Claire Feeney and Sophia Livett, two of the pioneering women of event safety consultancy, Symphotech, discuss how women can be perceived differently despite displaying the same competence and behaviour as men on the event site this International Woman’s Day.
“It’s easy to worry that, as a female, you have to work harder to earn the respect of the crew, but I hope that simply getting on with the job and demonstrating that I have the skills and experience needed, that becomes less of an issue.”
“I know that all young people coming into the industry have to prove their worth and I’m very aware that I’m on a learning curve. The colleagues, suppliers or clients who have worked closely with me clearly have confidence in my professionalism, but when it’s a new relationship it might sometimes take a little longer to build that trust than with my male counterparts.”
Sophia, Symphotech’s Production and Logistics Assistant, has worked in the industry for five years and been employed full-time with the event safety consultancy for two years. Despite the rising number in successful women in the events industry, Sophia still sees the stereotypes and assumptions that need to be broken.
Sophia explains, “The idea that to lead and be effective you have to be cold or hard – which doesn’t seem to apply to men – or perhaps to have enthusiasm interpreted as an emotional reaction because you’re female can be really frustrating.”
From 13 years of experience in the events industry, coupled with working in other sectors, Claire, one of Symphotech’s founding directors, looks beyond the issue and explains why she thinks this may happen.
She comments: “I think that issue is not an industry one and in fact not even a ‘women’s issue’ but rather that of a wider-world which sees assertiveness and directness as male attributes and characterises the same behaviour in women in a negative light. Similarly, passion and drive can be dismissed as emotional when shown by a woman, yet the same behaviour traits in men are interpreted positively.
“In my experience, working in a variety of industry sectors, some of which had deeply entrenched stereotypes about the differences between the work roles and styles of men and women, the differences have a lot more to do with a lack of confidence than ability. From very early years, girls are socialised differently to boys, they do well in education but don’t enter STEM subjects in the same numbers for instance, and this feeds all the way through to their working lives.
“A lot has changed and women can now enter any profession they want but more progress is still necessary. If we want to influence changes at institutional levels and banish stereotypes such as ‘girls don’t code’ or that women are likely to be ‘irrational or emotional’, then we need (and are) working on supporting and building confidence in women and girls first.
“We’d all like to see those attitudes change everywhere. I think women are now leading more in the events’ industry – Emily Eavis has set out her stall on gender equality in acts they book, and will no doubt go on to make her mark on Glastonbury Festival as a whole. There are very highly regarded and successful lighting designers, sound engineers and production managers in the business, but there is still some way to go for the industry as a whole.”
Both women agree that Symphotech may be quite unusual in the industry with two of the key founders being women. Claire comments, “We’re a strong team of both men and women, but I hope to see more women coming through into our corner of the industry as we grow – safety consultancy, noise monitoring and production or technical roles offer attractive careers that are open to everyone with the right skills and aptitudes.”
Sophia adds: “We’re all equals at Symphotech. Within our team and in my day to day work, my attitude and approach is no different to that of my male colleagues and I believe that that ultimately will influence my ability to progress far more than my gender.”
Moving forward both Claire and Sophia agreed that “we’d like to see Symphotech leveraging its success and its place in the industry as a highly qualified and experienced team of consultants and to encourage more women into the business. Women have outnumbered men on event degrees at university for years, but the sites we work on are still male dominated and it feels like it is taking too long to achieve better gender parity.”
“Of course, there are issues around working hours at shows, demanding a lot of evening and weekend work, particularly in the summer but the industry has a lot to offer and it’s about understanding all the options there are in the sector and the industry working to nurture talent across the board.”