Vivek Sharma, CEO of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in the Canadian province of British Columbia, has been placed on leave after making a sexist comment in jest while honoring women earlier this month.
Sharma, who has also resigned from two tourism boards, made the comment near the end of his speech at the 2022 B.C. Tourism and Hospitality Conference in the city of Richmond on March 9, the day after International Women’s Day.
After asking female attendees to stand in honor of the holiday, Sharma told them to “go clean some rooms and do some dishes,” instantly drawing a shared groan from the audience.
“It was shocking. It was embarrassing — he was literally laughing at us,” Trina Notman, vice president of marketing and communications for Accent Hotels and Hotel Zed, told CBC News. “It felt terrible.”
Sharma reportedly apologized shortly after. He then issued a public apology on March 15, where he also announced his resignation from the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. (TIABC) and the B.C. Hotel Association (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 & Hospitality Conference. Not only did my words cause distress for several women in the audience but I also offended many other delegates,” Sharma wrote.
“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,” he added. “As a result of my recent conduct, I have let down valued colleagues who love and care about me.”
TIABC and BCHA, who issued their own apology hours after the incident, also released a joint follow-up statement alongside Sharma’s apology.
“The Board of Directors for both BCHA and TIABC acknowledge the impact of last week’s incident and have taken decisive action that includes wholeheartedly committing to additional steps to elevate and empower women in tourism and hospitality. We look forward to communicating these actions over the coming months,” the organizations said.
“Importantly, the past few days have sparked important conversations that have forced us to confront the responsibility we each hold in creating a fair and equitable industry, free of bias,” they added.
Following the conference, Fairmont Hot Springs Resort announced on March 18 that Sharma has been placed on immediate leave. The resort also said it “is taking this matter seriously and has hired a third-party consulting firm to conduct an independent review into the matter.”
“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,” the company wrote.
In an interview with Global News, Notman stressed that the issue at hand goes beyond Sharma’s remarks.
“My reaction is that it just isn’t about this man. It’s about the issue of equality in the industry. And the removal of this man doesn’t fix all of the problems that we have,” Notman told the outlet.
“What I want to see is real conversations and real action around equity in this industry and all industries,” she added. “And I really hope that this serves as a catalyst to really make some real change.”
Sharma previously worked as the general manager of the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel and Conference Centre. Aside from resigning from the boards of TIABC and BCHA, he reportedly resigned from the board of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the advisory council of Thompson Rivers University’s school of business and economics.
“As much as my actions caused harm, industry leaders like me have the opportunity to make amends if given the chance,” he said.