Like many women in the meeting and event-planning industry, Lois A. Vining entered the field by accident.
Vining, president and owner of Event Planning Services in Indianapolis, developed an interest in meeting and event planning in 1983 when she was working as an administrative assistant for the Indiana chapter of the Dallas-based American Heart Association. Part of her responsibility was to coordinate three annual board meetings.
"I loved the meeting-planning aspect so much that every job after that I wanted to make sure had some part of meeting planning," said Vining, 55.
For the next nine years, she followed this dream by performing meeting-planning services for various companies. In 1992, she launched her own firm.
Vining's story is very common in the meeting and event-planning field, said M.J. Calman, managing director of the women's leadership initiative for Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International.
MPI, which bills itself as the world's largest association of meeting and event planners, comprises primarily females. Of the nearly 20,000 MPI members, 75 percent are women. Typical reports for the entire industry list the percentage of females at around 90 percent, Calman said.
"It's an industry that's built for women," she said. "Women are multitaskers, and obviously we have a history as caretakers, providing food, organizing events."
Those within the field agree that the industry meshes well with women's talents.
"I think there are a lot of organizational skills in this field, and women are good at that," said Michele Rogers, president and owner of Accolade of London Inc. in Indianapolis. "There are a lot of skills that you would use in bringing up a family that you would use to plan an event. Also, women are good at communication with different characters and personalities, which is a necessity in this field."
Rogers, 42, became intrigued by the event-planning industry when she was planning her own wedding. Nineteen years later, she still enjoys every day of work.
"It's never the same; it's always different and always changing," she said. "There are days when things might not be going right, but you can certainly put up with it because of the pluses."
Despite the benefits, women in the industry are burdened by the stereotypes females sometimes face in the workplace.
"We have an upside-down industry that is primarily women, yet the men are in the leadership positions," MPI's Calman said. "There is a formal attitude in corporations across the board that women are not capable of leading or as capable as men."
Of the 15,000 women who are members of MPI, only 9 percent are in leadership positions. By comparison, 30 percent of the men who belong to the association hold upper-level jobs.
Forty-six percent of women and 5 per- IBJ Photo/Robin Jerstad cent of men at Fortune 500 companies believe there is gender bias in the workplace, according to a recent study performed by Catalyst, a New York-based not-for-profit research and advisory organization that works to create inclusive work environments. Also, 77 percent of women and 39 percent of men feel women have a difficult time climbing the corporate ladder.
"There is a huge disconnect in terms of the women advancing and the men advancing," Calman said.
These issues of inequality, as well as a lack of flexible work schedules, have created a trend where women are leaping out of businesses and organizations to start their own companies.
"For some of the old stoic companies-the well-established ones-if they do not incorporate that flexibility, they will lose a great potential in critical leadership and not be able to compete for this primary work force," Calman said.
Rayna Reinholt Traylor of Indianapolis sees the flexibility of owning her business as one of the chief benefits of working in the meeting and event planning industry.
"If you are doing this as your own boss, you have much more control of your time," said Traylor, 55, who established her business-Rayna Reinholt Traylor Special Events-in 1989. "You can work your schedule around your family and your home. I found that it was really beneficial when my daughter was young, because I could spend time with her during the day, and then I could go into the office in the evening."
Traylor, who began her event-planning career with 10 years of experience in the hotel industry, continually tells eager women they should work in the hotel industry or join a catering company before jumping into the meeting and event-planning industry.
"Part of that is [to gain] knowledge of the industry, but it's also a great source for networking and meeting people you can work with down the road," she said.
Previous experience also enables women to make sure they are truly interested in joining the industry.
"I recommend that women volunteer on a project," Rogers said. "It helps them see if there is a particular field they would like to be involved with."
Despite the hardships faced by some women in the meeting and event-planning industry, the large number of females in the field speaks for itself.
The reason? There exists a great opportunity for women to succeed, to be their own boss and to level the playing field, Vining said.
"If you are really good at what you do, the possibilities are endless," she said. "If I was not doing what I was doing, I would probably still be a secretary somewhere."
Lois A. Vining, president of Event Planning Services, was an administrative assistant when she started planning meetings.