How Women in Events Can Jump the Gender Gap

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Gender Gap woman walking up stairs to a doorA new report identifies ways women can leap over the gender gap in leadership that exists in the business events field, despite it being dominated by women.

The gender gap in meetings and events has been well documented over the years, showing gender disparities in leadership roles and salary. A new report called Advancing Women in Business Events, the second part of a global study conducted by the Professional Business Convention Association (PCMA) Foundation and Business Events Sydney (BESydney), identifies actions women, employers and the industry as a whole can take to even the playing field and make it more feasible for women to move up to leadership roles.

It follows the release of the first part of the research at PCMA’s Convening Leaders in January. The earlier report focused on identifying the extent of the gender gap in the events industry globally. It also identified the personal, organizational and societal-level challenges that tend to hold women back from reaching higher levels, despite the fact that the industry is predominantly female.

BESydney CEO, Lyn Lewis-Smith said, “Gender equity in leadership is not a problem unique to our industry, but the steps we can take to shift the dial are. Everyone in our ecosystem has a role to play, from the individual, to employers, and as an industry as a whole. Our clients expect us to walk the talk. It is important industry leaders lead the change now that ESG and Diversity Equity and Inclusion have moved from a ‘nice to have’ to a business imperative.”

The research points to several actions women can take on their own, such as identifying and moving beyond self-limiting habits such as being reluctant to toot their own horns and not enlisting allies who can help them move up the ladder. Mentors, be they internal or external, also can help women overcome daily challenges and develop plans for professional growth. Other key results on the personal level include:

  • Improving their negotiating skills they can use on their own behalf when it comes to salary discussions and pathways to leadership. Some useful ways to gain those skills include attending educational sessions and participating in social media channels.
  • Advocate for organizational change by explaining to executives — not just the human resources team — the benefits of bringing more women into the top tiers of their organizations.

Organizations that serve the meetings and events industry also have several actions they can take to help rectify the gender disparities at the top, including getting buy-in and commitment to gender equity from the C-suite, offering coaching tailored specifically to women’s needs, and promoting inclusive leadership development.

Because many of the barriers are systemic across the industry, and even society as a whole, the research also pointed to some things that can be done on a larger level. For example, establishing a cross-industry steering committee and creating women’s mentorship programs are two possible ways to help women move into leadership positions. It also suggests a renewed focus on ensuring diverse and women-owned businesses when sourcing meetings-related products and services.

“The global business events industry has an opportunity to be bold, challenge the status quo and set forth a vision that eliminates barriers. We must be held accountable,” said Sherrif Karamat, CAE, PCMA and CEMA President & CEO. “While much is being done to support women as a result of DEI across all underrepresented groups, our industry can dismantle unnecessary obstacles to help women advance into leadership roles.”

The research the report is based on entailed two think tanks consisting of 20 female and male executives in various U.S. cities, as well as one online think tank with 10 Asia-Pacific executives; six one-hour interviews with female executives; and a survey of 438 female event planners globally. More than 86% of participants have been in the industry at least five years.

Download the complete report here.

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