As businesses across the country commit to doing their part to diversify the workforce, there is a glaring spotlight on the event industry. Considering the fact that events are a key source of brand growth and lead generation across industries, this makes sense. One can learn a lot about the diversity of the workforce in general simply by looking closely at the event industry.
For example, a study conducted by EventMB analyzed 150 events globally between 2019 and 2020. The study measured diversity across the categories of BIPOC and female representation on the speaker panels at events. Event MB also looked specifically at black representation. The results were alarming, albeit not surprising: 35 to 40 percent of the events did not even have one black speaker. Furthermore, the standard for diversity was not set high in this study: If a panel with 10 experts had only one black and/or female speaker and the rest were white males, it constituted a diverse event. Yet overall, the study concluded that 67% of events were diverse by these standards. At a glance, that sounds like progress. But if one looks closer- like Event MB did- the details tell a different, far less inclusive story.
The Gender Wage Gap: It’s NOT A Myth
Since today’s goal is to discuss gender equality in the industry, let’s start by stating the obvious: Like most other industries, the event world has been feeling the pressure to cultivate gender equality. The progress that’s been made to that end is undeniable, but we still have a long way to go: U.S. government data from 2018 reveals that the role of “meeting, convention, and event planners” is 79.5 percent female and 20.5% male. Yet somehow, the average salary for males is $50, 531, while the average salary for women is $46, 526 for women.
How is that possible? Well, it could have something to do with the roles available to men and women in the event industry. Unconscious stereotypes about men and women naturally create bias within any workplace where the issue is not addressed and rectified by the company as a whole. For example, bosses may delegate tasks like wedding planning or clerical work to women, giving men the responsibility of organizing the business and culture events that generate more leads and revenue. We would never mean to imply that this is always the case- it certainly isn’t, and we know of many large companies where women are given the same responsibilities and opportunities for career advancement in all areas as men.
It can- and has- been argued that women may be naturally more inclined toward planning events like weddings, whereas more men may be drawn to the business and networking end. And we don’t want to over-neutralize everything and deny that some men and women have vastly different traits and interests. But the key word there is some; it is deeply problematic to assume that more women want to plan weddings and parties than business and networking events. Relying on gender stereotypes to understand gender equality in the event (or any) industry is futile. Furthermore, the lack of female representation in executive, decision-making decisions in this industry is telling.
The gender wage gap in any field is a complex, much-debated issue. But lack of representation may contribute largely to it, as well as to other areas of gender inequality across industries. In the event industry, most budget-holding executives are white males, and they have a great deal of influence over the hiring process. It’s a tale as old as time: White males tend to hire more white males. Whether due to inherent bias or overt sexism, this tends to be the overall result. Simply put, the industry needs more women in leadership positions to truly level the playing field. Cathy Breden, EVP and Chief Operating Officer of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), weighed in on the subject: “In our sector, women tend to be on equal footing in operational positions but vastly outnumbered in the executive ranks”, she related. She went on to state that many tech leaders are catching onto the reality that they need to fully integrate the talents of the whole workforce to achieve maximum potential.
What Is Being Done to Create a More Gender-Equal Industry?
We can all agree that tech is a rapidly growing sector with an expanding leadership role in the industry. It is also a sector in which women are overwhelmingly underrepresented. While recognizing that this is the result of years of sexism in the workforce is important, it doesn’t solve the problem. So where do we go from here?
CadmiumCD CEO Michelle Wyatt recently wrote an enlightening article on the key obstacles that stand in the way of increasing gender diversity in tech. One persistent problem, she explains, is a lack of business contacts who might provide opportunities for experience. Naturally, experience leads to advancement, but women need viable ways to get their feet in the door. She makes a valid point: In some instances, women’s contacts tend to be built around their family roles, such as their children’s sports teams or clubs. (This is a shifting reality, but is still generally relevant). Men, however, frequently build contacts around business contacts.
But she shares some good news on that front: As non-traditional funding sources such as crowdfunding gain popularity, women have more opportunities to build contacts and raise money. Small Business Administration Loans can also be a helpful resource to anyone interested in forging a startup or building a business.
A recent Forbes article emphasized that many millennial women are delaying having children due to their careers. This is true not just in the U.S., but in many developed countries. It’s obvious that women’s desire to forge careers is growing with their opportunities to do so. It’s also important to note that we’re living in a shifting economy in which survival is more difficult for the middle class than it was in previous decades. That is likely another contributing factor in the push to close the gender wage gap and create a gender-equal workforce.
The IAEE’s Cathy Breden points out that more women than ever are getting advanced degrees, while men are taking a greater role in raising families. This shift toward progress may be one reason why more women overall are reaching executive ranks. Breden also emphasizes that women’s economic power in industrialized countries has greatly increased in recent years.
And although the tech sector is still far from gender-equal, women are using technology itself to amplify their voices. A powerful example of this involved the recent Sudanese protest movement. Although many women were unable to join the protests due to patriarchal society structures, participation was rampant via social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram all contributed to the global coverage of the protests, and private groups were organized to raise funds for the movement. When the Sudanese government attempted to block social media, women used VPNs to conceal their locations and continue to work toward progress. This example serves to widen our global lens of gender inequality in tech- and what’s being done to make progress across nations.
Addressing The Work-Life Balance
We know that traditionally, men were unanimously considered the main providers for their families. Thus, they were praised for spending more time at the office or furthering their education and careers; household responsibilities, including child-rearing, were primarily delegated to women. But as society makes major progress toward gender-equality, the work-life equation is more complicated.
A double standard has predictably emerged: If women want the opportunities to forge successful careers, they must also not neglect household chores and child-rearing, which are still primarily their responsibility. These patriarchal patterns in society are not automatically negated by women having more access to equal opportunities; these sexist attitudes still exist and impact women in business and their personal lives. Women are still more likely to be praised for being good caregivers or partners than providers within the family structure. This double standard can put tremendous personal and professional pressure on women struggling to maintain a feasible balance between work and family.
Let’s take a look at what we know about gender differences. Whether biological or societal or both, statistics still show fundamental differences between men and women. These differences significantly influence their personal and professional lives. For example, society still tends to praise men for being aggressively ambitious and criticize women for that very same behavior (although that is changing). Are men really more assertive than women by nature? Whatever the answer to that complex question, men are generally raised to be more assertive. (This tendency toward gendered modesty is also starting to change as families recognize the need to raise confident girls).
Paid family leave, which is on the rise, can help women stay in the workforce after having children. A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) highlights the long-term impact of paid family leave on women’s participation in the workforce. According to this exciting new research, states that have implemented paid leave policies saw a 20 percent reduction in the number of women leaving their jobs in the first year after having a child- and up to a 50 percent reduction after five years. That’s a powerful statistic!
How Women Can Expand Their Networking Opportunities
According to study by LinkedIn and the Adler Group, a whopping 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Therefore, helping women expand their networks is paramount to forging gender equality. But how can this be accomplished?
Female-only networks are a growing trend for many reasons. Professional women understand and empathize with each other’s struggles, so they draw strength from each other. These groups are also a melting pot for creativity; women in business are collectively trying to overcome a system that was traditionally designed to exclude them. It takes teamwork and inspiration to solve some of these problems. Building confidence and learning from other entrepreneurs helps prepare women to take on roles they may not have considered in previous decades- especially in the tech world.
Besides feeling supported by like-minded women, members of women-only networking groups say they benefit big-time from the high-quality referrals they lead to. The term “women-only networking” may smack of exclusivity to those who don’t understand the need for them. They’ve also been criticized as ineffective because there aren’t yet enough women in power positions to benefit from. That certainly isn’t always the case, but even when it is, women’s only networks groups also facilitate connections with- you guessed it- men. They’re actually about broadening women’s horizons and generating leads in their industry.
Some women have expressed concerns that one-on-one networking with men will feel like a date. If that’s a worry, women can suggest having the meeting in a more formal setting, such as an office or conference room. Or they can meet in an informal public setting, which is a common way to network. Often, once the conversation begins, it will feel very much like a business meeting in which ideas are exchanged on a professional level. If it begins to feel like something different or someone is behaving inappropriately, it is always advisable to excuse oneself and leave. Many women harbor legitimate worries that setting firm boundaries in inappropriate situations will harm their career and/or networking opportunities. Although that possibility can never be ruled out, it is imperative for women to be in control of their careers and establish firm boundaries early on.
Fortunately, there is a greater platform for victims of sexual assault or mistreatment in the workforce than there was in years before. With the #MeToo movement, entire careers and public figures were “canceled” based on sexual assault allegations. Some perpetrators even faced legal consequences years after workplace abuse took place. As a result, many companies are much more afraid of public scrutiny. Which means they are more likely to penalize an employee who displays inappropriate behavior- and less likely to allow the recipient of such behavior to suffer consequences within the company.
Of course, there is still mistreatment and abuse of women in the workplace. Because of this unfortunate fact, it falls upon women to have a no tolerance policy when it comes to sexually inappropriate behavior. But don’t be discouraged- for the companies that will still allow such abhorrent behavior, there are many that won’t. It’s unfair that such an obstacle even exists for women in their pursuit of success in business. But there are more supportive resources available than ever before, including women’s-only networking groups, social media networks, and advocacy groups.
Now more than ever, gender equality in the event industry- and the workforce as a whole- is something we’re striving for. Today we covered some of the challenges women face in the event world, and how they can potentially be overcome. There’s no blanket solution to a problem that is deeply, systemically ingrained in society. But there is a lot of hope, talent, and determination among those working together to make this an industry that fully represents women. A field as creative as the event industry can- and already does- benefit greatly from women’s talents and skills.