Expert Lyn Lewis-Smith speaks on gender inequality

 Smart Meetings is keeping Women’s History Month going and acknowledging the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Lyn Lewis-Smith has been a leader and a visionary in the Sydney, Australia, events industry and is now a events speaker regarding the gender underrepresentation issue. Smart Meetings sat down with Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney, to discuss her ideas on women in leadership roles within the meetings and events industry, PCMA’s latest research and report, “Advancing Women in Business Events,” and what can be done to promote equality.

 Q: Why was it important to you to become a speaker who focuses on the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles within the meetings and events industry?

A:  We’ve been talking about this for a very long time and there has been a lot of movement in getting women into executive positions. But the stark reality is there is a very real cliff when you get to CEO and boardroom level roles.

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According to the WGEA Scorecard 2023, only 22% (one in five) of CEOs are women and only 25% (one in four) of boards have gender balance. Then, in the sectors related to the business events industry, the results are particularly damning for an industry that is powered by a high female worker base. The only industries with fewer female leaders than our sector are construction and mining, two heavily male-dominated industries. That got me thinking and I wanted to change that.

 Q: How were you hoping that the research report, “Advancing Women in Business Events,” released with PCMA, would shine a light on the state of equality in events and spur change?  

A: It would be easy to be mistaken and think that we have no work to do! When you attend events in our sector for our sector, female faces are everywhere. We are a sector powered by women. The issue is not on the showroom floor—it’s in the meetings, the sidelines and the boardrooms where the CEOs and board members are gathering to make the decisions that decide the future of our sector. Inclusivity and equity for all are not just the right things to do, they lead to greater profitability, successful organizations and a just society.

If we don’t address this soon, our talent crisis will only get worse. The pandemic already drove an exodus—we can’t afford to lose any more of our best and brightest.

Q: What were some of the conclusions from the research results?

A: With a three-quarters majority female workforce globally, the report identified the majority of the workforce currently:

  • 43% do not agree the industry’s leadership is diverse.
  • 60% could not see clear career pathways to leadership positions.
  • 60% had insufficient access to career advancement support and development opportunities.

Barriers to advancement were identified across personal, organizational and societal levels with eight consistent across all geographies (30 countries) and all demographics. The top three were:

  • Achieving pay equity
  • Flexibility in work hours as women typically bear the double burden of work and family care
  • Lack of opportunities for career progression

 Q: What can the meetings and events industry do to improve in the inequal ratio of women to men in the highest positions?

A:  There is a lot of work to be done. We need to empower men to be more proactive in taking paid paternal leave. We all need to be aware where there is underrepresentation. We need to be more creative in providing leadership pathways for women and we need to lift each other up to support change and make equality the norm.

 Q: Why is mentoring and sponsorship so important for the advancement of women to higher positions within the meetings and events industry?

A: A seat at the table is the beginning of change. And if you can’t get a seat, then make your own table!

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A mentoring program, done on an industry-wide or organizational level, is low-hanging fruit and an easy place to start. There’s the 20 in Their Twenties program at PCMA, and 30 Under 30 programs, but there’s nothing specifically for women in their 20s, 30s and 40s to be mentored by women in the C-suite.

“A seat at the table is the beginning of change. And if you can’t get a seat, then make your own table!”

I don’t think organizations are doing enough at the professional development level. That’s something that I ensured when I came in as CEO of BESydney, that every single person in the organization had a professional development plan. You are not serious about developing your people if you don’t have a line item in your budget for development.

This article appears in the March/April 2024 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.