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International Women’s Day

March 14, 2023

Laura Shapiro is the newly appointed President of the UK chapter of Women in Exhibitions, and a portfolio director at CloserStill Media.

Take action: recognise the industry’s gender imbalance and be part of the solution.

On my LinkedIn feed a few weeks ago there was uproar when a photo of an events and exhibitions industry conference was innocently posted on the networking site. The photo, posted by a man, was a line-up of men, whose panel discussed the future of the industry.

This photo, in a single shot, showed the world a stark problem in the events and exhibitions industry, and it’s one that can no longer be ignored.

This International’s Women Day we are asked to ‘embrace equity’. The emphasis on ‘embrace’ is an emphasis on action. Embrace, to me, means more than acknowledging that equity is needed – and more than being empathetic to the cause. It means a commitment to addressing the needs of individuals so that everyone is supported along their own unique path. Only then can we reach a place of equality.

In the events and exhibitions industry there is a glaring workforce divide: many women are involved in running the shows, while many men run businesses. There has been a gentle increase in the number of women in CEO roles in the top 20 events companies (now at 15%), most leadership teams simply don’t represent the wider workforce. The industry is attracting women: circa 80 per cent of entry level roles are held by women. The maths doesn’t stack up: how can the majority of the workforce be a minority in the board room?

Almost five years ago, Oana Cipca launched Women in Exhibitions: a membership body that supports and empowers women throughout their careers in events and exhibitions. Today, Women in Exhibitions is operating in five countries across Asia, Europe, and North America. Oana moved to the events and exhibitions world from the male dominated maritime industry. Six months in, she realised the events industry was facing the same gender imbalance problem, but skewed to the top. Women in Exhibitions was founded to redress the balance and empower, invest in, and nurture women in the industry.

From venues to event organisers, our industry is arguably lagging behind other industries and sectors. The case for equity, diversity, and inclusion has long been made. Leaders across every industry now recognise that diverse teams are successful teams. These leaders also recognise that diversity of thought and approach makes for stronger and more resilient business. But most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

So, how do we take action?

First, we need to recognise that change is not the responsibility of one person or one organisation. As an industry, we’re in this together. And that means every one of every gender, and every shape and size of organisation.

Then, we each need to understand what our own role is to make change happen. Perhaps you are a man leading a large organisation and need to fully understand the make-up of your workforce and the culture of the organisation. Perhaps you are a woman running your own organisation, tasked with lifting women around you as you too climb.

Next, question if you are funding initiatives to empower your workforce; to eliminate the imbalance and resolve longstanding inequity in the industry. It is essential to invest in training, networking, and mentoring for women to ensure they can develop the critical skills and confidence needed for future roles. –

Finally, give it time and take it slow. The events and exhibitions industry is busy. We don’t standstill for a moment. With targets to hit and shows to deliver, the carousel rarely stops to let us reflect on what needs to be fixed. Take the time in your organisation to listen to the workforce and let initiatives bed-in.

We can also take time to learn from others. Newer companies in the industry are often built in a different way: hiring and developing teams that make the most sense for the work, rather than in the profile of the existing team or leadership.

In the UK alone, Women in Exhibitions has a body of corporate members, including dmg events, Montgomery Group, and CloserStill Media. These organisations have signed-up to access training, networking, and mentoring for their employees-. Together with individual members, these organisations have taken a step towards change.

This International Women’s Day, we ask you to embrace equity by taking action to make the events and exhibitions industry a more equal working environment for all.

Find out more and become a member at www.womeninexhibitions.co.uk (UK) or www.womeninexhibitions.com (outside of the UK).

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