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"Mission I'm possible"

The energy at the first "She Means Business" Conference of the IMEX Group and tw tagungswirtschaft on IMEX EduMonday was certainly entirely different. Female? It was all about Gender Equality, Glass Ceiling and Pay Gap. Almost 400 attendees learned from each other, with each other and (perhaps) learned more about themselves as well.

icola Baumann pointed to the flight formation with five fighter jets and almost casually remarked: "This is my office." Her attitude made a strong impression on attendees – women and men alike. At a gender ratio of ten to one, they had traveled to the first 
„She Means Business“
 on EduMonday (May 14, 2018) of the IMEX at the Messe Frankfurt Kongresszentrum Kap Europa and followed Baumann on her career ladder to a flight altitude of 17,000 meters. In her keynote, she talked about "How to live your dream and reach for the stars". She had originally applied to Lufthansa for pilot training, but had not been admitted to the airline's training program because she was five centimeters too short, and so she enlisted in the German armed forces to become a fighter pilot. The major is one of three women flying a Luftwaffe Eurofighter. "If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it," she stated. "If you go after what you want, you might just get it."

Baumann certainly knew what she wanted: to fly to the International Space Station orbiting around earth at a distance of 400 kms. She emerged as one of the finalists against 400 fellow female contestants for a seat in the 2020 flight to the ISS. Baumann began with astronaut training and later quit the program – but she was nevertheless determined to become an astronaut! With her on the stage was Laura Winterling, who analogous to Mission Impossible delivered the motto Mission I'm possible to her and all other attending women. A statement frequently heard this day. The former astronaut instructor at the European Astronaut Centre was among the top 30 space-flight candidates. Today, the former rivals are friends.


A picture with enormous symbolism, which was augmented by a look into the meeting hall: other than usual at conferences and symposia, the 48 round tables were occupied predominantly by women. They had traveled here from all over the world and were obviously excited about the opportunity to interact, exchange ideas and engage in networking. In the session "Women in Business", they came to realize how important it is that women come together and join forces to make some real progress. Karin Nordmeyer, Chairwoman UN Women Germany, delivered her presentation on the fifth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): Gender Equality. "No country worldwide has achieved gender equality." A fact known only to a few. Nordmeyer called on the attendees: "It's up to us – men and women – to achieve change and gender equality."

Susanne Labonde knows the SDGs. Apart from just plain fairness, SAP's Director Global Employer Branding put forward another striking argument: higher operating margins generated by gender diverse management teams. At SAP, 25% of all leadership positions are held by women; the executive board intends to have hiked that share to 30% by 2022. To achieve just that, videos and other means make SAP's 91,000 employees in 130 countries aware of gender bias and stereotypes; the SAP Business Women’s Network drives women's issues.

Next to promotion, it's also about equal pay and the Gender Pay Gap. In the EU, that gap is at an average 16.3%. Dr. Mara Harvey, UBS Head Global UHNW Germany, Austria, Italy alerted her listeners: "A 10 percent gender pay gap can lead over a lifetime to a 40 percent wealth gap." Her simulation encompasses career interruptions caused by maternity and part-time employment. In order to give women financial confidence, Harvey installed the "UBS Unique" platform with currently one million users.

"The lectures have really awakened me to think about our own behavior. We women should trust much more in our own way and stand up for what we want," said Gabriele Preisinger, New Business Manager, Full Moon Group. Most of the female participants will have concurred with what she said; there was a spirited exchange of opinions at the round tables and in the intermissions.

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Nicola Baumann talks in her keynote about her aim: fly to the ISS.

Gender Pay Gap, Class Ceiling and compatibility of career and family were in the focus of audience and panel at the "Women in Business" session. The four female speakers gave open reports on their particular situations; all those present soon agreed: men also need to sit at the table in order to find sustainable solutions. Isabel Bardinet, first female CEO of the European Society of Cardiology, called on all women : "Next year you bring a man with you!"

Jeannine Koch liked that; the director of the re:publica is focused on diversity. More than 50 percent of the world population are female, and she is keen on highlighting this reality. "Gender equality should no longer be a buzzword, but must be lived," said Koch, and in reaction to this reality fixed a 50:50 gender split speaker quota for herself and her team. Koch is well aware of the effects of stages, their images and messages. Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO Business Events Sydney, brings with her such strong images and messages from the Global Summit of Women 2018. As host of the Davos for Women with 1,000 female global leaders from 60 countries, her emphasis was on the Big Picture. Her presentation "Changing the System" based on her conviction: "We need to change the cultures, not the women".

The event-staging industry, for example: "We have so many incredibly talented women within the business- events industry, and that is something we should celebrate," said Smith. "However, there are still nowhere near enough women at the very top of our industry." Too often when women choose to have a family, they are not given the chance or the encouragement to keep progressing after they return to work. "It is our responsibility to make sure that women are given the same opportunities when they return as they had when they left." Smith summed it up: “We need to help more women become visible role models”.

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Women only? No! 40 out of 400 participants at She Means Business were men. #HeForShe


Supporting partners are H-Hotels AG, CCH – Congress Center Hamburg, Cologne Convention Bureau, London & Partners, Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, Gahrens + Battermann, Slido, Spindler + Klatt, supporting publications are Horizont, m+a report and BizTravel among others. 

The discussion round on 
"Women in the meetings industry – on eye level with men?"
 was lined with role models: Nina Freysen-Pretorius, President of ICCA; Karen Bolinger, CEO, Melbourne Convention Bureau; Sarah Sigloch, Vice President Human Resources of H-Hotels AG, and Heike Mahmoud, COO of the Congress Centrum Hamburg. In the discussion about promotions and salaries, Australian Karen Bolinger came straight to the point: "If you don’t ask, you don’t get it." She also had a message for her discussion partners: "It's all about recognizing that you are in a position of influence and how you use it”. Moderator Sherrif Karamat made good use of this scope of influence: the CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) took the other CEOs up on their promise: they signed the "Ascent CEO Pledge" and thus committed themselves to promoting inclusion and diversity across the business events industry.

Co-organizer Carina Bauer, IMEX Group CEO, confirmed: "We're delighted with the fantastic success and the enormous positive feedback to the first She Means Business. We will certainly continue this initiative and will now discuss how and in which formats we intend to do this."  KERSTIN WÜNSCH