To continue with the podcast relaunch on our second show, we were able to meet for a second time with Sherrif Karamat, President & CEO of PCMA as well as with Greg O'Dell, Chairman of the 2019 PCMA Board of Directors. We caught up with them at PCMA's EduCon in Los Angeles.
This time we covered a wide range of topics, but we focused on two important topics in both the world and within the meetings industry today. First was a discussion of diversity and inclusion, and the benefits of diverse skills and points of view in creating successful events. The second topic was human trafficking, and how raising the awareness in our industry and can provide a huge increase in opportunities to recognize and stop this serious international issue.
JON: Welcome back to the podcast. I'm Jon Trask, I’m your host and I'm here with Sheriff Karamat, the President and CEO of PCMA, and Mr. Greg O’Dell, the chairman of the 2019 PCMA Board of Directors. So welcome, gentlemen.
GREG: Thank you, Jon.
SHERRIF: Thank you for having us.
JON: I'm very happy to see you again. We talked recently up at WEC in Toronto, and now we're down in Los Angeles at your EduCon.
SHERRIF: Yeah, the world we live in is exciting, isn't it? So now in Los Angeles, wow.
JON: We're just jetting all over. And that's one of the things that I've actually always appreciated about our business is the opportunity to travel and see places and get to go, places I might not normally get to go to on my own.
SHERRIF: Yes, and experience many different cultures, different cities.
JON: Absolutely, yeah, it's been a great part of the business for me. And you guys are having a great event here it seems. Just to touch on that briefly before we dive into the real topics.
SHERRIF: Absolutely. I, you know, I love EduCon. It's event that we actually really get to visit with people. It's just a manageable size. And this year, bit larger than normal. Our largest EduCon in history. About 950 participants
JON: Very nice.
SHERRIF: And we've been creating some really interesting experiences. And I've been enjoying LA as well. Look at this city, it's vibrant. So, I have this thing that I'm comparing PCMA to LA. And so, here's my comparison…I absolutely think there's a renaissance, there's a transformation, there's a revival going on with the city. And I think it mirrors with all the exciting things that are happening at the PCMA. And so that's, that's my comparison is to, to a city and an organization that's on the move.
JON: Both of them coming together.
JON: Yeah, this this area, I mean, I'm a native of Southern California. And this was not an area that you would necessarily want to visit around the convention center. Even a decade ago, it doesn't seem. And so what they've done here, with the expansion and growth and the hotels, and all of that is really, really changed the whole complexion of this part of the city,
GREG: I would just echo two (of) Sherrifs comments from LA’s perspective and all the partners. You know, it's interesting before PCMA EduCon started, they had another major event here with the BET experience. And so, the transformation that happened from that event to ours was seamless. And I think, you know, hats off to the LA team. And they've been amazing and supportive hosting this event as well.
JON: They're very good, very accustomed to large, high profile events and working through them. I know, I did something at the event deck over here at LA Live a few years back, and it was the same time as a basketball game, and the Disney Radio Awards going on in the theater. And yet, you know, everything flowed smoothly and worked out really well.
GREG: That's right.
JON: So, what we were really going to talk about today, though, is when we were in Toronto, we talked about like numbers and data and things around the meetings, and I wanted to maybe talk with you a little bit more about the human side of the business. And I know there's an initiative that you started the Ascent Initiative. And I did a little bit of reading on that, and about inclusion and diversity within our industry. So I thought that would be where we could start today talking about that diversity and inclusion.
SHERRIF: Sure. So, you know, you actually get an extra point on my radar today, because you said the word inclusion before you said diversity. Because for me, diversity is an outcome of being inclusive. And so PCMA is all inclusiveness and it's about inclusiveness, because that's the way we learn, and we challenge the status quo more than ever. Without actually been being inclusive, you will never know everything. And the more perspectives the more diverse backgrounds, the more different mindsets that we bring to the table…And we grow, we learn, we create better experiences. So PCMA has started the Ascent Program for a number of reasons. And the CEO pledge. And one was looking at diversity and inclusion, and so forth in a different lens; and we looked at SAP Users, SAP today is the most diverse company in the world, because it was the most inclusive company in the world. And it is, it's labeled that simply because not because they will be altruistic and good. They actually had a need, and they had a need in computation, and mathematics. And they had, they had complex mathematical problems that they had to solve. And they couldn't find people that could help them solve this problem. Well guess how they went about it, they actually, they went, went looking. And then what they discovered was that people with autism actually had incredible mathematical and computational skills. So, they started hiring people on the autism spectrum. Today, SAP has more than 250 people working in their employment, that are on the autism spectrum. And talk about inclusion…But it was this notion that you can do good, but it's good for business. And that has actually served their pocketbooks and they're bottom line, much better than then just you know, going to some traditional route. So, inclusiveness has many forms, many, many ways that you can be inclusive. But we've got to look beyond race, and gender and so forth, and really truly think of what inclusiveness is all about. So that we can bring different perspectives and different ideas.
JON: That's, that's been something that, that I've got a personal education on a little bit over the past few years, because I've been, I had some surgeries on my back. And I've been getting around with a cane and had some mobility issues. And you, you start to learn a lot of things you didn't realize, when you're not exactly the same person that you were a year before. And you have these challenges of maybe walking a long distance or something, and you get into a huge facility and signage and things like that. So, it really opened my eyes personally, few years back, and I've talked to someone who's shown up in year convene magazine, Joan Eisenstodt. I've interviewed Joan a few times about that, and actually taken her class where she will put people in the experience of having some challenge, and let them kind of walk in those shoes. And I think doing that is very eye opening to people. So that's one thing that I recommend is trying to look at the world from some other perspectives. And thinking about that.
GREG: I mean, I agree. Everything with Sherrif said and I think inclusion so important. But you know, the reality on the last point you just made, you know, there are there are real diversity issues. And I think people's bottom line or company's bottom lines are better serve when they actually serve that diversity audience. The best way to do that is to have diversity within. And so, I think we had one of the most powerful, amazing speakers today, Tamika Catchings, who happened to be African American and happened to be a woman. But I think everyone in that room who experienced it today saw her compelling story first. But there are those who resonate with her for those reasons as well. And so, I think it's important that we recognize that but also in an inclusive manner.
SHERRIF: So, I'm just going to add to that one as in terms of performance of companies. Companies that are inclusive and are diverse; as a result, performed 41% better than companies that are not; return on investment, return on equity. So, it is just it is, you know, the data is there to support the fact. So, I also want to touch it, but your issue and your back. And so, we want what I like about the nomenclature today that's changing is sort of, we used to say people with disability. Right, and it's such a terrible term. What about people with special abilities? Right? Because they do have; so, think of the autism spectrum. We would (say), oh, they’ve got a disability? No, no, no, they've got a remarkable ability. And it's, it's just about being inclusive and understanding that we understand that these people Tamika this morning that you reference her, and her hearing challenges that she faced and that created a lot of other adversities for her. And it's, it's so I mean, how she broke those barriers down. I mean, it takes a very special person. But you know, I don't know, I think that we, shedding light to these issues is so important, talking about them in a non-threatening way. And, and I go back to the old line, you know, when we meet face to face…So, I think that…I wonder what if people never saw to Mika if they only saw a black woman. And when you saw her today, actually, you just saw just a wonderful individual. You couldn't give it any care about race or gender, just a person.
JON: Right, someone who's done amazing things.
SHERRIF: Yeah. And you want to, you know…just love this person, because of just that. You're just a wonderful… So I think that it just allows you to break down those barriers.
JON: And so in in a perfect world, I was trying to trying to come up with a way to put a bow on this and put it together into something what does an inclusive event look like in a perfect world? To you? How would you describe that? How do people do the best job to do that?
SHERRIF: Well I, first of all is be open to different ideas. And we have different, doing different things, but also be open to different people and different cultures and different…but different geography as well. And so, just allow that to happen so that those ideas can come. So, one way you can do that is by crowdsourcing ideas, just understand. So just a simple using technology as one way; two is just actually being very deliberate about it. And I think we do have to do, I'm a person that don't believe in quotas, but if we need them to just to get to where we need to go with them. Maybe that's something that you do. But I think that if we're deliberate, very deliberate, we’ll realize that we maybe don't need the quotas, because we're seeing the benefits of, and then suddenly we’ll be diverse. But sometimes we've got to go to extreme measures in order to make things happen.
JON: Kind of have to swing the pendulum far to one way?
GREG: I just want to add to that, because I think it's a compelling point. You know, one of the things, I'll give you a great example, this morning, we had our nextup, which was a mashing of our legacy society and our board members with our 20s in their 20s. And, you know, in a traditional sense, you would think this is an opportunity for the 20s in their 20s. To hear from the more tenured members. But in fact, you know, what we talked about, and that we were very explicit about is that we learned as much from them as they learned from us. And a great example that I gave was technology. So, we all had to adapt, the three of us had to adapt to technology, whereas it’s all the known in certain aspects of technology. And so, if nothing else, we learn quicker from them about how to utilize that technology in events, or how we're going to educate people leveraging that technology. So, I think its diversity of thought, but also an age demographic, but also geographic, all those things that I think PCMA is being very deliberate, whether it's matched up, or whether it's seeing people of color, who giving, providing the content, or otherwise I think, it's very deliberate, and very compelling. And that was what I think is success from what I would define a success.
JON: Excellent. Um, the other part of this conversation was really around the human trafficking that you guys have pledged on. So that's with ECPAT? Yeah, ECPAT USA. And there was something called the CODE.
SHERRIF: Yes, absolutely.
JON: So talk a little bit about that.
SHERRIF: So, let's just first talk about ECPAT, and it's, it's, it's one organization, but it's one that we really have vetted, and just look at what they're doing to raise awareness and curb human trafficking, if not completely eradicate it. And, and what PCMA has done is that with Maritz Global Events, we actually, they have been this been a big cause. And big initiative on behalf of America global events. And, you know, that they thought that our industry could actually play a key role in in driving the goal. So, I want to give them a lot of credit for starting this. And PCMA, said, you know, you're absolutely right, why couldn't we help. And so, we really got behind it, our foundation actually donated monies towards ECPAT. We have done projects around human trafficking. And we did the code, signed the code, and then actually did training for our employees. And we're going to take that on the road at our events so that we can train people, so they can understand how to recognize the signs of people that are in distress. And so, David Peckinpaugh, the president of Maritz, when he approached us and approached me, I said to David, that PCMA will get fully behind and fully vested in this providing Greg and our board was behind it. But it was a no brainer for them. They just said, of course. But I said, you know, what, it's bigger than all of us. So, we should get more people involved. And, we went to the EIC, the events industry council and said that all the industry organization should be involved, this should be this should be a plank of the EIC. And it should also though be a plank of others. So, Marianne signed the code, Arnie Sorensen signed the code. We are doing activation as a part of one of the trends that we are bigger than oneself, we have used the human trafficking issue, to show that we can have a bigger impact than just one individual on human trafficking. So, let me put that into context. company like Marriott, Maritz, Events, DC, PCMA, with all the employees and all the people that we bring together, think of the eyes that we can bring to the issue. And thus, we can recognize if there's something going wrong, if we make them aware how to recognize those issues. So, that's, we want to amplify this, we want to raise the awareness level as much as possible, we actually think of human trafficking as happening in Bangkok, and other areas, but it's happening in our local communities all around the country. And we actually, every community needs to pay attention to this.
JON: Makes sense? I know, when I was doing some research on this, that there are some resources and things if you can go to like the code.org. And pull up things like contract clauses to put into your RFP’s is to make sure that you're discussing this with your properties and your vendors, when you're coming into something. And I discovered a lot of that through this research with PCMA. So, it's helped me already start to think about things a little bit different way.
GREG: And you know, and I was going to say, and I, you know, from my perspective, and I'll confess, I wasn't well versed on this topic. And so, I'm glad when Sherrif brought this to our attention. But, in many ways, it's not even about pressuring people…people just aren't aware of this issue, right? So, I think it's an awareness campaign in many respects. And I think we are the most compassionate industry I know. And I think once people understand the problem, and they're willing to solve a problem, I think it's been great to build that awareness. And then people are compelled to act. So, I've been personally humbled by learning first about it, because I wasn't aware. But also, to be proactive, and what we can do about it as an industry. So, it's been, it's been great to see the proactive behavior of our industry, and certainly a credit share for leading PCMA, not just jumping on the bandwagon, but having to lead this.
JON: And we really do have a lot of eyes in this industry. There's a lot of people who can be watching out for this issue. And just bringing an awareness of it, it's kind of interesting, because I think both of these topics that we've talked about are really about awareness, and how, as an industry, we've started to pay attention to some things that we just didn't think about before.
SHERRIF: Well, you know, we also did the hackathon here for homelessness. And as we talk about homelessness is a symptom of a deeper societal issue. Right? Or, and or a human issue. And so how are we treating the deeper, deeper issue, but being aware of what the symptom is, is helps you to dig deeper, and PCMA really, really believes, this is our DNA that business events are going to drive business, no question about it. And it needs to. We need to have better employment opportunities for all our people. But business event should also do good for people, and our communities or local communities. And so, we're going to take every opportunity to inform, educate…not tell people how to get there, but actually highlight the problem and sort of because different people might choose different avenues to get there. And we want them to choose the vehicle that's best for them. But we want to make sure that we're all sort of saying, “this is the end goal”. But we can get there differently. And so, there are many other issues that we need to deal with. I want to highlight and I think it's something that you and I talked about previously was about the HIV AIDS issue and in Australia, and the fact that we use the business event to actually make them change their laws in their country, to allow people with HIV and AIDS to come into that country. I think it's pretty phenomenal. But what was even more exciting and interesting is that the country and the government and industry has made a commitment that they want to eradicate HIV and AIDS by 2030. And they're working. And that's creating new jobs and creating research, and all sorts of different industries because of their commitment; and because of an event.
JON: Because of an event that started it all. So, we can be a real catalyst for change within this industry by starting something…
SHERRIF: We are, we are, and we've got to recognize that this is what we, this is why. And this might be changing our conversation a little bit. But this is why we need to focus on why we do what we do, not what we do. And when we focus on the why we’ll understand that; yeah, we might be bringing people together…but why were we bringing them together? And we are bringing together where we are, maybe look make maybe using simple lenses to solve complex problems. But when we come together, we can do this. I am convinced, and I am convinced that science alone is not going to solve human issues. It’s people, it’s science, it’s data; it takes it all…And inclusion, right?
JON: Yeah, those diverse perspectives, those people coming in from different angles are where you get the best ideas sometimes. So absolutely. But this is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Because I came out of the last talk with you so inspired, and I just had a feeling that this area would be the same. Same inspirational feeling. And it's just really nice to consider the possibilities. And see that PCMA is behind this idea of moving us forward not just as a business, but as humans and as people and making things work better for everyone.
SHERRIF: I, categorically believe that we have a responsibility any leader, whether you're the leader of events, DC or the chairman of PCMA, or you are a local community leader. If you're going to be a leader, then you need to be responsible. And you have the opportunity in front of you to make a difference. And we've got to do it. And we actually bring together more than any other industry people in this world, that can make a difference. So, the opportunity is limitless. And we need to create better jobs for people. We need to create better lives for people. And we all need to grow, all those things the business events industry can do. And PCMA is committed to that.
JON: It's an amazing legacy to leave. And I hope we can all do that.
SHERRIF: Jon, thank you so much, as always.
JON: Thank you, I appreciate you both being here today. And it's been great talking to you.
GREG: So nice to talk to you.
JON: And until next time. We'll see you on the podcast. Thank you for listening