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International Women’s Day: Unconscious bias, prevailing stereotypes and mentoring

Ahead of International Women’s Day, we spoke to an array of female leaders and rising stars in the events industry about their experiences, prevailing stereotypes, and how to get more women into senior roles.

Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group

Carina Bauer, CEO of Imex Group

I’ve been on the receiving end of unconscious bias a few times – it’s very common. It hasn’t affected my work or career progression because I‘ve not been part of an organization where it would, but it has certainly brought its own challenges at times.

What prevailing stereotypes would I like to see broken? Stereotypical expected behaviors. We need to move away from the rhetoric that women are acting like men’ if they display certain attributes, such as taking calculated risks, making autonomous decisions. Our understanding and labeling of business success really matters.

There’s still much more work we need to do to support and empower women. The stats paint a grim picture – a recent World Economic Forum report (Global Gender Gap Report 2020) projected that it would take 257 years to close the gender pay gap.

Young women in the industry need positive role models to be able to picture themselves in senior positions – that’s half of the battle. I believe management should lead by example and step up to the plate in terms of mentoring and supporting.

We also need to actively involve men in the discussion. As an industry, we must continue to discuss, ask questions, challenge preconceptions and push forward for change.

Rachel Wimberly, EVP, Business Development, Tarsus Group, US

Rachel Wimberly of Tarsus Group

As a woman in business, there have been many, many more highs than lows.

I was very fortunate to have a mother who started as a nurse and climbed her way to a C-level position in a hospital corporation, so I always felt like I could achieve anything I put my efforts into.

That being said, there definitely are challenges – mainly being one of the few women in M&A.

My advice to other women entering the industry is don't wait for someone to recognize how great you are. Raise your hand, step forward and tell them how you are more than qualified for leadership, and detail exactly why.

There is a prevailing stereotype that women do not have the same ability as men to make the really tough decisions that are sometimes needed.

How can we get more women into leadership positions in the industry? Mentoring, mentoring, mentoring. Also, companies, like Tarsus Group, can bring more women up the ladder through 'Future Leaders' programs designed to empower and support 'rising stars' in the corporate ranks.

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, chief marketing strategist of mdg

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes of mdg

My challenge to event industry colleagues is to strike qualifiers from your vocabulary, at least for today.

Recognize how much more powerful and confident your statements sound when they aren’t proceeded or followed by phrases like: “This is just my opinion” or “But those are just my two cents.”

It’s imperative that leaders, male and female, create cultures where collaboration is recognized and rewarded so that employees who are climbing the proverbial ladder are incentivized to reach behind them and bring up others, too.

Vanessa Lovatt, chief evangelist, Glisser

Vanessa Lovatt of Glisser

‘Speak up’ is my single piece of advice to aspiring women in the event sector – speak up loud and consistently. There aren’t enough women at the leadership level of the event sector – you don’t need to look far to see that.

As we also have a relatively equal gender balance at lower and middle levels, this is disappointing given the excellent quality of female talent at those levels too.

There is no question that motherhood has an impact on women reducing hours and dropping out of the sector (indeed the hours can be aggressive), but the conversations also get tougher, sometimes confrontational, as the stakes get higher at senior levels.

This is when speaking up matters most. It’s easier to keep quiet and avoid confrontation – a common female trait, but your experience, your competence and your courage are what make you succeed, not conforming to how you ‘should’ behave.

So leverage your assets and resist the temptation to keep your head down. Success and true progress come when you own your power and speak up.

Gabriella Cyranski, marketing strategist of Intrado – Digital Media

Gabriella Cyranski of Intrado – Digital Media

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a woman in business is the power that is in self-awareness.

It seems like such a simple concept. Self-awareness is a conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires. We’re told you need to have a strong sense of who you are and what you want in order to be successful but it’s much deeper than that.

You also have to have a recognition of what you still have to learn.

Within your career, you will most definitely have missteps but it’s up to you how you learn from them. You’re not going to always get it right but instead of focusing on the negative results; self-awareness will give you the ability to analyze what went wrong and learn from those mistakes.

Without self-awareness, you can’t be coachable and, unless you’re open to being coached, you won’t be able to achieve that career dream, whatever it is.

Tracy Judge, founder & CEO, Soundings

Tracy Judge of Soundings

Interestingly, as a woman in business, the people who have championed me the most in my career have been men.

It was a man who told me I was underpaid and pushed me to fight for what I was worth. When I was considering quitting my job to start my own business, it was my male mentors who reaffirmed my business model and encouraged me to take the leap.

My experience with male mentors and champions is, unfortunately, not an exception. The fact that women are less likely to mentor other women is addressed in the book, Lean In.

To drive equality in the workplace, female leaders need to mentor and empower other women. We need to be available, approachable, and willing to support. The advice I would give women entering our industry is to actively seek a woman mentor. There are so many successful women who would love to support your growth.

Jennifer Brisman, founder of VOW

Jennifer Brisman of VOW

Why are there so few women in tech? An age-old problem and it is because of a stigma that women were not as poised towards STEM landscapes and technology in general.

That view has changed dramatically over the past few years and some businesses have focused on intense pipelines to speed up women into positions of tech leadership, exposure, and funding opportunities.

My experiences in events and tech as a woman have been extraordinary. Amidst the pandemic, we saw a world eager to gather no matter how.

My advice for women entering the industry would be to focus on small wins. Big wins are made of small ones. Find the smallest thing you can accomplish and do that. Pick six of the smallest things you can accomplish and knock those out too. Before you know it, you’ll have done the big thing.

Natasha Layal, co-founder and recruitment director, Expocast

Natasha Layal of Expocast

I’ve always considered myself to have been quite lucky but, as I get older and wiser, I reflect. I can see the patterns of gender discrimination I played victim to, and I’m disheartened to admit it affected my confidence and ability to grow at the speed, and in the direction, I had wanted to at times.

I’m fortunate to have very positive male influences in my life who offer full encouragement and support.

To ‘challenge’ does not mean being 'difficult' (or being 'rigid' as I was once described), it's the definition of wanting positive change, and doing the right thing.

I also encourage others to not judge a book by its cover – wearing makeup and taking pride in your appearance does not make you weak, dumb, or a pushover.

We need to look at our recruitment and make sure we are encouraging women to apply and take an equal stance at the leadership level. We need more men to be advocates of female leaders, and we need to help educate businesses to see the true benefits of gender equality.

Not only is it the moral and right thing to do but companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in executive teams are 21% more likely to have financial returns above their industry’s national median than companies in the fourth quartile. (Delivering through Diversity, McKinsey & Co, 2018).

It’s important to trust your instincts and don’t change yourself to fit the ‘mold’.

Lucy Hicks, delegate and memberships manager, Virtual Events Institute (VEI)

Lucy Hicks of VEI

For me, IWD is the one day of the year dedicated to honoring the achievements of women and for us to fight for a gender-equal world. And not just for women in the workplace today, but for future females, too.

Fortunately, I have found myself working within companies with inspiring female leaders. Perhaps on occasion, these may have been more middle-management female leaders rather than senior management.

In my current position, I am super privileged to have joined an organization with a female co-founder and CEO.

The pandemic has taught us that we are all capable of working from home and in different environments and I hope to see this continued in the future to ensure flexibility for parenting and a good work-life balance.

For women entering the industry, my advice is to be brave enough to raise your voice for what you believe in. How can we get more women into leadership positions in the industry? Recruit from the inside – develop and nurture your existing talent, normalize flexible working, pay and benefits, inclusion and commit to change.

Tanya Pinchuk, managing director of Expoplatform

Tanya Pinchuk of Expoplatform

I believe the barrier for women in leadership is primarily one of self-belief, and therefore of our own making.

We need to allow ourselves to dream, but every dream must be supported by a plan of small, measurable, concrete steps that will eventually lead to the realization of our ideas.

My career began as a young and naïve employee at a new exhibition center. Today I manage a business that adds value at multiple points of the exhibition industry’s supply chain – the result of looking at a variety of challenges from a variety of viewpoints.

Become an expert in a field that you like, learn it from every possible angle, check your ideas with the real market and proceed at full speed.

Aoife Savage, senior client services manager, Cannes Lions

Aoife Savage, Cannes Lions

Whether you work at home raising a family and managing a household (because that is work believe me!) or are a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company, chances are you are doing the job of many without realizing it. I understand the struggle of the juggle – trying to balance family life and progressing a career, and I applaud women every day for getting it done.

One of the biggest issues facing women in the workplace today is still the pay gap. It's such an out-of-date vision for how important women are in the workplace and how essential we are to delivering. Things are changing though, which is great.

I was very lucky to have two very strong role models growing up – my Mam and my Aunt – both the hardest working women I know and for two very different reasons. My Mam was a stay-at-home Mam who managed our household and raised three children while Dad worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week. My Aunt fought for the rights of women in the '90s in Ireland, while completing her Masters in Communication and also being a single Mam. I realized that no worthwhile job was ever without its struggles, long days and 100% commitment.

Chantelle Wilkinson, customer and partner success manager, Virtual Events Institute (VEI)

Chantelle Wilkinson of VEI

I'm proud of how the industry is evolving. For example, I am proud that the Cannes Lions jury changed in the last few years from being 70-80% men to having an equal split of genders.

Even though we found it difficult to find women that were senior leaders in the advertising industry and, even if they were there, they wouldn't give up their working time to judge at Lions because they feared appearing as though they don't take their job seriously. We saw that change in the last couple of years for the better.

I'm grateful to be working with a super supportive female CEO that will push me in the right direction. I hope everyone in the future feels confident enough to tackle and speak up on diversity as a whole in the workplace.

Celia Coules, senior marketing manager – EMEA, WARC

Working in the advertising space, I'm in a privileged position to see first hand how an industry, which has so much influence, has made significant strides to increase diversity and is fighting to make a difference in the way in which girls and women are seen, heard and talked about across the media. Ultimately contributing to bringing social change.

I still think there is a lot of work to do around how women promote themselves vs our male co-workers. In comparison to men, women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotions or apply for new positions where we don’t tick all the boxes. I'd like to see everyone embrace the things they’re good at while pursuing paths that push their boundaries. You may not be exactly right for a given role, but by taking hold of opportunities in which you can learn and develop, you'll flourish.

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