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February 13, 2011

Survey reveals women's meetings industry leadership ambitions

Time management and ethical issues highlighted as two of the key challenges to women in the global corporate events sector.

Following on from recent research that revealed the increasing dominance of women in the meetings and events sector [check] , the results of a new study by IMEX provides a key insight into their ambitions and the key challenges they face.

As part of their research into those business performance skills that women feel they most need to develop in order to progress, Susan Sarfati, chief executive of High Performance Strategies, and Liz Jackson, president of Jackson Consulting, recently conducted a survey of 140 women currently working in the meetings, events and incentive travel industry.

The resulting research and its detailed findings will be used to craft the content of their first ever Women's Leadership Forum to be held at IMEX in Frankfurt, which this year takes place from 24026 May. The survey also gathered feedback from a small number of men.

The findings
The survey results show that many women still share concerns about how to achieve a sustainable work-life balance, but they are also doing battle with other workplace issues that are specific to the 21st century.  When asked: "What is the major challenge you currently face in your leadership or management role?", time management, especially in an age of 'always-on' social media, was highlighted by many respondents. Others expressed a desire to understand how to be assertive in the workplace without appearing dominant or aggressive, especially in a tougher economic climate.

Although some of the issues raised by the women polled can clearly be divided along male or female lines, others were fundamental to everyone working in the meetings industry. These include: how to guide clients towards more ethical and fairer business behaviour; how best to manage and motivate Generation Y employees; staff retention issues; and how to achieve board-level support and understanding of the real value of meetings and events.

When it comes to developing specific skills and new areas of confidence and expertise, those women who contributed to the survey said their greatest need is for improved time management, better sales and marketing skills and superior financial management, as well as presentation and communication skills. Many respondents also said they would like to improve their negotiation and conflict resolution skills.

When asked which subjects they would most like to discuss during the Women's Leadership Forum, 'dealing with conflict' was the topic most requested by respondents, closely followed by 'understanding the differences in male and female leadership types' and 'selling yourself and your ideas'. Other suggestions made by the respondents themselves included multi-tasking (and how to avoid losing focus by trying to do everything), and cross-cultural training. It is clear that working in or with partners in emerging markets presents unique challenges to women, many of whom are aware of cultural and religious differences but are unsure of their impact on working relationships.

Female leaders
Commenting on the findings, Sarfati says: "Now it is not so unusual to see women leading countries throughout the world. The meetings industry is reflecting the same dramatic change as it relates to key decision makers and a multitude of new opportunities. The 21st century is indeed the century for  women to make a major impact and we need to maximise how we can take advantage of this to move ourselves forward, and the meetings industry overall."

Looking ahead to the live Forum, Jackson commented: "By demonstrating how women can overcome barriers and succeed in business - and in life - feel good about themselves and reach beyond their expectations, our new Forum will show that women often have more power and potential than they realise. These results make it clear we still have a way to go but they also demonstrate that women's desire and readiness to improve their skills and remain focused on career development is an essential component of a healthy international meetings and events industry."

Some 140 women from a cross-section of buyers and suppliers answered the survey. They worked in a variety of global markets and at different levels of seniority from event planners to chief executives. They also represented markets including Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Attendance at the Women's Leadership Forum at IMEX in Frankfurt in May is completely free of charge, with no need to book. It will take place at 4pm on 25 May with a second session also set to take place.

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