Event Tech Strategy, Insights & Trends.

Small Great Steps: Driving Change for Women in the Events Industry and Beyond

As the executive director of WINiT, a non-profit that provides career development programs and services for women, I spend a good amount of time reading about and discussing the gender pay gap. There is no shortage of research, writing, and opinion on the subject. The Pew Research Center recently released a report illustrating that the gender pay gap has narrowed significantly since the 1980’s with women earning 83% of what men earned in 2015.  An article published by a think tank, The Foundation for Economic Education, takes a critical look at the gender pay gap through an economic lens, hoping to illustrate that there is indeed some fact AND fiction surrounding the topic. In certain industries, like meeting and event planning, women comprise the majority of the workforce so the topic of gender equality and career advancement is particularly pressing.

It is imperative that we continue to do the research, ask the questions, and push forward for change, but we can simultaneously find opportunities – however seemingly small – to make a positive shift in the careers and lives of women. My work and the efforts of our members, leaders, donor and partners reaffirm for me every day that the vision of a few people, when brought to life, can have a significant impact. The trick is transitioning vision into action by collaborating with individuals who share your passion and desire to make an impact for women in the industry.

Start the conversation 
Whether you work in a large global company or a small start-up, you have the power to build awareness and champion the career development needs of women in your organization. Partner with the right people – colleagues, a mentor, HR – and then bring leadership into the discussion. It’s important to be prepared to illustrate the issues you plan to address but, more importantly, the proposed solutions, programs, and initiatives you want to implement in order to shift from conversation to action. In 2014, WINiT’s Founder, Michelle (Mick) Lee harnessed her discontent with the lack of female representation at a leading travel industry conference to create a non-profit organization solely focused on the advancement, mobility, and visibility of women in the travel industry. She rallied her troops of professional and personal contacts, sharing her concerns and looking for insight and advice as to how to change this reality. Fast forward three years. WINiT has grown from an idea to a 3,000 member strong organization that has expanded to support the meeting, event, and exhibition industries. It all starts with a conversation.

Make sure men are equally involved in the conversation
Some of the best advocates for women are men. Having the support of men who are engaged and passionate about helping women grow and advance their career is powerful. Use your intuition and your own network – both within your organization and beyond – to connect both men and women who represent different functions and levels. There is significant value in having women and men share their experiences, challenges, and professional development needs in an open environment where there is a mutual respect and desire to change the status quo. “It is critical that men not only support but take an active role in advocating for women in the workplace. Having both male and female leaders involved not only helps facilitate change but also sustainability of initiatives and programs focused on women’s career development and advancement,” commented Ron DiLeo, president and CEO, In the Black Group. 

Seek ‘success stories’ and learn from them
Look to organizations and individuals who have actively created and grown programs to affect change for women and minorities within their organizations. Find out what initiatives worked well and then adapt them to meet the needs, culture, and objectives of your organization. Ask them to share their ‘war stories’ because building successful, sustainable initiatives likely did not happen without some missteps and disappointments. Learn from other people’s past experiences to create new impactful solutions. 

Affecting real change takes time. You will hit road blocks and efforts may stall as you negotiate the necessary internal channels and politics required to solidify a program or group. Be patient and stay the course. Every day, the WINiT program office and our network of almost 200 volunteers move forward together around the belief that we can create real change for women in the industries we serve. We know we are making an impact because of the stories our members share, the engagement of our volunteers, and the commitment of our donors. We took many small steps to get where we are now, but I believe each step was critical to our success. Small great steps really do have the power to drive significant change. You just have to take that first step.

About the Author
Dawn Repoli is WINiT executive director & COO, responsible for the coordination and facilitation of the ten committees and over 200 volunteers in the WINiT organization. In collaboration with these committees and volunteers, Dawn is responsible for the strategic management of all programs and initiatives toward direct alignment with the WINiT mission. She manages the WINiT vendor relationships and contract negotiations, and in partnership with the Board of Directors and corporate accountant, oversees all financial activities and statements.

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