Women show real leadership skills in the corona crisis, but critical issues such as diversity and gender equality are being put on the rear burner. Female meeting professionals are putting up strong resistance, for example in Italy with the 'Manifesto on Women in Leadership'.
am fine, physically healthy - not sure mentally healthy after nearly three months of lockdown," wrote Annamaria Ruffini in Rome. She's worried about the future, as is the majority of meeting professionals. And it's only half a year ago that she as President and CEO of Events In & Out and Past President of SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) spoke to the Italian Senate on the Value of Incentive Travel. Annamaria Ruffini is familiar with talking to male audiences from her professional life: even though the event industry has a predominantly female workforce. Managerial positions are usually held by males, and that's why she is so focused on gender equality. Under her leadership, an industry-wide team of female Italian leaders representing SITE Italy, MPI Italia, Federcongressi&eventi and the Convention Bureau Italia launched the 'Manifesto on Women in Leadership'. It defines measures for the empowerment of women in business events e.g. to boycott conferences with all male panels and request female speakers.
"Our manifesto was a scream of pain and an accusation against the institutions and some sector organizations that privilege and give voice only to men despite the fact that the majority of the stakeholders are women," said Ruffini. She's very pleased with the reaction of her male and female colleagues and hopes for more collaboration with her European partners. And the Italians also wanted to send out a clear signal on female empowerment at the Global Meetings Industry Day 2020 (GMID), but the corona virus changed the agenda priority altogether. The crisis may have shifted the focus away from diversity and gender equality for many, but certainly not for Ruffini. "It seems that the time is never right to speak and act on the gender gap.” It's too often that she's heard the question: "Do you think it‘s the right time to make it a gender question?"
Yes, Annamaria Ruffini says, it's the best of all times, and she points to home schooling as an example. It shows her how in Italy "decisions are made by commissions formed exclusively of men". It comes with her work that she sees what's ongoing in the world: "The best reactions, solutions and communication about this pandemic seem to have come from women Prime Ministers such as Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland, Erna Solberg in Norway and Mette Frederiksen in Denmark." Ruffini also referred to virologist Ilaria Capua, Director of the One Health Center of Excellence at the University of Florida. She argues that women are more resistant to coronavirus than men. The professor concluded that females would be the 'engine to restart everything' in the fight against COVID-19. Said Ruffini: "This would be the most suitable time to give more space to female leadership."
Annamaria Ruffini speaks to the Italian Senate on the Value of Incentive Travel.
PHOTO: Annamaria Ruffini
That's an issue followed up by The Female Quotient in a virtual event series titled 'Creating a Better Normal'. "We’re seeing how the countries that are handling this situation the best are led by women. Around the world, women are using the equity they have to lead with grace and empathy — and they’re ending up with real results," emphasized Sheila Patel, Chairwoman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management on the panel 'Defining Equity's New Normal'. For her, equity means ownership and having a stake. "We’re coming to an amazing moment through this crisis where women who have shown that equality is important to them now have huge stakes."
At the same time, female leaders such as Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland and Chair of Council of Women World Leaders, Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20, as well as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, warn against the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on women and girls. In their Women Leaders’ Virtual Roundtable on COVID-19, they identify and prioritize policy measures that facilitate a more gender-inclusive recovery path und agree that ensuring gender equality and women’s rights is essential to getting through the pandemic together, to recovering faster and building a better future.
The sociologist Jutta Allmendinger is afraid that the corona crisis will worsen the situation for women and aggravate inequality. The president of the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and professor for education and labor market research at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin has established that women suffer the most in the corona crisis. In the Anne Will TV talkshow on May 3, 2020, she emphasized that it's the women who need to coordinate between Home Office and Home Schooling, thus adding to their workload and further impairing their careers.
"Business-as-usual will not close the gender gap – we must take action to achieve the virtuous cycle that parity creates in economies and societies," said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and Member of the Managing Board of the World Economic Forum. The latter organization's Global Gender Gap Report 2020 shows that "none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children". Put in figures: gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years. For its most recent Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum analyzed 153 countries for their progress towards gender parity in four dimensions: Economic Participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. As Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society, the World Economic Forum aims to close economic gender gaps through in-country and global industry work und sets up action coalitions between ministries and employers to increase female labor force participation, the number of women in leadership positions and closing wage gaps.
PHOTO: World Economic Forum
"We're still nowhere near genuine equality – as long as women are paid a lot less than men, as long as they are inadequately represented in leadership positions and as long as they are the vast majority of victims of violence in partner relationships, we will need a particular focus on politics for women," said the German federal minister Dr. Franziska Giffey. Her Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth (BMFSFJ) this year has available a budget of €21 million, €3.5 million more than last year. At the beginning of this year, the minister announced implementation of a national gender-equality strategy and proclaimed 2020 as Year of Equality. Only time will tell if equality politics will remain an important aspect of the German EU Council Presidency from July 1, 2020.
As public-financed operations, congress centers are required to implement equality policies. However, only one in five of the 750 member facilities in the European Association of Event Centres (EVVC) is headed by a women. EVVC-President Ilona Jarabek wants to inspire and encourage female senior managers. The general manager of the Musik und Kongresshalle Lübeck founded the 'women in congress&events' network, and 15 female GMs traveled to Kassel to attend the kick-off meeting. "In a female network, we can discuss our professional challenges without any inhibitions and at eye level," said Jarabek. She considers these networks to be an "important platform for diversity and equal opportunities", and these are needed as "positive competitive factors for businesses". The second meeting of 'women in congress&events" had originally been scheduled at the Mexcon trade conference and was cancelled along with that event. The same applies to the panel discussion on why we need women in leadership positions and why diversity is just as important, which was planned at the Deutscher Verbändekongress 2020 to feature EVVC-President Jarabek on the discussion panel.
Heike Mahmoud, Chief Operating Officer and first woman at the helm of the CCH – Congress Center Hamburg in the facility's 40-year-history, is a role model from among the EVVC ranks. "We're convinced that businesses can only benefit from genuine diversity," said Mahmoud. "A balanced appointment of men and women to senior positions regularly shows us different perspectives, leading to a distinctly higher degree of creativeness and innovation abilities." The Congress Center Hamburg supports its staff in reconciling career and family life with flexible working hours, part-time employment and working from home. The restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the corona virus are a particular burden on the CCH, as this facility is currently being upgraded at costs amounting to €230 million. Mahmoud is guiding her team through the crisis and she is confident: "We all have a common goal: opening the new CCH – Congress Center Hamburg!" In the event the grand opening is celebrated and Annamaria Ruffini is on the invitation list, she will certainly be delighted for her German colleague.
Association for Women in Events falls victim to Corona
Five years ago, the Association Women in Events (AWE) was founded with the mission to elevate and celebrate the role of women in the events industry. Today every events industry organization feature women as a critical element of their programming, initiatives and support. On March 5, the Association Women in Events its second annual Elevate! conference at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. And then COVID-19 happened. “Many of you have been laid off, furloughed, terminated or have taken a salary reduction. The loss of live event revenues has financially devastated our partners and sponsors”, AWE informed its members. Therefore, AWE has elected to evolve and shift our energies towards an online community to better align with our industry’s new normal. The AWE was built on a traditional association model, 30 April 2020 is the last day AWE will be a registered 5019(c)(3). Please continue to be a part of our community by joining the AWE Facebook group Facebook!
"It seems that the time is never right to speak and act on the gender gap.”
Annamaria Ruffini, President and CEO of Events In & Out and Past President of SITE
“Equity means ownership and having a stake.”
Sheila Patel, Chairwoman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management
“Networks are an important platform for diversity and equal opportunities.”