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Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in Waiting
Twelve years ago, the association of Meeting Professionals International (MP I) launched a new Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) to “help bring awareness to the fact that, although women are the great majority in this industry they are the minority in leadership positions in their organizations (only 11 percent in

2002).” It was kick-started by McGettigan Partners COO Christine Duffy who questioned why she was often alone “at the top” in her elite position with the meeting and incentive management company.

Although MPI’s program resulted in a website and chapter events to help women advance their careers, as well as targeted articles, research and a scholarship program, the board of directors opted to halt the initiative in 2006 saying that it “was so successful the principles and work have been incorporated into the standards of MP I as a whole.”

So why today is there so little difference for women planners seeking executive roles in meetings and events?

“I’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years, and in that time you watch some things change and some that never change. There still are so very few women really at the top,” says Joan Eisenstodt, a hospitality industry leader who opened her eponymous consulting, facilitation and training firm in 1981. “There has been what I’d call a glass ceiling; there are many opportunities for women to enter the mid-management level but very few at the high end.”

She points to Paul Van Deventer, MPI’s new CEO, as one example, noting the online comments from members in her various women-in-hospitality groups that find it misleading to have a man running an organization that has quoted, at times, 75 percent female members. “If you look at the makeup of associations, there are many directors of meetings who are female, most of them having moved up the rank from administrative to entry-level meeting planner, but so few have gone on to be CEO s,” Eisenstodt comments. “It’s something to be aware of and pay attention to.”

Ten years ago, she started a retreat for women in hospitality that asked attendees important questions: What is the role of women in the industry? How do we do meetings? Are we leaders? Do we want the top level jobs?

And what she discovered was gender does matter. “Women manage differently than men. There’s a lot I think could be different if we were in charge,” she says. “Women would likely have different ideas for how to allow people to gather better, how to build meeting rooms differently and find resolutions for labor issues. Women are by nature more observant and therefore see things differently, which could revolutionize our industry if more were given leadership roles.”

It’s this trait that drives many women to the meetings and event industry in the first place. “Women tend to be more nurturing and take care of the attendee as if they were welcoming them into their home,” says Patti Shock, a full-time professor of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV for 25 years and an academic consultant for The International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas. Shock was one of the first to incorporate meetings and events training into higher education and even today notices a sharp increase in the number of female students.

“About 75 percent of UNLV hospitality program are women; at the International School of Hospitality it’s more like 90 percent,” she says, noting that 100 percent of her wedding planning students are female. “It’s probably not considered masculine to be a wedding planner,” Shock says, but she also recognizes that females are more detail oriented when it comes to the vast amount of paperwork involved.

Of the male students Shock does have, most are interested in trade shows and festivals and a bulk of them are international. “A lot of our male students come from Asia. Korea is aiming to be a convention hub and so a lot of our Korean students are sent by the government because they want to know how we meet successfully here.”

Shock doesn’t see the female majority trend changing anytime soon, either. “This will always be an attractive job for women. They can do work from home and work around family schedules,” she says.

But in order to enact change for women in the industry, Eisenstodt believes it will take more active, and not passive, conversations. “We need to stand up more for ourselves,” she says. “And get the message across that we deserve more and are good at our jobs.”
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