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Event Bait: Inflated Promises, Empty Wallets, Stolen Time

Career

An invitation to an incredible event or convention arrives in your inbox, and you start to feel those little fizzy bubbles of excitement washing over you as you read through the details. They’ve promised to bring that business guru you’ve always admired to a panel, the location looks like a dream, and you’re already trying to guess what’s inside of the mysterious goodie bags they’ve sufficiently bribed you with. Visions of life-changing conversations with fellow conference-goers and bump-ins with big-name guests are already swirling around in your head, and at this point you’ve justified the hefty price tag that’ll ensure all the above is yours for the taking.


And then you arrive.

The food is lackluster, the panels offer the same old tripe you’ve heard a million times over, and you’re surround by attendees feigning smiles while the crushing regret of spending time and money to be there overwhelms every fiber of their being. But hey, at least that goodie bag sitting on your hotel bed includes some delicious caramel corn you can devour once you get through this next speaker. There’s even chocolate drizzle on it!

The $$$ Event Industry

According to the Convention Industry Council’s “Economic Significance Study of Meetings in the U.S. Economy,” roughly 225 million people spent over $550 million on corporate, not-for-profit, and association-sponsored events, conventions and trade shows in 2012. It’s important to note that this data comes from a time when the economy was still on unstable ground, and when budgets weren’t exactly robust. The study also marked a 10% increase in event attendances from 2009, and it’s safe to assume the participation number keeps rising.

Of course, a percentage of these events leave attendees feeling at least sated, if not invigorated. But there’s no denying that many fail to deliver on overinflated promises and rob you of precious time and money.

Mary Thorne, based in the pacific northwest, recently attended a ~$500 marketing conference that was paid for on behalf of her employer. Though she didn’t feel the sting associated with paying for the event herself, she was still underwhelmed and lost precious time that could have been spent on something more productive.

“They had pretty high brow speakers, and there were more than a couple that were bummers because they were almost out of touch with reality,” she explains. For example, “marketing execs from Microsoft talking about how great bots are,” or big-name company panelists discussing topics and ideas that “were either above my head or were rooted in affluence.”

Thorne says that even though there were positive aspects of the event, she still left feeling frustrated. And she’s not alone.

Travel writer Karon Warren attended one of the industry’s biggest conventions a couple years ago – covering admission, lodging and food on her own dime – and was appalled at how poorly planned and unprofessional it was from start to end.

“It was disorganized, the sessions I attended did not reflect the session description in the program, and the speed dating was a mess,” she explains.

She added that the overall vibe of the event felt more like a “party scene” than a professional conference, which further added to her frustration. She even took the time to discuss the above issues with the organizer, but with no success.

Event Planners – You Can Do Better

“With the occasional exception, my mood in conferences usually swings between boredom, despair and rage,” writes Duncan Green in a rant posted to his blog, and then later at The Guardian. As the primary conference offenders, he cites “self-aggrandizing keynotes and coma-inducing panels, followed by people (usually men) asking ‘questions’ that are really comments, and usually not on topic” and “the chairs who abdicate responsibility and let all the speakers over-run, so that the only genuinely productive bit of the day (networking at coffee breaks and lunch) gets squeezed.”

Bottom line: If people are laying out tons of cash and forfeiting their time, make their investment worth it.

For starters, go beyond the clichés – “we should empower women!” “Bots are great!” – and feature a diverse range of keynotes and panelists who offer groundbreaking, genuinely compelling information in their field of expertise. Will it be easy to find these people and pull the good stuff out of them? No. Will your efforts be worthwhile for participants? Absolutely.

Also, don’t lock attendees in a stuffy conference room and subject them to a nauseating festival of dry Powerpoints. Mix up the format with well-planned speed pitching and interactive events, and carve out plenty of time for collaborating and networking.

On that same note, long doesn’t equal better. The average attention span of humans in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, and while you’re not going to accomplish anything of significance in that period of time, you can at least be mindful of the fact that people don’t do well sitting and listening for extended periods of time. Keep the panels interesting and informative, but also make sure they’re not unnecessarily longwinded.

The moral of the story here is not that events, conventions and conferences are bad. Contrarily, it’s that they have the potential to be outstanding. So event planners, if you’re going to bait attendees, at least vow to put something really delicious on the end of that hook.

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.