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Controversial Topics In the Workplace

Updated on December 5, 2017

Background

During college, I was given the opportunity to intern with a company called FCSI (Food-service Consultants Society International). This company offers design and management consulting services, specialized in the food-service and hospitality industry, across the the world. In FCSI, there are divisions throughout the world and here in the States we are known as FCSI The Americas (includes Canada, U.S.A., Mexico, and South America).

While doing these internships, I was able to be apart of the Nashville, TN conference and Denver, CO Conference. During these conferences consulting firms come in and learn about things that are up and coming for the food-service industry. Or they learn about new resources to help their company grow. They also get to enjoy networking events during the evening hours.

Layout of Conference planning

Roughly a year out from the conference, all staff and Conference planning committee members fly to the destination of the conference and explore the city. During this time, all members and staff get to check out offsite locations for networking events for the nights of the conference, along with having an all day meeting deciding what topics will be offered for discussion at the Conference in the following year. For this topic, we will only look at the event that took place in Denver, CO which took place from April 19-21.

The Problem Arises

There is no coincidence that the conference would fall on April 20 and knowing that cannabis is legal in Colorado. The committee thought that since cannabis is a big topic about becoming legal, that many consultants would need to know how to design a kitchen in order to expand their business. They figured bringing someone in to talk about their design of their kitchen and how they prepare things would be an awesome topic for a keynote speaker.

A couple of weeks later, my boss received an email from an FCSI The Americas board member stating her concern with the cannabis topic. She thought that it was not relevant and the committee was making our company into a mockery because the conference is going to be held on 4/20. She also thought that the committee was wanting to promote the drugs and have whatever speaker we had bring in edibles that they would have prepared in said kitchen. My boss brought it to the staffs attention that this particular board member had a history with cannabis and did not want it to interfere with her life again. She was afraid that not everyone would enjoy listening to the topic for a keynote session anyway. Out of all the board members, she was the only one who had an issue with this session.

Finding a solution

After receiving this email from the board member, my boss set up a conference call with the Conference planning committee. During this call, he explained the email he received and asked the committee to figure out a solution. Since his staff was just coordinating the conference, it was the committee's choice on what they want to learn. After speaking on the phone for a while, the committee came up with 2 options.

  1. Eliminate the topic completely and find a new keynote
  2. Move the cannabis topic from a keynote speaker to a breakout session, so the people who would feel uncomfortable about the topic would not have to attend.

All the conference planning committee members agreed the cannabis topic needed to stay, but just moved into a breakout session. Doing this gives people the choice of attending the session or not. and they speaker will only educate about kitchens and how they need to be designed. Many consultants were already creating kitchens for clients. They need to incorporate this topic into the conference. Everyone decided that it be part of the breakout sessions.

To present their choice to the board, the committee chair wrote a letter explaining why they wanted to keep it and that it would not be geared toward "drugs are good" idea.

Conclusion

The problem was very childish, but even controversial topics need to be addressed. They need to be presented in the right way, but they should be talked about if it has to do with your line of work. The conference planning committee did a noble thing by taking the cannabis topic out of the keynote slot and sliding it into a break out session instead.

© 2017 SK Forte

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