International Women's Day: Moving the Industry Forward

International Women's Day: Moving the Industry Forward

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – Rebecca West (1892 – 1983), author and journalist.

Each time I’ve asked women in our industry if they consider themselves feminists they hesitate. Not all of them—but enough and in different age cohorts that I think there is a fear of being a strong woman, showing you are a strong woman, and identifying as a feminist.

All my life I’ve known women who worked in and outside the home.

Women who work outside the home are known to work far more than men if their spouses or partners are male.

Let me digress briefly. Many of us are aware of the plight of women in situations far more dire than fighting for standing and pay equity in the workplace:

  • Yemeni women and their children dying of starvation.
  • Women in Venezuela fleeing or trying to provide for families in a country without affordable medicine or food—if it’s even available.
  • Women in limbo in refugee camps throughout the world.
  • Women escaping poverty and terror and traveling, on foot, thousands of miles to reach what they hope is sanctuary.

I know I’m addressing more of what are called “first world problems.”

Yes, I’d like to be able to fix the world for all people and in particular for women. I can only tackle so much while raising the consciousness of many.

So for the purpose of the March 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter, published the week before International Women’s Day, I start “at home” with the hospitality industry.

Which for our purposes here, also includes the meetings and event industry.

In 2018, more women were elected to the U.S. Congress and to U.S. State Houses than ever before. On March 8, just weeks before GMID, International Women’s Day will be observed.

Its theme for International Women’s Day in 2019 is #BalanceforBetter.

“Balance” meaning striving for a more “gender-balanced” world.

As we look at issues impacting women—including those in our industry, from sales and meeting professionals to those in catering, management and housekeeping roles—we recognize that if we fail to communicate why our positions, titles and pay matter, we will fall behind. This is a reality that has held true for all women.

Yes, even event planners, who are predominantly female and are given the authority to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts and provide updates to boards of directors on the financial impact of meetings, must explain their worth or suffer the consequences.

Where Are All the Women Leaders?

An MPI blog post titled “Reinforcing A Sense of Belonging,” declared that the organization I call my “mothership” will now provide a “pipeline of women to lead MPI.”

This statement made me stop and think. I served on my MPI Chapter Board, as Chapter President, and on the International Board, when women including Marta Hayden, Beverly Kinkade and Anna Chabot were leading MPI. That’s quite the pipeline of women!

I was asked for input prior to MPI launching their first women’s leadership initiative, and I saw its demise. Which, based on the above blog post, held no discernable lasting power.

MPI, like most of the EIC member organizations, has not had a woman CEO in its history—though I know of women who applied.

Why is that the case in an industry where anecdotally there are a majority of women? What I’ve noted about MPI is not a knock on MPI—they are trying again.

It’s a question posed to an industry that we believe is populated mainly by women.

Why do we still hold so little visible power?

In compiling the results of its “A Sense of Belonging” study, MPI asked “In what ways are women treated differently than men at work?” The responses from women were as follows:

  • 64% I have limited or capped career opportunities.
  • 54% I am treated as less capable or intelligent.
  • 54% I am paid less.
  • 46% I am not taken seriously.
  • 11% I am subjected to unwanted sexual attention.
  • 4% I am given less flexibility with time-off requests.
  • 4% I am bullied or mocked.

14% of respondents chose “Other.”

As one who grew up in a world where women fought for pay equity, I am painfully aware of and pay attention to what may hold us back. Is it the way we speak, the image we present and the images of us that are presented? We often apologize for saying something.

We’ll say “I just wanted to say” and negate whatever it is with “just.”

We use upspeak or uptalk, even when declaring what we know.

Should we applaud MPI and others for again focusing on women or be dismayed that again there is a focus on women in leadership when we didn’t make it stick before?

A Day I Will Never Forget

Doug Heath, MPI’s second executive director, heard me when I asked why MPI’s three representatives to the (then) CLC Board of Directors included no women though around me at MPI meetings I saw a majority of women in the audience. It wasn’t unusual—most of the delegates from the industry organization members were men.

Doug appointed me to be one of MPI’s three delegates knowing I would speak up strongly for MPI and what the industry needed.

And here’s what happened at my first meeting, an event that, though long ago, is in my head as if it were yesterday: I prepared for my first CLC Board meeting. I read my CLC board book and discussed the relevant issues with Doug and others in MPI’s leadership

Then I spoke up at the meeting.

At the first break, a man, not much older though considerably taller than I, patted me on the head and said “just wait until you’re older and more experienced. You’ll understand why…”

He was conveying this message: “don’t speak up ‘little lady’—know your place.”

This explains how women hesitate versus speaking their minds.

I did not equivocate in anything I said.

You too know how men often take credit for what women say or “translate” women’s words to their own. You've certainly witnessed it in interactions at meetings and events.

Case in point: I was co-presenting with a male colleague at an industry meeting and after each thing I said, he said “What Joan means is…” and then repeated what I’d said in his words. He swears he meant nothing by it and yet this happens to women all the time.

Then too, women are interrupted by men when speaking and we let it happen.

Here’s some advice from the above article to take to heart: “Women, if you are interrupted for any reason other than someone asking for clarification, say to the interrupter:

“'There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?'” or 'I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?'”

This may also come in handy when you’re negotiating for a pay raise.

Or while you’re in a negotiation with a buyer or seller.

My Advice to Women, Men and Our Industry

Here’s what I hope, individually, you who identify as female, will do:

  • Know, use and shout your strengths.
  • Use a voice that has authority. If you are unsure if you can, emulate others or take voice/speaking lessons (For my voice—literal and figurative—I thank my mother (z”l) and James Payne, my high school speech teacher).
  • Use your body with authority when speaking. If you are able to stand, do so.
  • Be assertive and support other women.
  • Mentor up and down. (See part 2 of the newsletter for thoughts on mentors and mentoring from a variety of people all of whom I met through professional affiliations).
  • Call yourself a feminist. Refer to yourself and others as “women” not girls or guys or ladies. What we call ourselves matters.

Those who identify as male, please:

  • Check yourself and ask those with whom you work to check how you support women in the workplace, at home, in communities.
  • Call yourself a feminist by supporting ideals that are about respect and equity.
  • Promote women in the workplace.
  • Stop interrupting women and “interpreting” what they say! Praise their ideas; give back credit for ideas you may have presented as your own.

For our industry: 

  • Work toward greater Inclusion. That means inclusion in gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, ability and economic status.
  • Don’t continue to start and stop initiatives until or unless they become part of the fabric of the industry. Once you set a goal to better the industry, keep working to reach it.
  • Check print and digital images and ensure equal and appropriate representation.
  • Set the standard for programs by partnering with GenderAvenger and like publications and programs and show others how easy it is.
  • Invite Rachael Van Horn to speak. She’s part of our industry and an example of a strong woman succeeding in a traditionally male profession.

Tell us more … about your experiences by completing the poll and commenting on the blog and within the comments on the second part of this newsletter.

What do you think can be done for women to gain equal footing at the least in an industry where we predominate but don’t get the pay and recognition we deserve?

And consider this: “Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in full equality of men and women or you do not.”

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Award”) and author of “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.”

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the March 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.01.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Joan Eisenstodt Headshot

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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