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

by Dawn Repoli

This article was originally published on MeetingsNet. View Original

As the executive director of WINiT, a nonprofit that provides career development programs and services for women in the meeting, event, travel, and exhibition industries, 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 1980s, with (in 2015) women earning 83 percent of what men earn. 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.

We must 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, donors, 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 also, 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 nonprofit 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. 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.

Involve Men Equally
Some of the best advocates for women are men. 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
Look to organizations and individuals who have actively created and grown programs to affect change for women and minorities. 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. 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 internal channels and politics. 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’ve taken many small steps to get where we are now, each one critical to our success. Small great steps really do have the power to drive significant change. You just have to take that first step.

Dawn Repoli is executive director and COO of WINiT.