Event Industry Progressives: The Influencers of the 21st Century

Posted by Jenise Fryatt on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 @ 11:37 AM

A small storm was unleashed last week when Successful Meetings published a list of top meetings/events industry influencers for the year 2012 including 12 men, 1 bug and 0 women. It was later revealed that the list was not complete and that the remaining names yet to be announced on SM's list of 25 most influential people in our industry, belong mostly to women.

Nevertheless, in an industry so heavily populated by women (one estimate puts us at 80%) many of us were dumbfounded.

I admit, I didn't take much notice until Joan Eisenstodt tweeted this: Screen shot 2012 04 08 at 8.05.39 AM resized 600Then it hit me.  Successful Meetings had exposed itself as out of touch with one of the most influential groups in our industry today. I'm not just talking about event industry women.  I'm talking about a very vocal and growing group that for the sake of brevity, I will call event industry progressives.  This group:

* Is concerned with the "why" of events.

* Is collaborative.

* Values ethics and corporate social responsibility.

* Values sustainability.

* Is more likely to take risks and experiment.

* Feels strongly that meetings and events must evolve to include better learning and engagement opportunities.

* Has embraced social media.

* Doesn't see good business as a zero sum game.

* Is heavily influenced and populated by women.

While Successful Meetings' list includes some famous and influential names on it (and certainly some that have done a lot to promote and advance the industry this year) it seems mostly to  reflect a 20th century fascination with business empire building - a very male perspective, to be sure.

One of the comments on the post, written by Marge Anderson, seemed to allude to this focus:

"I am exhausted by the number of suppliers and buyers only of heads/beds/space on this list.  (as opposed to behavioral outcomes). Those of us who have planning roots, AND are internal rather than outsourced thereby having to live every day with the results of our meetings, have no home left in this industry.  It would be great if the industry could pay a little more attention to the dog rather than the tail."

On Saturday, Mariela McIlwraith and Elizabeth Henderson posted their answer to Successful Meetings's list: We Are the 80%: Our Picks for the Most Influential Women in the Meetings Industry - a list of women with expertise in such topics as risk management, mentoring, event sustainability and gamification. When you compare the two lists, the contrast in focus is striking.

In their post, Elizabeth and Mariela also take a look at some points that may be continuing to hold women back.  While I agree that our reluctance to promote ourselves; devotion to family and home; and difficulty engaging in informal networking (ala good ol' boys) have all played a role in keeping us from ascending quickly in the past, I feel things are changing. 

We are now living at a time when the more feminine big picture, values centered, we-instead-of -me thinking is imperative for the sake of our industry and our world. Business practices are changing as a result. More and more of the world understands that greater profits alone will not save us. 

Among events and meetings professionals, this sentiment is strong. According to a recent MPI study on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ninety percent of meetings industry businesses are involved in some form of CSR activity; more than 50 percent of industry professionals now give precedence to suppliers who have formal CSR policies; and more than half of the businesses in our sector strongly agree that they are “trying to give something back” to their communities.

The rise of social media and the linking of many heretofore disparate groups crossing yesterdays seemingly insurmountable barriers of space and time, offer us new ways to accomplish our goals without sacrificing what is truly important to us. AND the power of helping others has come into its own as a marketing tool.

Business as usual in the events world, could be fatal. The internet has made it easier for everyone to create DIY events. More and more groups frustrated with traditional meetings and conferences are opting for formats such as open space that have mostly originated outside our industry.

Event industry progressives get that the future of our industry will be driven by those who are thinking about more than just profits and industry growth. They are thinking about how to create better meetings and events that contribute to a better world. That's why they are at the forefront of change in our industry and that is why, ultimately, their influence is what will save it. Any list of influencers that doesn't include them is, at best, a joke.

Are you itching to discuss this topic with your fellow events industry colleagues? Then join us for the next #eventtable chat on Monday, April 16 at 3 pm est. Out topic will be "Meetings Industry Influencers: Who are they and how do we get the word out?"

You can read more about this issue on Meetings Women of Influence: The Rant and Our List (a big thanks to Mitchell Beer for including me on his list of influencers)

and Hell Hath No Fury.


Tags: event industry progressives, event sustainability, corporate social responsibility, #eventprofs, events industry, sustainable meetings