Women Rule The World: A prime example of women thriving in live entertainment took place at Pollstar Live in February, showcasing leaders in venue operations, artist management, promoters and talent agencies.
Advancing the careers of female executives isn’t just about having a seat at the table; it’s about having a clear path to the seat at the top.
Gone are the days when parents would pick gender-neutral baby names for their daughters so their future resumés would be considered, alongside their male counterparts. Family dynamics are shifting and so are career choices for women.
Proactive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practices are opening doors and minds to the impact and contributions of women and people of color across all segments of the industry. The annual VenuesNow Women of Live roster of female leaders illustrates the need for continued programs at every level from college internships to the C-suite.
“I feel like women are the backbone in the live business,” said Women of Live honoree Amy Venable, ticketing director at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and Tanger Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. “Often it is the women behind the scenes that are challenging the status quo and looking for new ways to do things. The industry is evolving to be more inclusive and to give more women a seat at the table. I think women still feel like they have more to prove and it takes longer to be given that opportunity.”
On the frontline are the human resources professionals responsible for advancing recruitment, training and education programs that target underrepresented groups, and doing so at a time when staffing shortages have plagued the business.
Ann Jackson, chief people and culture officer for Oak View Group (VenuesNow’s parent company), said the company has taken an intentional and holistic approach to recruiting women at all levels. As a global company, feedback from women has informed programs including the creation of a women’s networking group that has 400 members.
“We have a global culture and within that we have pockets of culture,” Jackson said. “We have an overall philosophy that is more sprawling while we pinpoint the needs of different communities. I don’t want to sit in my office and tell you what you want. I want you to tell me what you want. One size does not fit all and we are being very mindful about including everyone in the conversation.”
Sometimes those conversations start before women are hired.
“Our internship program took off,” said Tracey Jenkins, senior vice president of HR for foodservice and hospitality giant Sodexo Live! North America. “Last year, we brought in 55 interns and we have 75 to 80 this year. To date, we have hired 10 to 12 full time. That’s one of our keys: building that pipeline early and giving them a great experience.”
“We gave out 28 scholarships last year in the U.S. and next year that will be global,” said Shauna Elvin, chief human resources officer for venue management company ASM Global. “There’s a vetting process, certainly, but at the end, the majority of the scholarships went to women. We’re really committed and focused on women in leadership.”
Hiring practices have evolved, with companies mandating that job slates contain female and minority candidates. When offers are made, pay equity is a priority for many businesses.
“We have challenged ourselves and our venues to make sure women make up 50 percent of the hiring slate for all roles, particularly for manager level and above,” Elvin said.
If the slate isn’t diverse, ASM Global’s corporate HR department won’t authorize the hire. In 2022, their overall workforce was equally split between men and women. Forty-five percent of managerial positions are held by women. Over the past year, women in the workforce have increased 20 percent.
Sodexo Live! has a similar policy that requires balanced slates. Jenkins said getting compliance isn’t an issue, but identifying where to locate potential hires is a factor.
“If you are accustomed to fishing in one fishing hole and all you are catching is catfish, you’re never going to get a trout,” Jenkins explained. “We want to make sure you have trout and whatever other fish there are out there. So, we are trying to enrich that pool.”
Once engaged, it’s important to balance the realities of a demanding job with flexible schedules, job sharing and working remotely that have become the new paradigm for a labor force that craves work/life balance.
“We’ve got to get more creative and innovative,” Jenkins said. ”Many people don’t want to work full time anymore.”
Elvin recalled picking up her son from day care and keeping him under her desk when she first started working for the company 28 years ago. “That has shifted so much and positively over the years as the family dynamics have changed,” she said. “We talk about equality in the workplace, but there’s more of an expectation of equality in the home life.”
When she started, “unsociable hours” working nights and weekends contributed to the male-dominated industry. When women were offered career advancing opportunities – for instance a better job at a venue in another city – women were often faced with weighing career advancement with family needs including childcare and spousal/partner considerations.
“Women were limited by their ability to transfer and companies have gotten smarter about that,” Elvin said. “Women are looking at their careers so much differently now, which has opened up many more opportunities.”
Once on board, female staffers want help to navigate company culture.
“They want access,” Jackson added, noting that female staffers generally want access to women leaders and resources. “We are there to support that … We try and make sure that there are levels of communication so that people are now more aware of what’s going on and there is a feedback channel.”
Sodexo Live! launched She Leads, a global mentorship program for women, in October 2022. The inaugural class is taking part in a nine-month program that will introduce them to other female leaders globally within the organization and help them learn more about their individual leadership styles. Sodexo Live! is committed to having women represent at least 40 percent of its global leadership by 2025. Currently, women represent 60 percent of Sodexo’s board members and 45 percent of the executive committee.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to be guided by several mentors in my life, who saw more in me than I saw in myself and had a genuine investment in my success and fulfillment — not just as an employee, but as a mother, a community member and a human,” said Women of Live honoree Belinda Oakley, CEO North America for Sodexo Live!
Early on, employees want to have a clear career path. “We want women to realize, not only do you have potential, but you have support at every level of the organization,” said Jackson. “Find out what is important so we can put resources behind that.”
Instead of a career ladder, Jenkins mentions a “career lattice” to retain the talent and identify advancement opportunities. “We have to make those pathways now and tell our younger generation, ‘You are doing a great job. Here are some things to work on and we are going to make a pathway for you,’” Jenkins said. “Open and honest communication is critical.”
In 2023, mentor programs take many shapes. At OVG, 10 women executives are participating in Chief, a private membership network connecting and supporting female leaders. A new program launching at Sodexo is open to all employees rather than being hand-picked.
At ASM Global in 2023, Elvin said they are tapping the experience of more than 1,500 female executives who are directors and above as mentors. Other programs benefiting women include ASM Global ACTS, the corporate social responsibility platform and the ASM Global training academy.
“As we bring more women in as general manager or that equivalent level they will soon be VPs or SVPs and they will be the big decision makers,” Jenkins said. “They will be the ones around the table changing how we think and look and feel.”