Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements whilst acknowledging that inequality still exists and calling for greater rights and representation for women and girls.
As this year’s theme is #MakeItHappen, I’d like to encourage the meetings and events industry to ‘make it happen’ by better advancing and recognising women, and to ask women themselves to ‘make it happen’ by striving for top positions, making their achievements more visible, and helping each other break through the glass ceiling.
Overall, women vastly outnumber men in the meetings and events industry, with mid and lower-level positions dominated by women both in the UK and internationally. Unfortunately, this isn’t automatically leading to strong female representation, or even 50/50 representation, at senior management and board level: in 2015, the majority of agencies are still being led by men, while office floors are staffed by mostly female employees.
I recently took part in an M&IT survey on women in events, the results of which showed that women still feel the gender gap is ‘looming large.’ The women surveyed believe that it is still hard to climb to the top of the career ladder – especially if they have children – and that equal pay and equal opportunity are by no means a given.
So how can we as an industry and as individuals help ensure that the talented women in our industry are reaching the top?
Industry initiatives & company commitment
At industry level, we need to make sure that women who’ve progressed through the operational ranks don’t get overlooked when a senior management, board position, or key association post opens up. We should focus investment in general management training and make sure that women are pro-actively encouraged to strive for leadership.
A lack of visibility of senior women, whether in an industry or an individual company, has been proven to negatively impact on women’s career ambition and expectations. While some great mentoring initiatives exist, including the IMEX Women’s Leadership Forum, the industry needs to step up its female-focused mentoring and networking to help women reach their full potential.
Individual companies can show their commitment by creating female leadership programmes or joining government initiatives such as the UK’s Think Act Report to identify ways to close the gender gap.
While improvements can and should be made, I do know that of all industries, the professional services industry – and specifically the event and communication industry- offers me a far more level playing field for progression that many industries could or would.
And I know that my company, MCI, is striving for gender balance at board level and that promotion is based wholly on merit. So, I have the comfort of knowing that hard work – and sacrifice – pays off. I also know that my industry has a poor reputation for flexible working provision, but I’ve searched for best practice: there is little evidence to suggest that any other commercial, client-serving industry has nailed it…yet.
Women must make sure that they’re not holding themselves back unintentionally. This means being more open to taking career risks and grabbing leadership opportunities, even if you’re not 100% certain that you’re ready.
Women also need to stop feeling guilty about being working parents. I know now that there is no perfect way to combine motherhood and a career. But I also know that when you make a choice to return to work, something has to give. I don’t think you can do it all well. I do my job well; I am devoted to my girls (I have seven-year-old twins); I don’t spend enough time with my partner or with my friends, and there are days when my house looks, quite frankly, neglected. That I regularly miss junior assembly, harvest festival, parents’ evening and buy instead of bake for cake sales is a given.
Helping each other
I would also encourage women in our industry to help and support each other. Those who have risen through the ranks should look for ways of encouraging younger female staff with great potential, while women at any stage in their career can organise a Lean-In peer circle of women who meet regularly to offer one another encouragement and development ideas.
It’s 2015, it’s time to #MakeItHappen!