Female Empowerment in the Exhibition Industry is a Numbers Game

by Michelle Bruno

You would think that an industry in which the majority of the workforce is female would make an effort to advance women. That may or may not be the case in exhibitions; but, to even begin a discussion on this topic, we need to talk about measurement.

Starting with the fuzzy math

Here’s what we know about the percentage of females in the meetings and conventions industry:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States reports that 77% of meeting, convention, and event planners are women.
  • A 2004 report from the Meeting Professionals International Women’s Leadership Forum stated that 76% of the organization’s worldwide membership is female (more recent data has not been published since).
  • Eighty-six percent of the respondents to the 2016 Salary Survey conducted by Convene were female.

It’s notable that there are no statistics currently available on the number of females working in the exhibition industry.

We think we know what women want

Research conducted by meetings-industry associations indicates that gender-based pay inequity, a lack of females in senior-level management positions, and non-monetary tangibles and intangibles (work flexibility, opportunity, etc.) are topics of interest to female members.

For example, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) revealed that women at the Manager level earn 17% less than their male counterparts. Female directors, vice presidents, C-level executives, and owners make 27%, 41%, 62%, and 117% less, respectively, than males. So, someone is interested in gender-pay equity.

But, what advancement looks like is still an open discussion among women in exhibitions. Many women want more challenging work assignments, more schedule flexibility, or to be part of strategic discussions, etc. Others want a seat in the boardroom and the salary that goes with it. Either way, most women have a pretty clear idea about what they want as individuals, even if it differs from one female to another.

How to get serious about advancing women

Talking about the issues, meeting face to face to exchange ideas, and learning how to move one’s personal agenda forward is an excellent start. The exhibition industry has a women’s initiative in place to play that important role. But it needs to take the next step. The industry needs a scorecard to prove that advancing women is more than just talk.

A scorecard to measure the industry’s progress in advancing women could have a number of metrics on it:

  • Percentage of women employed in the exhibition industry. Obviously it’s a challenge when membership of the leading trade association is comprised of companies, not individuals.
  • Number of women entering the exhibition workforce.
  • Number of companies that take the Equal Pay Pledge. It’s tricky because the Trump Administration has not extended the program started by the Obama White House. Nevertheless, the exhibition industry can still define and measure this at an industry level.
  • Percentage of women receiving promotions.
  • Percentage increase in salary among female workers.
  • Percentage of women who report satisfactory levels of flexibility, opportunity, and respect in the workplace.
  • Number of exhibition-industry companies with gender-diversity programs.
  • Number of speaker panels at exhibition-industry meetings with 50% or more female panelists.

Of course, what is measured is important (the above list is not exhaustive by any means) and the data experts at CEIR can provide guidance. But the fact that there is measurement means value and, eventually, some accountability is attached to the endeavor. If the exhibition industry is serious about advancing women, it has to provide proof that it is moving in one direction or the other.

Michelle Bruno writes about event technology and innovation. Opinions are her own. You can reach her at michelle@brunogroup.com.

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