Background on Women-Only Events
Events dedicated specifically to women in business began to arise against a background of stark inequality in the business world. Today, women are still underrepresented in almost every aspect of business. Globally, “women represent only 30 percent of first- and mid-level sales management roles, and 20 percent of department head or general manager type roles.”
At the top of the food chain, women are also overlooked, making up only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions at the S&P 500 companies. Additionally, most female entrepreneurs work alone, according to the National Women’s Business Council which says “89 percent of women who own companies are solo entrepreneurs.” Without clear role models or direct support within their companies, women didn’t like their odds — and subsequently, put their heads together to figure out how to improve them.
Among other solutions, the creation of events has proven to be a good way for women in business to access resources that otherwise aren’t available to them. Women-only social clubs are not a new concept. In fact, they have been around since the 1800s and can be credited as forming the foundations of the women’s rights movement. Their reincarnation as hubs for women in business is definitely more recent. Usually, these events will feature a guest speaker or a panel and time for networking; sometimes they include more hands-on elements, such as workshops. They often bring together women who share a similar interest under the business umbrella or are from a similar racial/ethnic background.
Examples of popular events for female entrepreneurs include:
- NAWBO National Women’s Business Conferences
- Black Enterprise Women in Power Summit
- Professional Business Women of California (PBWC) Conference
- Canada Women in Business Conference
- London Business School's Annual Women in Business Conference
- Forbes Women’s Summit
- Inc. Women's Summit
These are just a few of the many events hosted across the globe, tailoring to a multitude of interests and backgrounds with the intention of empowering women to take the next step in growing their businesses. Here is a breakdown of upcoming events for women in business by month. Attendance at these events usually surpasses thousands — bringing together women of all age groups. These types of women-only events now comprise a large portion of the estimated $14 billion conference and trade show industry. Clearly, people are showing up. But what are they actually getting out of it?
Do These Events Actually Work?
Shawn Achor is the Chief Experience Officer for BetterUp and a frequent speaker at women in business events. At the start of a Harvard Business Review article, Achor tells the story of flying back from a conference he was speaking at when the man on the plane next to him said “I’m all for equality, but I’m not sure what a good conference will do.” This sparked a line of research for Achor, who wanted to determine once and for all if events of this nature actually have a tangible impact on female entrepreneurs post-attendance.
Using a group of 2,600 working women “across all functions and industries attending Conferences for Women in several U.S. states,” the study examined several outcomes that happened during the year after women attended a conference. The study analyzed in particular two types of positive outcomes for attendees:
- financial outcomes (pay raises and promotions)
- intellectual outcomes (increased optimism, lower stress levels, and feeling a connection).
The results really speak to the benefits of these events. Of the women who attended the event, 42 percent received a promotion within a year, versus a rate of 18 percent for those who were yet to attend the conference. That means that the likelihood of receiving a promotion doubled for those in attendance.
Additionally, attendees of the events tripled the likelihood of a 10 percent+ pay increase. After attending, 78 percent said they felt more optimistic about the future; optimism having been proven a key determining factor in success as it “can create a ‘happiness advantage,’ where nearly every business and educational outcome improves as a result.”
Finally, 71 percent of the women reported feeling “more connected to others” post-attendance. As networking and creating connections are touted as the greatest benefits of these events, it’s useful to see that these claims are backed by research.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Without fail, successful women in business emphasize the importance of networking, a key benefit of events for female entrepreneurs. In a Forbes article, Jennifer Justice, the President of corporate development at Superfly, commented on how she’s benefited from these networking opportunities: “It helps keep me top of mind for business opportunities, allowed me to have a network to ask advice, and enabled me to understand the current market terms of business. There is no downside to networking.”
Justice did have some critiques of the current model that women use for their networking events, hinting that some diversity in the types of activities could go a long way. “Men go to different types of events like sports, golf, and conferences. Women tend to go to events that don’t last as long as dinners, breakfasts, lunches, and conferences in their hometown or those that only last a day or so and take place during the week.” She pointed out that there are few conferences that blend women from across all industries, such as the Makers conference, explaining that cross-pollinating is helpful for all aspects of leadership.
UPWARD Women DC Metro Advisory Board Member Susan Pelczynski spoke about the benefits of the events she helps oversee, which focus specifically on helping directorial-level women get to the c-suite (chief level) or corporate board of their companies. “One of the things that we do in our networking events for UPWARD is we come to the table with, ‘How can I help you in your career?’ … In order to stay focused on how to help each other with business, it’s showing and saying, ‘How can I help you? What specifically do you need? And how can I be active in going that next step to support you with that?’ We’re getting to that business relationship faster and deeper than if we show up with the intention of meeting people.”
Clearly, with a good organization, these events can be extremely beneficial to women. Female founders are able to find funding, create networks, stay up-to-date on the latest happenings in their industries, and learn from the best of the best. Especially within industries that don’t exactly favor women, these connections can prove invaluable. However, you shouldn’t walk into a networking event with sky-high expectations. It takes time to form connections, and you probably need to find the event that’s right for you. We all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day.