Analysis Global

Gender agenda: Walking the talk

These industry professionals are leading change by putting words into action.

With International Women’s Day celebrated globally this month, issues such as gender pay gaps, a lack of leadership roles for women and sexual harassment in the workplace are under the spotlight.

The meetings and events industry is in a vulnerable position with regards to sexual harassment in particular. The combination of unusual/unsociable hours, men and women gathering and staying at hotels and attending sessions where alcohol is often served, means the fine lines between business and pleasure can easily become blurred.

“It’s not enough to just have a sexual harassment policy or code of conduct if it isn’t enforced or has no real consequences for the harasser,” says Karen Bolinger, CEO of Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC). “But creating one – or ensuring your existing policy has real teeth – is a good place to start.”

Last month, MCEC hosted the inaugural ‘Not in my workplace’ (NIMW) summit, an initiative calling for an end to workplace sexual harassment. More than 800 leaders listened to experts and shared knowledge. NIMW aims to develop practical toolkits and resources to ensure that women, in particular, younger ones, are protected. Bolinger believes that the events industry needs workplace champions to lead by example to create a respectful workplace culture.

“Educate and share your policy, everyone in your business needs to understand it,” she says. “Following through is key. If an incident does occur, listen closely and explain the steps outlined in the policy you have in place. Listen, show support and be professional.”

PCMA, meanwhile, is taking an active stance with regards to more inclusive workplaces, with its Ascent CEO Promise. Ascent seeks to empower those challenged by gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or disabilities to find success in the events industry.

The CEO Promise asks leaders to commit to embracing a culture of inclusiveness in their organisations and events. According to Sherrif Karamat, president & CEO of  PCMA, more than 100 CEOs have signed the pledge since its launch at IMEX Frankfurt last year.

“The industry really is moving towards healthier and more welcoming workplaces and events,” he says. “There will always be more work to be done, but to know that this number of industry leaders have committed to making a difference is so gratifying and encouraging.”

At this year’s Convening Leaders, an annual PCMA event gathering more than 4,200 professionals for education and networking, Karamat points out that well over 50 per cent of the 130 speakers were women and/or people of colour.

“Many of the 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders keynote speakers championed diversity,” he says. “By working together toward inclusion and diversity at the events we produce, we will enact meaningful social change.”

Looking forward to this year’s IMEX Frankfurt, hosted in May, the second edition of She Means Business will be taking place. Organised by IMEX in partnership with TW magazine, the initiative follows on from a 2016 survey looking at gender equality and gender issues in the meetings industry. She Means Business showcases women from around the world, from all walks of life and types of business.

“It’s so important that we ‘live’ gender equality and inclusivity values and not just talk about them,” says Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group. “We’re working on a code of conduct for our delegates around diversity and inclusion. We also strive to have a good balance of speakers at the show, aiming to be as close as possible to 50:50 in terms of gender balance.”

Bauer believes that for increased gender equality, there needs to be a focus on gender balance on speaker panels and boards, as well as ensuring that the events industry is as inclusive as possible for all minorities, including those with disabilities.

“This means creating safe and welcoming events and organisations where people can truly ‘be themselves’,” she adds. “As an industry, we are well placed to tackle these challenges, but we are only at the start of the process. We need to help each other through open and constructive dialogue and learn from each other to improve.”

The Exhibition & Event Association of Australasia’s (EEAA) International Women’s Day event was held this year on 7 March. Launched five years ago, the event explored three keys themes, including women’s health and wellbeing, women in leadership and women performing non-traditional roles.

According to Joyce DiMascio, chief executive of the EEAA, it is one of the association’s most popular events and helps to shine a light on achievements and promote a culture in the industry that enables women to flourish and be their personal best.

The business events industry appears to be increasingly recognising the contribution women make. Addressing the gender pay gap, however, remains an ongoing challenge, not just for events but for many industries. As Bolinger points out, the latest statistics on the issue in Australia, released in

February from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show the gender pay gap is 14.1 per cent – down from 14.6 per cent in the past six months. However, as Bolinger highlights, it has remained relatively flat over the past 20 years. In the UK, research released this month (March) from the Trade Union Council showed that the average pay gap between men and women in the UK stands at 17.9 per cent. 

Leah Carter, head of events at the Association of MBAs, says that while women are well represented in the events industry, they often hit a certain level where it can be difficult to progress and increase salary levels; moreover, a senior role such as head of events often does not attract the same level of pay as similar roles in marketing and PR.

“Working in events gives you important skills sets, such as project management, team building and diversity, which is sometimes overlooked in organisations,” she says.

For Fay Sharpe, vice president at BCD Meetings & Events, and founder of Fast Forward 15, a mentoring scheme for women in events, gender pay gaps are unacceptable within the industry, but she believes it’s not just a question of equality.

“There are opportunities in our industry for men at senior level to get more engaged – but let’s not just focus on equality, it’s about talent too,” she says. “One of the challenges we have as a sector is recruiting and ensuring we have engaged talent. Our industry is 70 per cent women – we need to get talent on board and move upwards.”