Recently, I was asked my opinion on being a woman in a male dominated industry. I, quite honestly, was surprised as I never thought of myself that way. Obviously, I knew I was a woman, but I never thought about the fact that people do consider the tradeshow industry to be male dominated in the U.S. When I started at MG Design 10 years ago, the men were at a huge population disadvantage…not the women!
As the gears started grinding, I analyzed how I was treated as a woman around the globe vs. the U.S. I was also curious about other women’s opinions who I work with from different countries. Do they see things differently than I do?
Two years ago, I was in Russia for an OSPI meeting. It was my first time attending and only knew a handful of people there. My fiancé, Joe, came with me to join the “spouses” program that the organization puts on for them. Immediately upon beginning introductions, everyone just assumed that he was the one there for work and I was going to be on the bus with all of the women. He nicely made note that I was the one they needed to talk to and he was a fireman along for the trip. I was one of a handful of women in the 200+ meeting and he was one of two men in the group of about 40 women on the spouses program. Apparently, yes, the industry is male dominated! I had just never been treated differently to make it noticeable in the U.S., but globally, it was clear.
As I think about where in the world it really stands out being a woman and if I’m treated any differently, I would say at the majority of places I’m treated just like any man. Even at the OSPI meeting, once they knew Joe was not the one there for work, they treated me just like everyone else. However, knowing that it isn’t the best idea for me to travel to a show in Saudi Arabia that I have in the fall, just because I’m a woman, makes it clear not everywhere in the world is going to treat me as an equal.
Silvi Gabler from Bestmann Messebau in Germany has been working in the industry since 2000. Her experience is rather similar to mine.
She commented,”Working since 2000 especially in the ‘field of exhibitions’ and being the contact person at BESTMANN for the OSPI partners, I cannot remember that I had disadvantages or advantages being a woman – in fact, [I’ve not had] bad experiences, and just now having your note, I am starting thinking about any side effects being a woman and working in the exhibition industry.
“I felt, and feeling still, being respected as a fair partner based on my knowledge, professionalism and my attitude towards my job, regardless of my gender.
“I was working, among many other places, onsite in Istanbul [Turkey], Singapore, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Guadalajara, Moscow, Paris, Barcelona, Dubai, Brussels, New York, San Francisco, etc., but cannot remember being ‘treated’ differently – having male as well as female contact persons – suppliers, partners, ‘workers,’ authorities….”
Yet, on the other side of the coin, Hayley Cooper – a British expatriate – from Projex Event Services in Dubai, had a different experience.
“Despite being with the exhibitions industry, and [with] my company for only one year, I feel I have experienced a fair amount of occurrences of being treated differently because of being female, some have worked in my favour, and some not so much. Working in what is classed as a mainly male driven industry, and living in a fairly strict country, females such as myself face challenges, or opportunities, every single day.
“In this country specifically, I have learned that it is all about building relationships, earning respect and proving yourself to your clients. It’s very easy, particularly being a tall, British and blonde female, that the local Arabic clients can underestimate your capabilities at times. Being face to face and spending quality time with clients to build solid foundations for a business relationship is hugely important in this market.
“On one particular occasion, myself and my male colleague were presenting a large pitch to a local government company for a big exhibition build. Having liaised with the client directly to arrange the meeting before hand, I was well prepared (and well covered) to deliver the presentation, however was shocked upon arrival when the clients immediately directed all their questions, concerns and eye contact to my male colleague. While all of my experiences have proven that this region respects women hugely on the whole, it is unnerving to see how old school the business world is towards women at times.
“Having worked in sales for over 10 years previously, I am used to talking numbers and ‘closing the deal’; however, my experiences have also shown that men like to deal [with] their own gender when discussing figures and dollars. On the flip side, men value my input hugely when it comes to the interior design and finer details on their exhibition stand.”
I’m curious, what are your experiences traveling the globe as a woman? As a man, have you noticed anyone treating your women colleagues differently? Please comment on this article or send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experiences!
Kelli Steckbauer is MG Design’s Director of Global Business, and for almost a decade she has been helping clients maximize their global trade show experience and find the best integrated marketing solutions for their brands. Kelli oversees the seamless flow of operations for MG Design clients as they exhibit across the globe as those international clients who need to exhibit in the U.S.