The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Conference (WBENC) returned to a live trade show format in 2022, after an absence of two years due to the pandemic. Just in time to celebrate its 25th year as an organization! WBENC is the most relied upon certification organization for women-owned businesses and for providing the tools to help them succeed.
The conference is the largest event of its kind for women business owners and this year everyone was thrilled to be together again to reconnect with colleagues and friends, gain opportunities, and offer support for women entrepreneurs.
TPG’s President and CEO, Christina Piedlow, was on hand for all the excitement, sessions, exhibits and opportunities. Because WBENC offers such a dynamic and diverse network, it brought to mind some timely questions. Here are Christina’s insights and inspirations from the conference.
As an event marketing agency specializing in virtual and live trade show and event marketing experiences, what was it like participating in WBENC as an attendee? Anything eye-opening to report from being on the other side?
It’s always exciting to experience an event as an attendee. I notice everything! I take note on the registration experience, food, transportation, COVID restrictions, how exhibitors are engaging, the environment, and the general energy from attendees. Because I’ve been to many F2F events since COVID restrictions have been lifted at the state and federal levels, it hadn’t occurred to me just how many people would be venturing to a large in-person event for the first time. That was eye-opening. There is still a lot of COVID anxiety out there. The restrictions show management put in place helped put everyone at ease.
What did you see or experience that was particularly impressive at WBENC?
A couple of things stood out about the conference. As already mentioned, there were robust COVID protocols in place that made all attendees and exhibitors feel safer. There were food options that catered to a variety of dietary restrictions. InfoMart, one of the largest women-owned companies in Atlanta, extended their footprint beyond the trade show floor during the opening reception by creating a cause marketing experience allowing attendees to fill up kits of supplies for a local women’s shelter. They added a competitive element by pitting the WBEs against the Corporate Members with a leaderboard. Anyone that filled a bag was entered to win a Remarkable Tablet. It was a great way for InfoMart to share their story and create an engaging activation for a worthy cause.
What types of businesses were represented by women CEOs and entrepreneurs at WBENC? Were you surprised by the types of businesses represented?
There were women business owners in nearly every industry represented at WBENC. Construction, medical devices, exhibitry, food service, apparel, jewelry, transportation and logistics, you name it. While I wasn’t surprised by the variety or types of businesses represented, I was delighted to see women in businesses more traditionally owned by men. It was also refreshing to see increasing numbers of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ owners as well.
You’ve been in the events industry for over 20 years. What are the changes you’ve seen and experienced regarding the opportunities for women in the events industry?
The opportunities for women have grown immensely over the past two decades. The events team usually falls under marketing, and women now comprise the majority of the marketing industry workforce at over 60%. 99% of events businesses are small businesses according to the Exhibitor Contractors Alliance, and 40% of all businesses in the U.S. are woman-owned (Forbes). This means more opportunities for women within the event space. The mindset around event teams has changed as well. Brand ambassadors used to be called models, hostesses, or (ICK!) booth babes. While we still see some sexism in this role, generally brand ambassadors are now recognized and valued as being an integral part of the team, and a worthwhile investment to maximize ROI. As the disparity between men and women lessens in the workforce, and the gender pay gap decreases, we are going to see more women attending and speaking at events as well.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Women make up only 25% of C-Suite Executives at the top 1,000 companies. Yet, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases and over 80% of healthcare decisions. I’m proud of how the events industry has changed but am looking forward to seeing it continue to provide new opportunities to women.
WBENC is celebrating 25 years! The last time you attended this conference was in 2019. Tell us a little bit about the spirit and mood at the show. It must have been wonderful to see everybody in person again.
I have enjoyed attending all of these “first shows back.” The energy is palpable. People are excited to see familiar faces and make new connections in a way that wasn’t available to them for the past couple of years. I especially love the WBENC National Conference because you have a room full of powerful women celebrating their businesses and accomplishments. It’s a supportive community, who, while being powerful and hungry for new business for their own organizations, are also interested in helping peers grow their businesses.
Becoming an official Certified Women Owned Business was a watershed moment for TPG. What are the advantages of being a Certified Women Owned Business and how does it add value to the events industry?
Being a Certified WBE means an additional opportunity to have a seat at the table. We are a boutique agency and do amazing work, but without our certification, many brands would not be aware of our capabilities. We enjoy working with brands that are committed to supporting diverse suppliers, and we like to work with diverse partners. Diversity in any industry allows for multiple perspectives. In the events industry is important because we cater to all different audiences.
Any other reasons diversity should be important to an organization?
There are two reasons why diversity is so important in the workplace. As I just mentioned, it allows for multiple perspectives and experiences. This promotes creativity, better problem-solving, and the ability to learn from each other. It also promotes inclusion in marketing and sales efforts. The more a brand relates to its diverse consumers, the more likely those consumers are to buy from that brand. Here are some wonderful statistics about inclusion marketing. The second reason, and probably the more important one, is that it promotes equality and kindness among human beings. Everyone should be given the same opportunities, yet we live in a society with severely disadvantaged groups. It’s time for a change.
What were a couple of the wins achieved by attending WBENC? And why would you suggest that women (and men!) attend this conference and become involved in the organization?
The biggest wins were the connections I made and the opportunities to meet with so many supplier diversity professionals at one time. Several doors were opened for our organization, and I also had the opportunity to attend some educational sessions. Trade shows are the perfect avenue for meeting multiple people in an industry at one time, which is why I would suggest that anyone from a certified diverse organization attend the show applicable to their diversity classification. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn how to do business with large brands and government organizations.
Do you have an overarching business philosophy that serves TPG well in the events industry?
Our mission is to delight our clients and their customers through extraordinary experiences. We do so with results-oriented, strategic creative and a nimble team with good character. We are recognized for our warmth and authenticity, and our genuine care for our clients, their brands, and their customers. At TPG, we believe in the power of the human connection, and it has served us well for nearly 30 years.
What are your final thoughts about WBENC and the return of the conference this year? Anything we didn’t cover?
I’m just happy that face-to-face events are coming back! It’s been a challenging couple of years, and it’s exciting to see the momentum and excitement throughout the industry. TPG is a proud WBENC member, and we congratulate WBENC on their 25th anniversary milestone!
Related: TPG’s President + CEO Talks About the Power of Diversity
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