Carina Bauer, IMEX Group CEO

When IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer saw the results of a survey IMEX conducted with the German magazine tw tagungswirtschaft last year about women in the event industry, she knew she had to do something.

“It was eye-opening,” she said. Of the 1,000 women who completed at least part of the survey, the majority said they had experienced some form of gender discrimination. “While it was not all sexual harassment, many said they had experienced lower pay or fewer promotion opportunities because of their gender,” she explained. “It was way more than we expected in an industry that is 75 percent female, but still managed largely by men.”

That revelation led to the creation of She Means Business, which will debut at IMEX Frankfurt the day before the general conference on May 14. A smaller gathering at IMEX America in Las Vegas coordinated through Event Tech Tribe kicked off the discussion around the topic. Smart Meetings asked Bauer what she hopes this spotlight on women in the industry can accomplish.

What is the one thing that could help women move into management ranks?

Women—young women in particular—need role models who can show them what is possible. The more we can open the discussion about what it means to be a leader beyond titles, the easier it will be for everyone to live up to his or her potential.

We need to address the way we work. Endless hours may not be the only path to success. Flexible work based on individual strengths could allow more fresh ideas into the industry. Open dialogue about what is important to each person is an important step.

Why do you think, in an industry with so many women, there are so few in management roles at top companies?

I think it is largely a reflection of the larger business environment. The hospitality, travel and airline industry [companies] are similar in makeup to other companies their size. It is ripe for change, however.

How will She Means Business approach the issue?

The day of workshops is starting with a lofty approach—featuring women who have been in spaces to set the stage for a discussion about how anything is possible. Then, we will bring it down to earth, with a human resources speaker from SAP talking about what is happening on the ground from a policy point of view. Some of the speakers are from outside the industry, but they will be sharing perspectives on what is really happening in the world today.

We want to both inspire and give practical advice, while offering attendees a chance to chat with each other.

Why is this topic important for the entire industry, including men?

This is not a women’s issue. I hope men will attend because it impacts the success of the entire industry. Research has shown that diverse teams make better decisions. That is why it is important that women be part of top-level discussions for the sake of the industry.

What advice do you have for women entering the meetings community today?

This is a wonderful, relationship-driven industry. We don’t have the gender bias you see in other sectors. You just need to show people you want to be part of it, aren’t afraid to take on new roles and responsibilities, and go for it.