moment of silence, read the names of all those lost and embraced the theme of inclusion at the reception. It was appropriate and a beautiful act of solidarity among a close-knit group of international professionals.
I see this as a prompt to have a real discussion about inclusion. I can’t help but feel the need to charge the entire meetings industry with a call-to-action to celebrate inclusion, according to its truest meaning, at future industry events.
I’ve been speaking and writing about food allergies, as an invisible disability, for years. Yet, at each and every event, multiple attendees face significant unknowns when it comes to the food that is served. Attendees are forced to eat off-site because they cannot get simple, life-saving information about the food being served and its preparation, such as the possibility for cross-contamination.
I know several women who were forced to seek urgent medical care during industry conferences because they were having allergic reactions to the food they were served even though they had informed the organizations in advance and should have been able to ingest without issue. And, those are the ones I know of.
Generally, inclusion means we invite those who have been locked out of society, to come in. Because we are all born in society, we don’t have the authority to invite people into society. Instead, it is our responsibility to remove all barriers which uphold exclusion. Inclusion means we recognize our universal belonging, our interdependence, and in the meeting professionals industry, our duty of care to attendees. Assuring that all support systems are available to those who need such support, is not a favor; It is our civic responsibility and our duty.
Just a few simple steps will save lives and avoid alienating your guests. Survey attendees ahead of time and plan the menus accordingly. Label foods appropriately and ensure the kitchen prepares food at separate, cross-contamination-free stations, as needed. Educate and train the service staff to understand these precautions and to be able to communicate intelligently about the food and attendee needs. There is more that can be done, but these simple precautions remove significant barriers to participation at your events and speak to your ultimate goal of inclusion.
I am proud of my industry and of Meeting Professionals International for recognizing the Florida tragedy in such an open and inclusive way. I invite the entire industry to make inclusion an ongoing theme at all future events and to expand the meaning to cover our, yours and my, duty of care to all attendees. In this way, we will lead by example and remove the barriers for those with religious dietary needs, important lifestyle choices, and those with invisible disabilities, to include food allergies, autoimmune disorders, and intolerances.