Exhibiting equality


Featured in the latest edition of Exhibition World (Issue 2 | 2018), Sarah-Claire Picton draws the curtains on gender equality within an industry deemed inclusive by its very nature.

Women in the global exhibition industry are heralding a sea-change. The overall feeling is kinetic – this is an industry in motion and women are driving growth with pioneering platforms. Brainchild of MECC Maastricht’s Oana Cipca, the Women in Exhibitions Network launched at this year’s international art show TEFAF Maastricht. It forms one of several initiatives emerging in our industry that aim to give a voice to women, and draw attention to their impact in all echelons of this industry.

With the aim to continue the debate beyond borders and boardrooms, EW spoke to three brazen businesswomen: Oana Cipca, business development manager exhibitions at MECC Maastricht; Lucinda Douglas, Holland-based author/empowerment speaker; and Monica Lee-Müller, MD, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) Limited (HML).

The face and force of the Women in Exhibitions Network initiative (pictured below), Cipca, kickstarts the conversation with conviction: “There is a positive correlation between women in leadership and business performance, and our industry needs to discover this too.” Cipca is on a journey of cultivating new discovery: “I hope to use a platform like the Women in Exhibitions Network to make our industry discover us women.”

Speaking at the Women in Exhibitions event, the ‘Yes You Can Woman’ Lucinda Douglas (pictured above) said she lives a life which is all about inspiring women to be visible, making impact and broadening their influence.”

Her message is in harmony with the initiative’s goal, which Oana describes as being “to inspire people, specifically women, to want to share what their contribution is to our industry”. And fueling the debate from Hong Kong, Monica Lee-Müller calls for comparison with other Asian cities, saying “I see a better balance between women and men executives in the exhibition industry in Hong Kong, and even so only a few women reach the top of the corporate ladder. The imbalance could be attributed to the Asian culture and the social norm that women are traditionally home-makers and men income earners.”

Cipca embraces initiatives taken by organisations like the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) to pay attention to increasing the presence of women in senior roles, adding that: “It gives me pleasure when I read that people like Lucy Dimes become the CEO of a company like UBM EMEA.”

Widening her lens, Cipca notes that “In our industry, we raise more the question of gender equality.” Recent research shows that, for example, Britain’s most successful companies tend to have a large proportion of women in senior management roles but still the UK lags behind the US and Australia regarding diversity at the top.

“There should be a shift in women’s attitude and culture to support change. I believe role models, mentors and networks can be used to promote the advancement of women,” Oana comments.

Converting beliefs into results, she hopes they have made a start with a network where women working in the exhibitions industry “can meet, learn, inspire and strengthen each other”.

The cascading impact of her initiative – or yours – is not easily quantified.

An example of real impact is the dialogue unfolding on this page. You hold the results in your hands. What you do with it is important. 

“Write yourself into the Speakers Academy,” encourages Douglas, who dares women to be visible. Share your legacy with the world she exclaims with a smile of conviction. “Become a commissioner in an organisation…take and share…make yourself known and available or someone else will…and live with courage.”

Adding to Douglas’ tips and Cinca’s initiative that nurtures inclusivity, Lee-Müller’s “personal advice to other women in the exhibition industry is that we are not only competing with men but also with other women in the workplace.

“We must equip ourselves, continue enriching our professional knowledge and experience, and be emotionally intelligent. Also, it would be very difficult for women to break the glass-ceiling without the support, acceptance and endorsement from men.

We should include more men in our discussion and activities in relations to gender equity.”

Oana takes a step back to admire at the bigger picture: “What we want to achieve is not only visibility for women, we want to generate a voice for exhibitions directors, operations managers, business development and marketing professionals as well as all the wonderful colleagues in the service provision area.”

Like Oana illustrated with the launch of Women in Exhibitions, Douglas’ advice speaks to taking action: “The secret is to live a less emotionally driven life but a life that is more based on your decisions.”

Common ground reveals itself: the human element; primitive emotions.

Lee-Müller feels that “Although more women nowadays are highly educated, well-travelled and exposed to international business; many of them are still conforming to, instead of confronting, the stereotype for being emotional, indecisive, weak-minded and other untruthful labels.”

View from Hong Kong
Monica Lee-Müller, MD, HML, helps discuss the discourse of equal opportunity.

At HML, 51 per cent of the management team, meaning from deputy department heads and above, are women. In fact, our Executive Leadership Committee has a strong presence of female leaders of 56 per cent; evidently chaired by a woman such as myself.

While observing and promoting equal opportunity in workplace, there is no specific policy let alone any quota at HML to encourage or assist either gender in securing a higher position.

However, by ensuring there is no discrimination on gender, disability, family status, race, age or sexual orientation during the recruitment process, compensation package offering, promotion and bonus considerations and all HR Policies, employees are treated fairly.

The share of men and women executives on senior management level in our organisation reflects the fact that leadership quality exists in women and men alike.

To join the Women in Exhibitions Network, email Oana Cipca at o.cipca@mecc.nl. To read the feature online, click here.