Looking Ahead

Let’s Be Fierce

How do we make our workplaces more inclusive? We can start by having real conversations.

Those who read this column each month know that a personal — and PCMA — quest is to encourage a more inclusive business-events industry. As the saying goes, it starts at home: Creating our own welcoming workplaces is key to that.

How do we achieve a welcoming office environment or organizational culture? One way, I believe, is to follow the tenets Susan Scott outlines in Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time.

“Fierce” may sound harsh and at odds with “welcoming.” But Fierce Conversations isn’t a new book, and those who are already familiar with its message understand it to be about meaningful communication. “Fierce” conversations are robust discussions that enable us to better connect with colleagues and others in our lives. It’s about being truthful to yourself, no longer making excuses, and not always believing the stories in your head.

I like that thinking, and I believe it can really help leaders who want to make their organizations or teams more welcoming and inclusive. Not everyone is comfortable having those kinds of honest conversations, and thus, and it may need to become a learned behavior.

It’s also not just for leaders. Everybody must be all-in. If you’re going to earn a paycheck, you can’t just occupy a chair. You have a responsibility to make a difference and to care about the health of your organization — in other words, the greater good.

What does a welcoming workplace look like? It’s a place where people feel safe expressing opinions. It welcomes all, regardless of gender, sexual preference, physical ability, and the like. It fosters innovation and it’s home to a culture that’s experimental, lets people fail, and demonstrates respect for every individual. It’s also mindful of the fact that your colleagues are not automatons: They have lives and families outside the office and they face personal challenges.

As I talk with CEOs around the world, they share that talent acquisition and retention are among their biggest challenges. By creating inspirational and welcoming workplaces we do much to tackle that issue. But we shouldn’t be doing this only to compete for talent. That would be a shame. We should all be trying as individuals and as an industry to move society forward.

The business-events industry faces some particular challenges here. Fierce conversations are not part of our DNA. When I was at SACEOS in Singapore earlier this year, I was quite blunt with industry leaders about the fact that we’re not good at collaborating about the things that really matter. We’re afraid to address possibilities like mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and where competition is truly originating today. Other industries don’t tiptoe around those kinds of opportunities, and we need to move past that.

I think a good way to start is within our own organizations. Make it okay to have honest, transparent — fierce — conversations in your office. And let’s be fierce when we get together as an industry.

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat is CEO and president of PCMA.