How far should meeting industry associations go toward accommodating their members’ religious and cultural practices and traditions when scheduling meetings and conferences?
Meeting Professionals International is dealing with this issue again, with the scheduling of next year’s Professional Education Conference-Europe. The event will run April 18 to 20, which coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday.
The issue has been bandied about on industry listservs and has longtime member—and former chair of MPI’s Task Force on Diversity—Joan Eisenstodt of Eisenstodt Associates, Washington, D.C., disappointed and angry over what she considers to be MPI’s failure to deal sensitively with issues of inclusion.
Eisenstodt believes the association’s leadership has violated its own “Principles of Professionalism,” particularly the section “Respecting Diversity,” which calls for MPI to “embrace and foster an inclusive business climate of respect for all peoples, regardless of national origin, race, religion, sex, marital status, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairment.”
In a statement responding to the PEC/Passover issue, MPI Spokesperson Lee Lancaster said, “As we further develop our cross-industry partnerships, MPI must coordinate events, programs, and services around some already established parameters--holidays, in some instances. In this case, our partnership with IMEX necessitates that we coordinate the timing of our Professional Education Conference-Europe (PEC-Europe) with that event, which happens to coincide with Passover. In a global community like MPI, it's inevitable that one of our many events will coincide with one of the world's thousands of observed holidays.”
This is not the first time MPI has scheduled an event that conflicts with a religious or cultural holiday, Eisenstodt said. She pointed out that one of the first MPI PEC/Europe conferences was held over Passover, and that the 2004 PEC/North America, held in San Antonio, coincided with the Martin Luther King holiday.
The New England Meetings Industry Conference and Exposition began on the day after the first night of Passover in 2006. In this case, conference organizers explained in the conference brochure that there was no alternative to the selected dates, expressed regret for causing “any inconvenience,” and reported that the schedule had been altered to eliminate the pre-conference program and reception that would normally have been conducted on the afternoon and evening on the day before NEMICE.
Eisenstodt said she is disappointed that MPI has rejected her suggestions on how to make the PEC-Europe more inclusive by, for example, holding a community seder (the ritual feast that takes place on the first night of Passover). “Every time this happens, everyone says it will never happen again,” says Eisenstodt. “But it keeps happening. It just shows a lack of sensitivity.”
Eisenstodt insists the issue is “not about me and Judaism,” but instead is an example of how organizations like MPI “are not paying attention to who their members and customers are.” This is particularly ironic, she adds, considering MPI is in the process of making a major push to expand its reach globally.