From Collector: Networking Without Fear


How to ensure your speech and actions at professional events align with your behavior in the office.

10/17/2019 9:00

The rules of the road in your office are probably pretty well-known. Employee handbooks, your policies and procedures, and periodic anti-harassment training set clear expectations for behavior, writes Collector magazine Managing Editor Anne Rosso May in the October issue. This not only protects your brand and clients but also your staff, who expect to come to work every day in a safe and respectful environment.

But when you are at an accounts receivable management industry event, outside the four walls of your office, do those rules still apply? The answer, of course, is yes. In recent years, a wave of business leaders have been exposed for harassment and bad behavior, some of which occurred at professional conferences. In a survey conducted by Smarts Consulting LLC, 60% of the respondents reported having experienced harassment at a meeting at some point in their careers.

“Far too many individuals do not realize (or appreciate) that the corporate code of conduct applies equally to behavior inside and outside of the office,” said Steve Wiesner, CEO of pelotonRPM, a compliance and HR training platform provider.

Why do these off-site events sometimes muddy the waters of expected professional behavior?

“When people travel they have more of a sense of freedom and autonomy,” said Susan Strauss, certified harassment and bullying consultant. “Very often, particularly if they are spending the night in a different city, their interactions outside of their normal work environment can feel more social than professional. But if you are away on business, yes, you are still on company time and you need to abide by the law and your company’s policies.”

Federal and state laws protect employees from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Harassment and bullying can also have lasting consequences for victims. They may feel hesitant to attend future professional events where the perpetrator might also be, which could impact their advancement opportunities. They might even feel uncomfortable enough to leave the industry all together. And of course, harassment can lead to depression and other mental health concerns.

Harassment takes many forms and can include things like demeaning jokes, sexual innuendo, derogatory remarks and inappropriate physical touch.

“It can be something extreme or it can be something that might be more nuanced but still pushes the boundaries of what is expected during regular business hours in a typical work environment,” Strauss said.

In the abstract, these things sound ridiculously obvious—of course you would never say or do anything like that. But mistakes can happen, especially if you are at an event where alcohol is served or you’re talking to people you’ve known for years. Maybe you’re chatting with peers at a cocktail reception and you make a vulgar joke or perhaps you send an off-color comment as part of a group text with other meeting attendees. These things are not acceptable. Your actions, no matter the audience or context, should be professional at all times.

Respect is one of ACA’s core values, and the association has defined behavior expectations for event attendees. ACA has an Ethics Committee and disciplinary process for ethics violations, and we take these issues very seriously. Association-sponsored event participants violating ACA’s anti-harassment policy may be sanctioned or excluded from the event without a refund at the discretion of association management staff.

Read more on respectful and safe conference behavior in the October issue of Collector magazine.

Subscriptions to the Collector magazine digital edition and email notifications for each new issue are available for ACA International members by logging in to ACA International’s website here. Members and nonmembers can also purchase a print subscription. Nonmembers can create a guest profile on ACA’s website to subscribe to available publications.

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