She Means Business - An interview with Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO Business Events Sydney

4th Apr, 2018

She Means Business: Join the Conversation at IMEX 2018 in Frankfurt

Gender equality and female empowerment have never been higher on the news agenda and these issues are now, rightly, being given the due recognition they deserve – across the meetings and events sector – and society at large. At a new conference during EduMonday at IMEX in Frankfurt, pioneering women will share their experiences, provide valuable advice and inspire action.

Inspirational women from around the world will share their perspectives on the current climate at She Means Business, taking place the day before the show on Monday 14 May. Meeting and event strategists – both female and male – are invited to network and learn from a packed programme of highly influential speakers and mentors. Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of Business Events Sydney, will speak at the first She Means Business conference taking place on 14 May 2018, as part of IMEX in Frankfurt.


Lyn Lewis-SmithYou are hosting the Global Summit for Women that takes place in April this year. Can you please tell us a bit more about this event and why you have chosen to host it this year?

The Global Summit of Women, known as Davos for women, is an annual summit dedicated to accelerating women’s advancement in the global economy.

The event brings together 1,000 global leaders from across the public, private and non-profit sectors in more than 60 countries. It provides an environment in which to share creative strategies and practical working solutions that delegates can then take away and adapt in their own organisations and environments.

The time is right to bring this event to Australia. Both to showcase some of the initiatives we have in place, and also learn from other countries who have adopted successful solutions.

In Australia we have seen real progress towards empowering women in recent years, with some high-profile initiatives creating traction:

  • Targets for ASX 200 –the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ (AICD) have set a goal of ASX 200 companies reaching 30% female representation on their boards by the end of 2018
  • 50/50 by 2030 Foundation– a bold initiative,  established by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) at the University of Canberra, that has the aspirational target of reaching gender parity within leadership in the public sector by 2030
  • Male Champions of Change– an initiative where high-profile male leaders have committed to move the dial on gender diversity
  • Chief Executive Women– an organisation dedicated to ‘women leaders enabling women leaders’. They provide a scholarship program to support senior women at critical stages in their careers.
  • Office for Women– sitting within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Office works across government to deliver policies and programmes to advance gender equality and improve the lives of Australian women

These and other initiatives have helped us make significant progress. But there is more to do.

For example, in the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, we climbed to 35th out of 144 countries – up 11 places from 2016. However, the latest Economist Glass Ceiling Report highlighted that women still earn 14% less than men on average.

In terms of board representation, 70% of ASX 200 companies have now reached or exceeded their 30% representation. But progress here has stalled, and the monthly appointment rate of women directors has gone backwards. We risk not hitting the target by the end of this year if we don’t reverse that decline.

The AICD’s latest quarterly report also highlights that there are still eight ASX 200 companies without a single female board member. And just 10 female CEOs.

So, despsite the progress, change is still too slow and another leap forward is needed. Hosting the Global Summit of Women will provide the perfect catalyst for this.

The theme of the 2018 Summit — “Women: Creating Economies of Shared Value” — highlights the ability of women to develop a more inclusive economy as women advance their own businesses and careers. Can you please tell us a bit more what is meant by this theme? Why have you chosen this theme for this year?

This year’s theme is really about connecting women with each other, sharing ideas, solutions and advice, and helping them establish and grow their global networks.

One specific goal for this year’s Summit in Sydney is to open up the Australian and broader Indo-Pacific market to delegates.

Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment across the region, particularly through the work done by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The Summit creates a forum to bring Indo-Pacific nations together, highlight their challenges and equip them with the knowledge, tools and technologies to go and create change in their personal and professional lives.

Business Events Sydney is working closely with DFAT to maximise attendance from the region, and we have great representation from senior ministers and business leaders across the Pacific on our list of speakers.

There will also be a ‘Women CEO Forum’ on Defining the Workplace of the Future – how does the ideal workplace of the future look for you?

The most successful companies of the future will be diverse and inclusive. It’s important to distinguish between the two, because you can only truly harness the benefits of a diverse organisation if you also create an inclusive environment.

Diversity is about making sure companies have men and women who bring with them a wealth of different perspectives, experiences and areas of expertise. That mix should be seen on their boards and leadership teams, but also throughout the organisation.

Inclusion is about making sure that all of those groups are given equal respect and the same opportunities to contribute, progress, manage and lead.

For that to happen, companies must help their leaders and employees recognise and eliminate unconscious bias. This is the only way to stop people making judgements or decisions based on their own personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context. It is not an easy thing to change, but it’s such an important part of creating a truly inclusive workplace.

Then it’s about having the systems, processes and technology that enable employees to work in a way that suits their own unique circumstances, while still making the most valuable contribution they can.

You also offer skills-building sessions at the Summit. What is your idea behind this? Do you think that women have to get better in ‘male skills’ in order to be successful?

This is all about sharing solutions to challenges that women typically face.

A big part of these sessions is about getting organisations to recognise and value the different skills that women bring – not expecting those women to adapt to fit into a traditionally male environment.

But the sessions are also about equipping women with the confidence to go after their ambition – be that to make it onto a board, secure investment for a new business venture or move into a new role.  

Talking female ‘Role Models’, can you share with us what inspires you in a women and why?

I am most inspired by women who have authenticty and courage, and who operate with a strong set of core values.

That means having the authenticity to be true to who they are and to their values, and not try to change just to fit in or progress within their organisation. The most inspirational women are those who know their own worth, but are also not afraid to ask for advice from others when they need it.

And then the courage to speak up, challenge the status quo, seize opportunities when they are presented, and make themselves an invaluable seat at any table.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank all the women who have been an inspiration to me and many others. The trailblazers who set the path for me and my peers to follow, and the storytellers who provide guidance and encouragement to our emerging leaders.

What´s your perspective on how women can drive business growth as business leaders and consumers?

Succesful businesses truly understand their customers, and build their offer around those customers’ needs, preferences and expectations. One of the best ways to really understand your target customer audience is to make sure that audience is also well-represented within the organisation.

We know that women have by far the biggest purchasing power. According to a 2015 report by EY, women will control 80% of all discretionary consumer spending worldwide by 2028. Those female consumers are also entrepeneurs and business leaders who can provide first-hand insight that will help companies deliver products and services in a way their largest audience want to receive them.

Yet too many businesses with large female customer bases still have minimal – if any – female representation on their board or within the senior leadership. So the biggest customers have the smallest voice. That has to change.

You are speaking at the first She Means Business conference on the day prior to IMEX on May 14th 2018 in Frankfurt. This event celebrates women in the international event industry. Why do you see that the gender discussion is crucial especially for the global Business Events industry and why now?

The gender discussion is crucial for any industry, in both the public and private sector.

We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. And the only way we will get where we need to be is to keep talking about it, keep setting bold targets to focus us, and keep throwing a spotlight on what needs to change.

We have so many incredibly talented women within the business events industry, and toursim more broadly, and that is something we should celebrate. However, there are still nowhere near enough women at the very top of the industry, and this is why we need to continue the conversation within our industry as much as any other.

What does the Business Events industry need to see more women in leading positions at C-level?

With so much female talent, we have a great opportunity to set the benchmark when it comes to diversity at a C-suite level, but we still haven’t put enough focus on this within the industry.

We need to do more to make sure there are clear career paths for women both before and after they go on maternity leave. Too often when women choose to have a family, they are not given the chance or the encouragement to keep progressing after they return to work. It is our responsibility to make sure that women are given the same opportunities when they return as they had when they left, and give them the support to take full advantage of those opportunities.

It’s often said that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, so we need to help more women become visible role models that others will look to and follow.

Lyn will speak at the first She Means Business conference taking place on 14 May 2018, as part of IMEX in Frankfurt.

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