I’ve worked in the brand experience industry for 20 years. I love it so much, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
But these decades have also shown me that women on this side of the industry face specific challenges that come from the often peripatetic nature of working in brand experiences.
First up, the good news: both genders are well represented across the industry as a whole. However, research from a sample of 2,000 people working in events showed that only 16% of women had directorial positions versus 32% of men.
Likewise, we are also underrepresented in production, crew and tech roles. So it’s crucial we look at what we can do to ensure women are attracted to, and stay in, the industry.
The brand experiences sector has little regard for the nine-to-five working day construct, especially when we’re hurtling towards that all-important live date.
Staff are expected to work extended hours, and the demands for working on-site at event venues can take people away from home and office for long periods of time.
With women known to shoulder the majority of the childcare and domestic chores, these OOO demands can be extra challenging for women.
Then there's the fact that event sites are often male-dominated, mainly due to the antisocial hours and the physical nature of the work. This makes them the perfect environments for powerful biases and skewed cultures that leave women in brand experiences even more vulnerable to sexual harassment.
Although harassment may take place during work hours, there’s a large chance it will be outside the workplace and its associated HR jurisdiction. So even if safeguarding policies are in place, they may not always be immediately accessible.
To empower women in on-site management roles, we need clearer rules and systems to deal with issues that happen outside the office.
This can be achieved by only taking on clients and suppliers with similar values, and running onboarding sessions on acceptable practices.
Because men are largely still in charge of the brand experiences sector, sexism and unconscious bias are still evident. This is especially true for production and technical roles that have been traditionally viewed by men as for men.
Similarly, for leadership and board level roles, there is a persistent glass ceiling, in part because many still equate leadership with stereotypically male behaviours. This issue is compounded by the fact that women are statistically more likely to have confidence issues.
To combat underlying inequality, leaders need a clearer understanding of their teams’ individual situations. This way, personalised flexible working patterns can be applied when planning projects.
For example, time off In lieu and childcare vouchers could be offered to provide extra support.
Moreover, understanding and support should be actively encouraged for working mothers and those returning after maternity leave. Rather than penalising these people for lack of flexibility, brand experience workplaces must be inclusive when it comes to parental needs.
Training also has a big role to play. We need to train men and women to avoid unconscious bias within people management; train recruiters on fair and equitable hiring practices; provide leadership and confidence training for women; and offer internships with gender parity.
Mentorship and coaching are similarly important to increase female leadership and empowerment. Women considering the sector as a career choice, or wanting to progress within the industry, can struggle to see a path to leadership as there aren’t many visible role models.
So, let’s make more effort to celebrate the achievements of women in this space; let’s proactively share examples of women who have flourished in senior roles.
We need to empower our female leaders to champion the industry for other women, while demystifying the career development path with clear and transparent progression planning and robust tracking and feedback processes.
The brand experiences side of adland provides an inspiring space, where every day is different. It has so much to offer. But until we all put more women-inclusive policies in place, this wondrous sector won’t benefit from the diverse range of experiences, insights and approaches that’s brought about by true gender parity.
Tracy Sorgiovanni is managing director of We Are Collider