Events Industry Develops Leadership Programs for Women

Industry organizations present women leadership programs to close the gender gap in the C-Suite. 

Association for Women in Events Develops Leadership Programs for Women

Although women make up much of the meetings and events industry, they are underrepresented when it comes to C-level positions, a statistic the industry is hoping to reverse.

Organizations such as the Association for Women in Events are developing programs that seek to promote women into said leadership roles.

AWE hosted its inaugural ELEVATE! leadership event March 7 in Washington, D.C., with networking opportunities for women and men, as well as speakers and educational sessions.

“Our goal was to provide a new, disruptive and experiential type of event for meeting professionals that really aims to elevate women in their careers,” says Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP, chair of ELEVATE! and vice president of thought leadership and strategy for the Convenience Distribution Association.

Abernathy says the event is just one more way AWE has worked to promote women in leadership roles. An impetus for starting AWE, which Abernathy co-founded and now serves as executive consulting officer, was the disconnect between the number of women in the industry and how few were in leadership roles. 

“At the time, statistics showed that 78% of meeting professionals were women, but only 3% of women held C-suite positions,” she says. “We were not sure if women were being overlooked, or perhaps societal norms or personal beliefs were holding them back from applying to those jobs. I think it is a mix of many factors. Women need to see other women leading, and we are starting to see more women leaders than ever, but we have a long way to go.”

Courtney Stanley, owner of CS Consulting, is a member of AWE and spoke at ELEVATE! She is also one of many women working across multiple organizations to further the cause. Stanley and Sarah Soliman Daudin, DES, president and CEO of Soliman Productions Inc., are co-chairing MPI’s new global Women’s Advisory Board. The two, who speak regularly about sexual harassment in events during their #MeetingsToo presentations, also co-formed SarahxCourtney, a professional development program for women.

The same challenges that affect women in other industries may also apply to our own community: discrimination, unconscious bias, lack of assertiveness, difficulty with negotiation, family dynamics and at-home gender roles, and so on,” Stanley says. “It’s impossible to assign one variable solely responsible for the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. What we can do is identify a number of contributing factors and provide tangible solutions, whether that be a top-down approach, such as diversifying the pipeline of candidates for senior positions, or a bottom-up strategy, including providing women with more leadership, negotiation and assertiveness training."

Both Stanley and Abernathy feel the tide is turning.

“One trend I am seeing is in meeting and conference panels,” Abernathy says. “I’ve noticed more women and more diversity in panelists and speakers, and that gets me excited. Again, any time women see themselves represented in leadership or speaking positions, they feel those types of positions are more obtainable.”

Stanley notes that as more male C-suite officers retire, more women are stepping into those roles.

“The number of women CEOs has increased slowly but steadily over the past five years,” she says. “I have seen an effort to place more women in senior roles, but at the end of the day, the number of women who land the job seems to be quite similar to what I have observed in years past.”

She says women need to help each other, which is the idea behind SarahxCourtney.

“I believe mentorship, institutional knowledge transfer and network expansion are some of the keys that will aid in elevating more women to the top,” says Stanley.

Another aspect in the industry is that although more men may hold the C-suite positions, it’s women who are implementing policy, says Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement with ECPAT-USA, a nonprofit concentrating on human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

For example, as companies craft and implement equal opportunity and sexual harassment policies, women have a voice, she says. 

“It’s the people working behind the scenes,” Guelbart says. “They craft policies across the company, so people in the C-suites, whether men or women, know their companies have those policies. Women are the doers.