A survey by Susan Sarfati, CEO, High Performance Strategies LLC, and Liz Jackson, president, Jackson Consulting Inc., helped shape the content for IMEX’s first Women’s Leadership Forum, held at the Frankfurt, Germany, conference in May. Sarfati is recognized for her leadership in the association industry, and as a mentor and passionate advocate of women’s rights. Corporate Meetings & Incentives’ Editorial Director Betsy Bair spoke with her about the results of the survey conducted late last year on the issues and challenges women face in the meetings, events, and incentive travel industry.

CMI: How did the survey come about?
Sarfati: Liz and I wrote the survey questions, and IMEX sent it to past IMEX attendees as well as others in its database. We chose the topics for the two sessions based on the results of the survey: “Women Leaders on the Move: 25-Plus Success Strategies” and “Breakthrough Thinking and Real-Life Solutions.”

“Dealing with conflict” was the topic most requested by respondents, closely followed by “Understanding the differences in male and female leadership types,” and “Selling yourself and your ideas.”

There were so many women who responded to the survey, who said they wanted to take part in the presentations at IMEX, that we decided to use a technique called Pecha Kucha, in which each speaker presents 20 PowerPoint slides over seven minutes. The concept is to be concise, engaging, and to the point. The format creates an enjoyable learning atmosphere and is highly interactive.

CMI: IMEX is such a global meeting. Did you have points of view from every region of the world?
Sarfati: Around the globe, women in leadership have more similarities than differences. We have similar concerns: lack of equity in compensation and in job opportunities. The issue of women in leadership is of interest to the whole world and is in constant need of discussion and action, particularly in the meetings industry, which is heavily female.

We gained perspectives from different cultures, including from Europe (the U.K., Germany, and Italy), the Middle East, South Africa, and North America, as well as perspectives from other cultures represented in the audience.

CMI: What are some of the other common issues women in the meetings industry face around the world?
Sarfati: Women in mid-level management positions think that all is well. But the issue of how to break the glass ceiling is very real. I just read an article about women in the Middle East who refer to “breaking the concrete ceiling.” We hope to help women position themselves for acquiring top leadership roles and for being compensated appropriately.

Women have more power and potential than they realize. We will demonstrate how women can overcome barriers and succeed in business and in life, feel good about themselves and have a strong sense of self-esteem, and shatter the glass ceiling to reach beyond their expectations, as well as provide role models to emulate. The survey results also showed that many women share concerns about how to achieve a sustainable work-life balance. They face 21st-century workplace issues that are common to all. When asked “What is the major challenge you currently face in your leadership or management role?”, time management, especially in an age of “always-on” social media, was highlighted by many respondents. Others expressed a desire to understand how to be assertive in the workplace without appearing dominant or aggressive, especially in a tougher economic climate. 

CMI: Do you think women in America have it better than their overseas counterparts?
Sarfati: According to the White House Project report on Women in Leadership, published in late 2009, we’re going backward, particularly in the nonprofit realm. Other statistics show that companies perform better when diversity is practiced at higher levels. When women earn their own money, they spend at two times the rate on their family that men do. According to the U.S. Women’s Bureau and the National Committee on Pay Equity, in 2009 women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

CMI: What would you like to see come out of this Women’s Forum?
Sarfati: More time for dialogue and specific action plans for women to move forward! Liz Jackson and I will continue this critical discussion at the Women’s Leadership Forum at IMEX America, October 11–13 in Las Vegas.