“Why can't a woman be more like a man?” Professor Higgins famously asked decades ago in My Fair Lady. Indeed, why can't she earn as much as her male colleagues? Why can't she assume leadership positions as often, or even half as often, as her male counterparts?
Despite decades of equal opportunity and the influx of highly educated women in the work force, these questions continue to have a burning relevance — especially in the arena of meeting planning, where women predominate yet do not hold a proportionate number of leadership positions nor earn comparable salaries, as our survey results show. (See “Call It a Chasm,” on page 21.)
Overt discrimination and a too-small talent pool of qualified women could once be easily blamed for the discrepancy between men and women in the workplace. But today the causes are far more complex — as complex as the solutions. Why can't a woman be more like a man? One possible answer: Perhaps because she doesn't have the same choices.
What's Behind Wage Disparity
As our survey details, the wage differential between men and women is more like a chasm than a gap: Women's salaries averaged more than $20,000 lower than men's for both convention management and executive management positions — even when correlated with years experience/years in present job. While other industry surveys don't show such a large differential (the American Society of Association Executive's recent Association Executive Compensation & Benefits Survey is one example), they do reflect a significant disparity between male and female wages.
Associations are mirror images of the business world. As such, sex discrimination can't be ruled out as a contributing factor. Last month, the chairwoman of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, Cari Dominguez, said that cases of “blatant pay discrimination between men and women doing equal work,” continue to be handled by the agency. Forty years after the passage of Equal Pay Act, women earn 76 cents for every dollar men earn — up from 61 cents in 1960.
A Congressional report released last year showed that female managers are not only making less money than men in many industries, but the wage gap has widened during the economic boom from 1995 through 2000. Full-time female managers earned on average less than their male counterparts in the 10 industries that employ 71 percent of all female workers. And in seven of those fields, the pay difference grew. The report was prepared by the General Accounting Office using data from the Department of Labor.
Why the pay differential between men and women in the same field? Part of the answer may be that men expect and aren't shy about demanding higher salaries, according to a new study by Lisa Baron, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine Graduate School of Business.
In mock job interviews with graduate students involving 38 men and women, 71 percent of the males believed they were better than the other candidates and therefore deserved more money. And 70 percent of the female candidates believed they were equal to other candidates, hoped to prove themselves on the job, and were willing to accept the salary offered.
The study resonates with many others that show men more readily promote themselves, while women are more egalitarian-minded. Guess which quality the workplace tends to reward?
Another factor in the wage gap: More men work for associations with big meeting budgets than women do, and hence they are likely to be paid more. Among all females in our survey, the mean total budget allocated for meetings was $827,937, while the mean for all male respondents was $1,049,271. In the recent ASAE executive compensation survey, male CEOs far outnumbered women heading associations with the biggest budgets ($15 million or more), and the ratio between male and female CEOs didn't even out until the budgets approach $300,00 to $500,000.
Drilling further down, we asked our survey respondents to share any issues around their career that might be helpful to readers. Without an exception, men commented about challenges in the wider world of association or convention management. Most women, in contrast, wrote about the challenges of their job, or the challenges of being a female in the workplace. (See “Advice,” opposite page.)
Many women said that their work environment didn't reward financially the skill sets that women tend to be better at than men: detail management, multi-tasking, collaboration, and dealing with the emotional needs of workers and subordinates. Others noted that women generally are more constrained by family ties, which makes it difficult to job hop — a career strategy that might be especially useful in the association field, where turnover is far less than in corporations.
Family Issues Critical
The challenges of balancing work and family have driven many skilled women out of the workforce or into part-time jobs, and convention management is no exception. “I don't know many women at my level who have young children,” says Donna R. Karl, director of meeting services, American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Ill. “I knew when I made the decision to be a mother that my career was probably only going to go so far.” Karl, 40, has worked for the association for 13 years, starting out as a registration supervisor. Her children are five and nine years old, and she travels four to eight days a month for her job.
“It would be scary to even think of moving” to seek other career opportunities, she says. Starting out in a new job, “it's hard to have the flexibility you have in a job where you've proven yourself. I have a wonderful boss.” She adds, “This is a career for me, not some ‘I-don't-want-to-be-at-home job.’”
Lisa Block, director of meetings for the Society for Human Resource Professionals, Alexandria, Va., says the “feminization” of the meeting planning profession hasn't been fully explored. “I wouldn't want this field, for one thing, to become unattractive to men,” she says.
Cheryl Nordstedt offers another perspective. She worked for the American Academy of Dermatology 25 years before retiring recently to start her own company. She began as a meeting planner and left as the deputy executive director. “The flood of women into the field has devalued the profession, just like any other field where women predominate,” she says. “Thirty years ago convention directors were more highly compensated relative to their association budgets then they are now.”
At the CEO level, men dominate because boards are mostly male, Nordstedt contends. Even when boards are mostly female, male CEOs get preference because “in our patriarchal system, many women board members believe daddy knows best — especially when the person they're hiring is earning four times their salary.” Nordstedt says society's emphasis on families is far more prevalent today than it was 30 years ago, when women were fighting to get their foot in the workplace door. Today working mothers, facing a double bind, want more flexibility in the workplace. “In the long-run it hurts women,” Nordstedt says. “It affects how women are perceived. Employers ask, ‘Will you give back to me the same level I expect back from a man?’”
Similar Leadership Issues
Issues around the industry wage gap clearly correspond to those around its leadership gap, as shown in the recently released study from the Women's Leadership Initiative, a research project funded by the MPI Foundation
Women make up 76 percent of MPI's (Meeting Professionals International) membership, yet just 9 percent of those women hold leadership positions within their own organizations compared to 30 percent of male MPI members. WLI commissioned a two-part study in partnership with Michigan State University to analyze what it takes to be a leader in this industry, and to identify critical challenges that confront women.
Results of phase one, a survey of men and women, found that women and men agreed on many of the qualities of leadership: adaptability, determination, exceeding expectations, and developing a vision, for example. But women identified additional criteria needed to reach or stay in leadership. These included: Developing a work style that superiors like; working on difficult, highly visible projects; being good at negotiating; getting help at home; and decreasing sleep, hobbies, and interests.
Phase two, released in July, consisted of interviews with women in meetings and event planning who work for large and small corporations. Although the study taps women in the corporate world, its conclusions, findings, and recommendations seem no less relevant to the association community. According to the study, career women face five critical challenges:
Getting dead-ended by their ability to handle details and to multi-task.
Coping with communication differences between men and women
Dealing with leadership differences between men and women
Dealing with a leadership potential that is biased toward men
Recommendations? Women interested in leadership positions must develop a strategic life plan. Corporations need to make a “sincere and substantial commitment of time, money, and staff” to determine factors that contribute to holding women back. They must develop a strategic plan that will produce changes so that the “organization as a whole can benefit from the leadership of women.”
And we're not talking token gestures. “Many of those who work at the executive, managerial, and nonprofitlevels have to commit to radical change,” the report concludes.”
Prospects for Change in the Workplace
Whether radical organizational change is likely to occur, the issue of women in the workforce and the questions it raises provide no simple solutions or easy consensus — even among women.
“What we need is not just research but people to walk the talk,” says Susan Sarfati, president/CEO of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, Washington, D.C. “Women need role models and a better strategy for networking and getting out into the wider world.”
Nordstedt goes further. “Sociology needs to change for the workplace to change. The way we are going now with all family emphasis, we're headed back to the 1950s. And I don't think we really want that, do we?”
Donna Karl of the American Academy of Pediatrics puts it this way: “Convention management is much like pediatrics, a field where, as the women take over, the salaries decline, and the mothers are dropping out of volunteer service during childbearing/raising years. What are we going to do?”
All in the Numbers?
Percent of the Professional Convention Management's planner membership who are female: 81%
Percent of Meeting Professionals International's membership who are female: 76%
Percent of convention director respondents in the American Society of Association Executive's compensation study* who are female: 83%
Percent of CEO respondents who are female: 34%
Number of CEO respondents who led associations with budgets of $15 million or more: 7 women, 63 men
Number of four major meeting industry associations** headed by a woman: 0
*The 14th edition of The Association Executive's Compensation & Benefits Survey. ASAE was not able to provide member composition by gender/title.
**ASAE, PCMA, IAEM, MPI
Brown and Blue: Words of Advice
We asked respondents in our salary survey to offer comments regarding career issues that might be useful to other readers. Comments in blue are from men and brown are from the women.
“Associations used to offer a more relaxed atmosphere for planners than corporations, and that somewhat compensated for the lower salaries. That's not the case anymore. I stay awake at nights trying to figure out how to make budget. … My salary is relatively low because I plan meetings instead of lobby at the Capitol.”
“I am not sure it has benefited me salarywise, but coming from the industry I lead has made the job easier and more fun.”
“When I started in executive management I had a much lower salary than my predecessor, even though he had left the organization in financial disarray and I had managed to straighten things out in a very short time. By using compensation survey reports and persisting for several years, I was able to bring my salary ‘in line.’”
“Be a leader when it comes to change. Don't be concerned about breaking the rules if your actions are legal and ethical.”
“To advance you must move to other employers where you can broaden expertise, develop skills, be exposed to different situations. Good presentation skills are essential, especially for women.”
“I think my young age is a factor in receiving promotions and new jobs.”
“Men may get higher salaries and incentives because they expect and therefore demand it. Women are not as likely to expect or to demand higher compensation.”
“I certainly encourage executiveand clear board and staff relationship policies.”
“More men at senior levels seem to get employment contracts than women do. It would be interesting to see how many organizations have male presidents/CEOs who are the figurehead, while the COO, EVP, SVP is a female who actually runs the business.”
“Difficult times for meeting planners. Hard to entice delegates to travel. Hotelpenalties cause worry.”
“Few women were around when I started in association management. Now there are lots. But women are still likely to be compensated less, be thought of as less-effective leaders, lose out to less-qualified males, and be more “nice” than men are expected to be — because we continue to raise boys and girls with traditional roles and values in spite of the facts of life in the workplace.
“Most of the women I work with these days are young, attractive, and totally unaware of the bigger picture — thriving on compliments and the fun, fast-paced environment, and working for a male manager. Reality won't hit them until they're in their 40s and their salaries become more important than the excitement.”
“Share as much credit with your volunteers and staff as you can. Take all the blame.”
Real Life: Taking the High Road
She spent 14 years with the American Society of Association Executives, working her way up from meeting planner/education director to vice president, education and conventions. In 1993, Susan Sarfati became president/CEO of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives.
“Women very often have their nose to the grindstone, they're very focused on getting the job done. That's good, but it's also very important to have an external focus. Men have been focusing externally far longer than women. They have skills and strategies in place to help themselves and move up the ladder. If they learn of an available position, they'll take someone out for lunch, a drink, or talk it over on the golf course. More women are adopting productive networking strategies. But they don't have a track record and the established methods that men do.
“Confidence can be an issue for women. I had dinner the other night with some very high-caliber women. One of them talked what typically happens when she invites a woman into her office for a meeting. Women arrive thinking they've done something wrong. She calls a man in and he asks, “What can I do for you today?” Women need to learn to accept praise, and to toot their own horn. I still have trouble doing this even though I am very proud of my accomplishments.
“My hope for the future is that our industry will search out and hire women to lead industry organizations. There is an abundance of competent women to recruit. Associations need to walk the talk, to provide role models.
“Women often are pegged as good detail managers, good collaborators, good on the soft-skill stuff. That's somewhat of a stereotype, but I also believe that these are very important skills to build on. A leader has have a big-picture focus but also be skilled in focusing on execution. Meeting planners are very good at details and execution and these are critical CEO tools.
“Issues of work/life balance are still huge. Women need to to take the high-road and not think of themselves as victims. Many men have helped me in my career, as well as women, particularly when I was starting out. I try now to help those looking for mobility, especially women.
Call It a Chasm
The salary differential between men and women looks more like a chasm than a gap.
By Regina McGee
We surveyed three primary job responsibilities in association management: Executive management (titles such as CEO, president, executive director), convention management (director or manager of meetings/conventions), and exhibit sales/management (director or manager of trade shows/exhibits). Our sample included only national associations, about equally divided between trade and professional. (See chart opposite.)
Twenty-six percent of respondents were men, and most held executive management positions. Most of the women (53 percent) were in convention management. Tellingly, 21 percent of the male respondents were 60 years or older, compared with 5 percent of females in this category. Thirty percent of the female respondents were 25 to 34 years old, compared with 11 percent of males in this age group. Extrapolating from our sample, there seem to be a lot of older men at the top and a lot of young women at the bottom in association management.
Looking specifically at salaries by title and gender, the mean salary for women in executive management was $75,129, that's $24,198 lower than the mean of $99,327 for men in this position. That considerable chasm is no less apparent in convention management, where the mean for men is $69,003 versus $47,887 for women — a difference of $21,116. We did not have enough of a base of respondents to gather a mean for the men in exhibit sales/management, but the mean for women was $45,109.
Roughly the same percentage of men and women received a bonus/incentive in the last 12 months. The mean for all respondents was $4,792. The mean for all men was $9,116 compared to $3,311 for women, again reflective of the greater number of men in executive management.
Interestingly, salary levels for both sexes were relatively comparable in both executive and convention management job categories up to $70,000, after which a significantly larger percentage of males earn more. Years in the field, age, and years at present job would not seem to be factors in this discrepancy. Annual meeting budget appears to be a factor. Among all females, the mean total budget allocated for meetings was $827,937, while the mean for all male respondents was $1,049,271.
As far as education goes, 30 percent of all males had master's degrees compared to 13 percent of all females. This probably reflects the higher number of males in executive management.
Women overall were responsible on average for 13 meetings a year as compared to 12 for men. Regarding hours a week worked, men on average put in 48 hours a week versus 44.5 for women. Executive management put in 49 hours a week compared to 44 for convention management. (The greater hours worked by men, could reflect that a greater number that are in executive management.)
Convention management or exhibit sales management were not, for the overwhelming majority of those respondents leading associations, a path to executive management. Only 12.5 percent of the women in executive management and 5 percent of the men came to their jobs from convention management background.
CURRENT SALARY LEVEL BY TITLE AND GENDER*
|Executive Mgmt.||Mtg./Con. Mgmt.||Exhibit Sales/Mgmt.|
|$200,000 or more||2.5%||3%||0%|
|*These figures exclude bonuses or commissions.|
CHARACTERISTICS BY JOB FUNCTION
|Executive Mgmt.||Mtg./Con. Mgmt.||Exhibit Sales/Mgmt.|
|Years in Association Field||15||12||n/a|
|Years at Present Organization||11||7||n/a|
|Years in Current Position||7||5||n/a|
|Number People Supervised||8||4||n/a|
|Note: All figures are averages/means.|
ESTIMATED TOTAL ANNUAL BUDGET FOR MEETING/TRADE SHOWS
|*Mean is the average and median is the value that is exactly in the middle of all answers. When mean and median have large variance, as above, it is useful to see both.|
In March 2003, Primedia Business www.meetingsnet.com.Research e-mailed 4,710 subscribers selected on nth name basis. Respondents were offered a chance to be entered into a drawing for one of four $50 gift certificates. We received 476 usable surveys. With 1,120 outbound e-mails undeliverable and 21 surveys returned incomplete, the subsequent response rate was 13.3 percent. To order a copy of the entire survey, click on the Research Store at