By Johnalee Johnston
A SPECIAL SECTION BROUGHT TO YOU BY MEETING PROFESSIONALS INTERNATIONAL
A wave of global socioeconomic and political uncertainty has international meetings growth balancing on a hinge. But one simple shift in the status quo could change everything.
The beginning of last year saw many emerging markets either rise from the ashes of recession or stabilize, while consumer confidence helped advanced economies find their footing mid-year. By the end of 2018, however, the global economy began to tip nostalgically like a paperboy’s hat. Chief Economist and Strategist David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff touched on this economic weariness in a recent tweet that analyzed the Federal Open Market Community’s (FOMC) excessive use of the words “risk” and “uncertainty” in its July meeting notes, which were “more than what we saw at any meeting during the Great Recession, as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” he said.
As the committee within the Federal Reserve System that oversees U.S. monetary policy, recession warnings in the U.S. bond market combined with financial fumbling in the U.K., Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany, as recently reported by CNN, would typically prompt the FOMC to cut interest rates. Yet, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has stated that the committee has never been more divided on the subject; never more uncertain.
Rosenberg’s observation and the Fed’s indecision give momentum to the 2019 Global Uncertainty Index, a report that measures the frequency of the words “uncertain” or “uncertainty” throughout the newspapers of 20 countries in relation to economic policy. Uncertainty reached record high levels this year and has remained a caveat to global business events. An abundance of socioeconomic drivers—tit-for-tat trade wars and the rising dollar to political uncertainty and personal safety—are hampering the evolution of global events and will likely keep the MICE industry in limbo through 2020.
Hidden among these challenges, however, is one clear opportunity to leverage uncertainty for positive social change, and thus, strategic growth in global business events.
Make Events Safe for Everyone
Perceptions of safety sit at the foundation of the human hierarchy of needs, or Maslow’s pyramid. The same can be said of events. In the U.S., reported hate crimes, defined loosely as crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, gender, religion, etc., are on a five-year upward trend, according to the FBI. Research conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, and by professors at the University of North Texas and Texas A&M, found significant correlations between hate crimes and ramped up political rhetoric.
This should be alarming given the sheer diversity of domestic and international delegates, as well as the economic impact that international visitors have on the U.S. economy—an estimated $256 billion in export income last year, says the U.S. Travel Association. It should be alarming, but such political provocations are steadily becoming the norm, placing everyday social discourse somewhere between political essayist Christopher Hitchens’ “Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of good people.” Not too surprising, despite its monetary might, international visits to the U.S. have been slowing since 2016.
Consequently, 2016 was also the year that the dark underbelly of data collection, distribution and utilization as they relate to global politics was exposed on a mass scale. Although the ramifications are still being quantified, we now know that businesses, with the help of powerhouse data gurus like Cambridge Analytica, have the technology to amplify and use our personal biases against us in the democratic process and elsewhere. In other words, data protection hasn’t fully caught up with the technology of data acquisition. In the events realm, where the demand for hyper-personalization sifts sensitive information through many hands, data clearly comes with its own bag of uncertainties.
American Express Meetings and Events’ recent forecast on global meetings added weather and the offshoots of climate change to the mix of worries. According to the report, European planners say that even with great security and a fantastic price, the uncertainty of weather events—heat waves to increased frequency of extreme weather events—now removes many locations from the table. The International Monetary Fund has gone so far as to report that the “U.S. is expected to see its GDP per capita decline 10.5 percent, China’s by 4.3 percent and the European Union’s by 4.6 percent over the next 81 years.”
Women Must Rise
The common denominator to all of the uncertainties that plague the events industry is a topic that is so frequently in the media that it has, in many regards, become social white noise. Gender inequality touches every roadblock to success—economics to the environment—and has historically been negatively associated with per capita GDP growth. Dr. Mara Catherine Harvey, Head Global UHNW Germany, Austria and Italy, addressed this need for “feminine finance” in a recent interview with MPI. “The semantics around money are extremely biased and masculine-oriented,” she said, adding that a 10 percent pay gap women vs. men can lead to a 40 percent wealth and pension gap over a lifetime. The pay gap is closer to 16 and 20 percent in the U.S. and Europe, respectively. After studying lifetime earnings of men and women in 141 countries, the World Bank Group actually put a $160 trillion annual price tag on global gender inequality. If women had the same lifetime earnings as men, global wealth would increase by $23,620 per person, on average, according to the report.
In a similar vein, women earn the majority of university degrees and account for more than half of the U.S. population, yet—corporate boardrooms to the halls of Congress—hold less than 30 percent of executive positions. Asian, black and Hispanic women account for less than four percent. Research on private firms has shown that managerial gender diversity is related to positive performance outcomes, while board gender diversity significantly improves corporate social responsibility. Women also tend to be more collaborative in work and leadership, more empathetic and much less violent than men; a whopping 95 percent less violent in terms of global homicides, according to the “Global Study on Homicide” report conducted by the United Nations. And in terms of safety, research shows that women in positions of power make other women and minorities feel safer than their male counterparts to report violence, sexual harassment or other gender-based crimes.
Make Finance Feminine
The dark cloud of gender inequality also looms over a traditional economics model that takes from Mother Nature, makes and later disposes of goods. Clearly unsustainable, one cannot help but connect the devaluing and disrespect of nature, the force that provides life and protection to all living things, to the lack of equality, respect and positive representation of females in society.
In the events industry, the snail-paced shift toward sustainable supply chains and other practices keeps pace with the level of gender equality found throughout the industry. While the role of the meeting planner is overwhelmingly occupied by females, for example, top management and C-level positions are still overwhelmingly held by men. This inequality gives way to sexism and sexual harassment, two things that most women have experienced in terms of the professional challenges they have faced.
The Bottom Line
The future of global events is inseparably linked to our willingness and ability as an industry to uplift women. When women rise, we all rise.
Johnalee Johnston is a wildly creative and curious disruptor of the status quo and MPI’s digital editor.