What does Gender Equality look like in the events industry?

This month, we interviewed Annette Gregg, the regional vice president for Allied PRA - the largest destination management company in the United States. To hear the interview, click here.

As a female leader in the event industry, what does Gender Equality look like?

I love that we're talking about this topic in general. For me, it's not so much about gender equality because when you look at the meetings and events industry, there's a lot of female representation. You could argue that there's not enough female representation at the top levels. For me, it's a topic of diversity instead of just gender equality. I feel that in order to have the most productive business environment, we need more types of voices at the table. That can be anything from diversity on a gender level, a racial level or sexual orientations. Diversity on all fronts blend to a more creative solution. If we have more different opinions that are getting involved in the debate through the discussions then we're going to come out with a better outcome.

If we think about traditional diversity initiatives now, they might be calculating certain quotas such as 'how many people of colour do we have at certain levels or how many women do we have in leadership?' Those are important things. We need to have quantifiable metrics when we think about diversity programs because we need to know what success looks like. At the same time, we need to think about diversity in a bigger place with a bigger perspective about diversity of opinion and diversity of life perspective. That introverts are getting their voices heard. It's important for managers especially to create what we call psychological safety in the work place and making sure that all team members feel like they have an equal voice and that they are being heard, they are coming to the table equally with someone who may be an extrovert or someone that might have been in the industry for a long time.[...] It's up to the managers that every voice is heard and every voice is equal.

Clearly gender equality still needs to be addressed by businesses around the world. How do you believe events could have an impact in creating a more gender equal environment?

This is still an issue. We know that women make up 51% of the workforce but women only 15% of management positions.  And we know that this number hasn't gone anywhere significant in the past 10 years. So when you look at all the statistics and reports out there you ask, what's happening? why aren't women progressing in the work place? Some of the data shows that what women are looking for in the work environment is flexibility. Women have a lot of conflicting priorities. When I look at my team who are primarily women that I'm responsible for, am I creating enough options for them so they feel that they can manage their complicated lives. Am I giving a flexible work place. Am I judging them on criteria about their deliverables, not necessarily about facetime in the office. Some of the traditional ways they may have been held accountable. I try and create as much openness and balance in my office environment so women don't feel like they just can't just get it all done.  

In the meetings industry, one way we can address this is always having workshops and education that allow women to come and speak openly about this. It's not just a meetings industry issue. Women across all sectors want more flexibility in the workplace, to be paid a fair wage and want to do meaningful work. If we can create free environments  where they can come and feel heard, share best practices, support each other and have an outlet, I think this is important for meetings and events.

What challenges do you believe the event industry should address to become more gender equal?

 I think we could speak more vocally about it. I've been in many forums about these topics and it's interesting to hear that people still don't think it's an issue. Then I think it's easy for you to say because you're a male in a C suite of a major brand. Maybe it's never been an issue for you. It's an issue everywhere else. We need to admit that it's an issue but it's not going to be addressed by traditional ways. Let's have leadership training to everyone.   It's not just about training women to be leaders. It's about sponsoring, mentoring and giving women access to jobs. [It's about] giving women more influence from the top that are going to pull these women through to influential spots. In turn, these women should be doing that to other women. Some of the models that work in the workplace are formalised mentoring sponsorship programs where you identify high potential women and you are creating a progression plan for them and someone that isn't in a seat of power are helping them achieve those marks. That can be their direct manager but often it's not. In addition to a good powerful and supportive manager, you need a sponsor who's going to get you to that other level.

We need to take a hard look at why there's still pay in equity. When you look at 24 cents on the dollar difference in pay across the board. Why is that? Training for women on negotiation and influence is really important and we should have that for all of our conferences. We should encourages that as baseline training as we create these professional development plans for women. We know that half as any women negotiate their salary verses a man. Women don't feel comfortable asking for more they just feel grateful to get the job offer.  That's why this chasm of 25% of pay difference just keeps happening. We need to get women equipped and feel confident and deserve to negotiate.

 Allied PRA hires a high percentage  of female workers, what other initiatives does Allied RA have to encourage women in leadership?

There's a couple of things that play here. Sometimes there's an over bias. Sometimes there's a work place that's not friendly to diversity. Most of the time, most companies have something called unconscious fire.  [...] The brain works quickly to make judgements on things that feel normal, right and safe to it. When you're hiring for someone "fit" for example, she's a good fit for the time or he's a good fit for the team.  At Allied PRA, I ask what does that mean? What does 'fit' really mean? Does it mean someone who looks just like us? Does it mean someone who comes from a background just like us? That's not necessarily a diverse work environment. I challenge things like that. We are looking for all ages and promote something we call return-ship  at Allied PRA which is looking at men or women  who have been out of the work force for a while. [...] They may be a bit rusty on the new technology out there but that doesn't mean that they don't have a good skill set and project management and other skills. Having that age diversity in the workplace is hugely important and brings a better solution to the table when it comes to a diverse work environment.  

[...] We are challenging the notion of 'fit', return-ship and looking at different age levels in our work environment. Also, we have a formalised young leader program at Allied PRA. We have a company-wide mentorship program across all our 29 offices. We have mentors and mentees.  The young leaders program where high potential young women  are given access to projects, exposure at a nationwide level, they're sent to certain conferences and sponsors. They get their voice heard at our own annual conference. I'm really proud of our company for thinking proactively this way.