A B.C. woman says the excitement of attending a big industry conference quickly turned to shock for her and many others when an unexpected sexist remark was made.
At the B.C. Tourism and Hospitality Conference in Richmond between March 9 to 11, Trina Notman says about five minutes into the conference’s opening, chairperson Vivek Sharma asked all the women to stand.
“He said some words around International Women’s Day, celebrating women in the industry and everybody clapped,” said Notman. “And then when the applause died down, he said ‘OK, now go clean rooms and do dishes.’ And he laughed at that.”
International Women’s Day was March 8.
Sharma is the CEO of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and is also a board member of the B.C. Hotel Association (BCHA).
Another woman reached out to Global News and confirmed she heard the same remark from Sharma as Notman.
Notman, the vice president of marketing and communications for Accent Inns/Hotel Zed, said Sharma apologized, albeit later.
“But he did it as a joke. He said that because there are bureaucrats in the room, he wanted to highlight the staffing crisis and he laughed it off,” said Notman. “So not really the best apology.
“He did come on hours later and give a more serious apology, I assume after having a little bit of pressure. But in that time, there wasn’t enough time to educate himself on what was wrong with what he said, and he had no commitment in his apology to educate himself.”
The Tourism Industry Association of B.C. (TIABC) was quick to release an apology.
“During a tribute to the incredible women of our industry at the opening of the 2022 B.C. Tourism and Hospitality Conference, an insensitive and hurtful comment was made that was completely inappropriate and deeply upsetting to all women, and indeed, all delegates of the event,” their statement read.
“What was originally intended as a salute and acknowledgement of the tremendous contribution, talent, skill and professionalism of our female tourism and hospitality colleagues, instead, resulted in a stark reminder of how far we have to go to achieve equality, respect, and empowerment for the women of our sector.
“We sincerely apologize for the harm this disparaging remark caused. Both TIABC and BCHA stand behind all the women of our industry and remain committed to championing females of every age, ethnicity, skill level, and ability to achieve their full potential and realize every opportunity to contribute and succeed as equal partners both in society and in our sector.”
Notman said on the Monday following the conference, she sent formal letters to all the boards and councils that Sharma sat on requesting his removal.
Days later, Sharma released his own statement via the BCHA.
“I am very sorry and deeply regret the insensitive and inappropriate comments I made at the start of last week’s B.C. Tourism and Hospitality Conference. Not only did my words cause distress for several women in the audience but I also offended many other delegates,” he said.
“My unacceptable remarks did not set the intended tone for the conference and consequently placed TIABC and BCHA’s board and staff in a very difficult position.
“I am also mindful that what I said does not reflect the views of either TIABC or BCHA, both of whom have worked hard to advocate for the tenets of equality, inclusion, and diversity in our sector. I’ve spent many years working alongside these reputable organizations to help our industry grow and flourish. As a result of my recent conduct, I have let down valued colleagues who love and care about me.”
The statement added that was stepping down from both boards at the TIABC and BCHA.
And on March 18, Fairmont Hot Springs Resort said it was hiring a third-party consulting firm to conduct an independent review, and that Sharma had been placed on immediate leave.
“Any discrimination is not acceptable and Fairmont Hot Springs Resorts is dedicated to creating an inclusive and diverse atmosphere, where people feel safe to work, visit or conduct business with.”
Meanwhile, Notman hopes the incident can help spur change.
“My reaction is that it just isn’t about this man. It’s about the issue of equality in the industry,” said Notman. “And the removal of this man doesn’t fix all of the problems that we have.
“What I want to see is real conversations and real action around equity in this industry and all industries. And I really hope that this serves as a catalyst to really make some real change.”
Notman added, “We just can’t believe that we’re dealing with this.”