Based on various industry surveys, women in the exposition management field make 25 to 42 percent less than their male counterparts, says Maria Brennan, president of the one-and-a-half-year-old Bethesda, Md.-based Association of Female Exhibit Managers and Convention Organizers (AFEMCO).
The lower salaries for women in exposition management, notes Brennan, can't be explained away as the result of fewer college degrees or years in the industry. "When you look at education and experience, there's no distinction between men and women in this field," she says. "This appears to be a gap based on gender."
As befits a group with an inside-the-Beltway address, AFEMCO is putting a heavy emphasis on looking to the federal government to remedy the situation. The organization has hired a lobbyist, Kelly Riordan, who formerly served on the staff of Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (Dem.-S.D.). Daschle, in turn, is the primary Senate sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would amend the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Among its provisions, the Clinton-endorsed Daschle bill would prohibit employers from firing workers who share salary information; make it easier to file lawsuits against employers who discriminate against women; require the U.S. Department of Labor to research the wage gap between men and women, and create a national award to recognize employers that try to eliminate pay disparity.
AFEMCO is not limiting its efforts to hoping that the Republican-controlled Congress will pass a Democratic-sponsored bill. The group is also going out to meeting industry trade shows to educate women on how to negotiate higher salaries, particularly higher starting salaries.
"We're equipping folks with statistical information to use in negotiations with their employers, or prospective employers," says Brennan. She notes that the pay gap is not necessarily intentional. "In some respects, it's not the fault of the employer. If you're going to accept less than you're worth when you take a job, you're going to be stuck with percentage increases after that."