Ben Hainsworth, Executive Director for Associations with K.I.T. Group GmbH Berlin, and a PCMA Board Member as from January 2016, is a smart male leader who understands the importance of gender parity. And with good reason. From the beginning of his career onwards, Hainsworth has had the privilege of working almost exclusively with some of the most respected women in the Meeting Industry.
Could you give us a brief overview of your background?
I grew up in a very multicultural and diverse environment in North London. After a degree in Languages and European Studies, I joined the London based think-tank Policy Studies Institute in the early 90’s, and believe it or not, my first boss was a woman! Professor Isobel Allen, Head of Health and Social Policy at the University of Westminster, was a great source of inspiration. And the idea of having a woman as a boss didn’t seem surprising to me.
How did you become involved in the Meeting Industry?
I guess it was my destiny! My wife-to-be was working in publishing in London, and when she was offered a position with the ESC (European Society of Cardiology) near Nice, I followed her to the South of France. Soon after, I joined the ESC Congress Department as an Exhibition Coordinator. I had my baptism of fire with the World Congress of Cardiology in Berlin; my first experience with a large-scale medical congress. After several positions within the ESC Congress department, I was appointed Director of Congresses and Meetings fifteen years later. Then, nearly two years ago, I joined the PCO and AMC K.I.T. Group in Berlin, so I’m back to where it all began!
While most of your managers have been female, you have had a couple of male managers. Have you encountered any obvious gender-related differences in their management styles?
Definitely not. I don’t think gender defines a style of management. Each manager brings his or her own style of management and I am very wary of generalizations. What I have noticed though, as an observation, is that the women I have worked with have achieved a healthier perspective of work/life balance. I think this has an influence on how they manage themselves and therefore a direct influence on how they manage others.
The ESC for example has a huge majority of female directors in key positions, not only in the Congress Division but also in Finance, HR, Communication, Marketing, Association Management, Advocacy and Representation. Not to mention the fact that the CEO is a woman. Female leaders are clearly the majority in this association HQ and I have often been the only male manager in a meeting, so my experience may not be typical.
How do you explain that?
I really cannot explain why the ESC HQ is female driven. I have no doubt that the best candidates who applied for a given post were selected every time. Perhaps it is linked to the geographical location or the Association context, I don’t know. It is well known that far more women than men work in the Meeting Industry, but not enough at top positions. Still, I would say that there is a trend towards an increasing number of female CEOs and Board members in specific environments of the Meeting Industry, such as Associations, Agencies, PCO, AMC or CVB. For example, PCMA, Berlin CVB or IMEX are led by first-rate female CEOs. So more and more women do get through the glass ceiling. In Academia, female leaders are well represented too and there seems to be quite a good parity. I am not sure about the management in Hospitality, Venues and Airlines where the glass ceiling seems to be more of a problem as the amount of C-Level women is rather low and more progress is required. Creating a gender balance in the Meeting Industry Technologies is definitely required too and progress needs to be made on that front because I think women probably have better innate empathy skills rather than a more typically pushy male approach.
How would you improve gender balance?
Complementarity is very important to me and gender balance leads to complementarity. At all levels of an organization, including its management, diversity is key. In my experience, when the Board is managed by one gender only, it is sometimes harder to achieve results than when both genders are represented. Negotiations seem to be more difficult when the group is dominated by one gender, whereas with a good gender balance on a Board, I feel diversity makes it easier to compromise, and creates an environment which is more conducive to efficient achievement of results. I think that there is more often than not a more open and inclusive way of management –both of people and issues. I think that a mixed group of people, with different perspectives, is less likely to get mired down in personal ‘disagreements’ and more likely to address the real issues. On the other hand I don’t see the ability or willingness to delegate effectively to be a specifically gender defined trait.
Networking and mentoring are often the two main pieces of advice given to the young generation of women who aim to have a successful career. What would your advice be?
Networking and mentoring are definitely important. I am not sure if it is gender related or that young women need them more than young men, I’d say they’re important for all young professionals. To be inspired by role models is key. I never had a career plan in mind and I spent a big chunk of my career at the ESC, so female management was just part of my daily professional life from the start. I am really grateful to the leaders I have met along the way, both men and women. When Wil F.J. Neijmann, CEO and Founder of the ESC Headquarters hired me, he certainly opened my eyes to the business and gave me the inspiration to get into the Meeting Industry. After that, Isabel Bardinet confirmed my interest and helped me appreciate the philosophy behind the role of associations. Finally, being with the PCO K.I.T. Group now, I am impressed by the business acumen and determination of its Managing Director, Jocelyne Mülli. To conclude, as a male professional surrounded by female leaders, I can only but encourage gender diversity at all levels, right to the top, to enable more empathy and achieve better results.
Interview by Maguy Sicuro (Managing Director SICURO EVENTS, VP Membership MPI France-Switzerland).
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