Packed House As ‘Let’s Get Uncomfortable’ Event Takes On Industry Harassment
with Bruce Parkinson
Event moderator and CT Magazine Editor-In-Chief Terrilyn Kunopaski.
Kunopaski with event panelists, Farrah Khan, Julie Lalonde and Brad Ford.
To achieve progress, sometimes you have to tackle uncomfortable issues. That’s why the theme of last week’s packed-house gathering at Toronto’s Ryerson University on the topic of gender-based discrimination and harassment in the travel industry was “Let’s Get Uncomfortable.”
Moderator Terrilyn Kunopaski, Editor-in-chief, CT Magazine & Canadian Traveller, helped bring the issue to the fore in an article earlier this year. Another event organizer, Britney Hope, Account Manager for Media Relations at Bannikin, also spurred industry discussion with her published thoughts on the issue.
But Kunopaski told the crowd of more than 120 students, members of Young Travel Professionals and industry members that the conversation has just started, and there’s more discomfort to come.
“Unfortunately, as much as the #MeToo movement has accomplished over the past year, the travel industry still struggles to even acknowledge that gender-based discrimination and harassment is a deeply-embedded problem,” Kunopaski said in her opening remarks. “We love to wax sentimental about how travel can open our eyes, teach us how to be tolerant of others, and how to be patient and kind. Unfortunately, that is not always true in practice.
There were three key goals for the event:
To acknowledge and validate that gender-based discrimination and harassment does happen in this space. It happens in the workplace, whether it be in service roles or office environments, and extends to industry events, FAM trips and conferences.
To discuss the impacts of said problems; what does this mean for women in the workplace and what is your role in creating change?
To provide bystanders who bear witness to such behaviour with awareness, understanding and practical tools, so the next time you encounter inappropriate behaviour or witness gender-based discrimination, you can feel empowered to take ownership of the situation in an effective way.
Sponsored by G Adventures and its philanthropic wing Planeterra Foundation, the event held at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality & Tourism Management featured a distinguished panel of industry members and expert guests who took questions first from moderator Kunopaski and later from the audience.
Travel industry members on the panel included Shalene Dudley - Owner, Latitude Concierge Travels, Brad Ford - President, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold and Rhea Simms -- Global Coordinator, Planeterra Foundation. Annie Ewing, Independent Travel Advisor, TTI Travel, hosted the evening.
Expert guests on the panel were Julie Lalonde - Women’s Rights Advocate and Public Educator, Farrah Khan - Manager, Consent Comes First: Ryerson Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education and Amrita Bhalla - Managing Director, A.B. Consulting and Sessional Lecturer at Ryerson University.
Key takeaways from the event included the importance of creating the conditions where people feel safe enough to come forward if they are sexually harassed, and for men to speak up when they see colleagues behaving badly.
“Men are important to the conversation,” Kunopaski said. “They need to think about the power of words, the impact of words and thoughts.”
“Bystanders are a key part of the conversation,” said Lalonde. “There are low rates of intervention in the workplace.” Ryerson’s Khan added: “Men have a responsibility to check each other on this.”
Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold president Brad Ford added a male perspective: “Behaviours can be controlled. We need to hold ourselves to a standard, and call men out and address the situation when lines are crossed.”
While sexual harassment and gender equality can indeed make for uncomfortable conversations – as the past year of #MeToo and the recent Supreme Court nomination process have revealed -- the Let’s Get Uncomfortable event felt more like the beginning of a positive conversation that absolutely needs to continue in this industry.
Those looking for educational resources on gender-based discrimination and harassment can find them at the website: www.letsgetuncomfortable.ca.
An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.