Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2024

Behind the Gender Gap in Business Event Leadership

Women make up the majority of meeting professionals, yet there still are more men than women at the top levels of industry leadership. What’s holding them back?

Even though women hold the vast majority of event-planner roles — 85% in the U.S., and more than 70% globally — there are disproportionately fewer women in leadership positions compared to the number of women represented in the field. According to an IBTM survey, just 16% of women in the events field hold titles such as director or vice president of events, or other C-level titles. Across industry in general, that percentage is closer to a third female and two-thirds male, even though women make up nearly 42% of the global workforce, according to data from LinkedIn as reported by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2023.

While this reality is one of those things that isn’t often openly talked about, that is now changing, thanks at least in part to a new study conducted by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Business Events Sydney called “Advancing Women in Business Events.”

The first phase of the report, released earlier this year, explores the results of a year-long research project the two organizations conducted to find out why events-industry professional women are at a disadvantage when it comes to reaching the director, vice president of C-suite levels at their organizations. One finding was that 60% said that leadership roles either weren’t available to them or, if they were, there were no clear career pathways to get to those higher-level positions.

Part of the problem is a dearth of formal networking and mentoring programs available to women, the study found. Less than a third of respondents said they had access to formal networking opportunities, while just 16% were offered formal mentoring programs. And even when they do have access to these types of career-boosters, less than a quarter actually use them.

Some of the challenges keeping women from the top in the business events industry can result from personal barriers, such as feeling that women don’t fit into the current C-suite model. Others are organizational in nature, such as “inflexible work arrangements, unconscious bias in recruitments and management practices, microaggressions against women, penalties for not conforming, and unequal access to sponsors and mentors,” the study found. Then there are societal hurdles, such as “pay inequity, decades of marginalization, and unspoken biases that reinforce stereotypical roles of women as being inferior employees due to the double burden of work and family care that fall to many of them.”

“The business-events industry is the ideal platform to demonstrate the value that women generate every day, and we need to lead by example,” says Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA and CEMA. “Inclusivity and equity are not only the right thing to do; they lead to greater profitability, successful organizations, and a just society.”

“As leaders of an industry with a strong female talent pool, we need to take collective and bold action to accelerate progress towards equitable leadership for all. Diversity in board and C-suite leadership ranks is the right thing to do and makes good economic sense for our sector’s resilience globally,” adds Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of Business Events Sydney.

The study involved holding two think tanks consisting of 20 female and male executives in different U.S. cities plus one online think tank with 10 Asia-Pacific executives; six one-hour interviews with female executives; and a survey of 438 female event planners worldwide, more than 86% of whom have more than five years of industry experience.

Stay tuned for the second part of this study, which is scheduled for release in Q2 2024. In the meantime, you can read part one of the report here.






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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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