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Event Industry Progressives: The Influencers of the 21st Century


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.


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Jenise, great post!  
It has been good to see the rise of event industry progressives and it is in no small part thanks to social media.  
We are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with as we shine a light on all of the bad in the industry and the good as well.  
I was shocked that not one person at Successful Meetings raised a red flag about the post and had it pulled before it ever left the gate.  
What I find funny is that Successful Meetings is saying "but wait! The next 10 on the list are women"... amazing considering that they are the only ones that can see the next people on the list. 
For SM, I think that the damage has been done and they cannot put that genie back in the bottle.  
As a male in the industry, I am the first to admit that 20 of the 25 people on the list should be women. It should not be 14 men, 10 women and a bug.
Posted @ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 2:11 PM by Keith Johnston
You are so right. Hopefully, in the future, SM will think carefully about any partial list it publishes.  
Yes event industry progressives are an inspiring group. While I'm glad that so many voices spoke up in protest, I don't see the SM list as an indicator that things haven't changed. I see it more as an indicator that Successful Meetings didn't get the memo.
Posted @ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 2:24 PM by Jenise Fryatt
So glad that you wrote an article about this! And gave links to other articles. On March 6th I wrote on my Google+ page: "Does anybody else think it's annoying that a bug made this list over any women in the Meetings Industry???" I was honestly wondering if I was alone in the confusion. It's comforting to know that I'm not. Thanks!
Posted @ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 3:37 PM by Lauren Mulherrin
No, you are not alone. I imagine that for every 1 person who has written or commented on this topic there are at least 25 who just threw up their hands in disgust. 
Hope you can join us on Monday for the #eventtable Twitter chat at 3 pm est. You can go to Tweet Chat and type in the #eventtable hashtag for easier participation. :)
Posted @ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:11 PM by Jenise Fryatt
THIS is superb! Thank you for taking all that has been said and crystalizing it into your blog post. Now if those who agree will get off their tushes and do more .. and speak out more .. we can really move this industry along. 
Posted @ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 5:48 PM by Joan Eisenstodt
I am honored by your comment. Thank you for getting this party started!!  
Posted @ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:17 PM by Jenise Fryatt
a big +1 Jenise for compiling this insight over yet another listing of "most influentials". I saw the article that was pointed out to me by a tweet by Tahira Endean and have been thinking about what this means.  
Seeing the behaviour sparked by such a "list" it is clear to me that the most passionate conversationalists are by far the women. They articulate opinions with eloquence, humour, wit and influence. It is this very talent that will drive behavioural change at events (live or online) which is what the meetings industry is all about. Meetings are about the why and not about just about the how.  
I agree with your listing of what makes up progressives and will repeat it here as I am a mere male with limited eloquence, humour, wit and influence....: 
Quoted from Jenise Fryatt's list of what criteria define the level of influence: 
* 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"  
PS: women most heavily influence men in the first place...
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 5:43 AM by Ruud Janssen
Thanks so much for the comment. You are certainly on my list of industry professionals who have influenced me. You're an event industry progressive from beginning to end. :)
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:58 AM by Jenise Fryatt
Jenise - Another great post and one that is certainly stimulating discussion. Love the event industry progressives definition that you have created. I am hoping that I can join your discussion next week regardless of the time difference to the UK.  
Actually I haven't anything else to add that hasn't been covered so thanks again for creating a positive discussion that I know can only help take the events industry forward. 
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 10:04 AM by Paul Cook
Dear Jenise, 
Thanks for writing such a thorough and insightful article. And Joan, kudos to you for putting it right out there in the first place! 
I think it's remarkable what happens when we speak our minds. I'm rarely the only one thinking something! I'm always delighted to hear from like minds when I take a risk and really speak about something important, even if I think it's edgy. In fact, if I'm nervous about it, that's usually the best time to speak out. 
I'll be tweeting out this post and all the links you included. Brava Jenise! Rock on, progressives!! 
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 10:07 AM by Deborah Oster Pannell
I'm truly honored to count you as a friend and certainly one of my influencers! I was thinking of people like you when I wrote it. 
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 2:49 PM by Jenise Fryatt
Thank you so much for your comment. I agree, speaking up is very important. I'm proud to know so many, like you, who are courageous enough to do it.  
I gotta say, usually the more I find myself hesitating about pushing that "publish" button, the more that blog post tends to get traffic. Hmmm...
Posted @ Thursday, April 12, 2012 9:05 AM by Jenise Fryatt
This is a fantastic post, Jenise!  
Thank you for calling attention to this oversight, and for the part that you play in shaking things up in our industry, as well.  
Glad to see I wasn't the only one who was shocked that so many amazing women had been excluded from this list. 
Posted @ Thursday, April 12, 2012 3:33 PM by Rebekah Hakkenberg
Thank you so much for the comment! Yes, it was a big oversight. Hopefully the shocked response of event pros like you will be a wake up call for Successful Meetings.
Posted @ Thursday, April 12, 2012 5:25 PM by Jenise Fryatt
Jenise, echo echo echo... such a great post and so many comments that recognize that influence is not about gender, but about caring that our meetings and events make a difference for those who attend.  
What meeting professionals do is so complex and while we are influenced by outside factors such as OPEC pricing or bedbugs, these are not the factors held responsible if a meeting has challenges, people don't leave inspired, educated or motivated - that all comes back to the planner. There are so many professionals who are collaborating, planning for sustainability, involving meaningful technology, and most importantly - CARING. From understanding objectives before they start to ensuring every detail is taken care of - one meeting or event at a time, often with multiple on their plate at any time - there really are some remarkable people doing what they do and yes, looking forward to do it better. I am excited to celebrate the progressives! Thank you for this thoughtful post.
Posted @ Sunday, April 15, 2012 1:07 PM by Tahira Endean
Thank you so much for your comment. You make a GREAT point. Situations like bed bug infestations or higher oil prices can't realistically be called industry "influencers". You might as well add food prices and the weather.  
True influencers are people who respond successfully and innovatively to difficult situations. Ultimately, they will always be the ones who have a clear vision of WHY they do what they do. These are certainly the progressives of our industry.
Posted @ Sunday, April 15, 2012 1:23 PM by Jenise Fryatt
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