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Tamela Blalock

Women in Events: The Game, The Rules

Tamela BlalockThough I am a woman of many ideas, I am motivated by action. However, action devoid of strategy is only chaos. While there is constant motion in chaos, chaos brings madness and not change. This metaphor relates to the ongoing conversation: how to improve women’s positions in the workplace, especially in the events and meetings industry. Several articles recommend a host of different actions and I want to reference the strategy. The most prevalent reason women are not offered more senior positions is due to the lack of female executives who are well-versed in the language of strategy.

That brings us to "Monopoly".

My favorite board game is "Monopoly". In my opinion, it is an ideal assessment tool to judge how any given person would approach her/his professional career. It also will teach you how to think strategically--or show you the consequences of failing to. It metaphorically describes how specific strategic approaches are branded with either a masculine or feminine sensibility. The difference between "Monopoly" and the real world is that there is only one way to “win” in "Monopoly" and several ways to “win” in the real world. The secret to winning either engagement is answering the question: “What do you want?”

Rule #1 Decide on your endgame.

Many people don’t know this but to win in "Monopoly", you have to literally bankrupt all of the other players. "Monopoly" is not a win-win exercise; the endgame is complete domination. When I play "Monopoly", I play to completely dominate my opponents. I will have a jovial disposition the entire time, but I will “pick your bones clean” … eventually. The endgame is clear to me because I have already decided when I play "Monopoly", I play to win, and it’s all about strategy or it’s no fun at all.

The same rules apply in the real world. What do you want out of your career? What is your endgame? If you don’t have an answer to that question, no amount of mentorship, sponsorship, shadowing or informational interviews will help you to the full extent. Pick an endgame and commit to it. Don’t panic! Be ready to commit to career goals in five-year increments. If you don’t pick any end goals, the real world is definitely no fun at all.

Rule #2 Strategize the fastest paths to reach your endgame.

A strong knowledge of the rules in "Monopoly" is critical to dominating the game. An array of variables affects outcomes in "Monopoly". If you only have one strategy, you are preparing yourself for failure. Some people want to be the first to build houses/hotels, others make a mad dash for the utilities, others focus on purchasing strategically located properties. "Monopoly" can be a very long game if most of the players have no strategy. If you are a strategist playing against non-strategists, then the game doesn’t last very long at all. 

Career strategy should function in the same way. A strong knowledge of the rules is a useful foundation. The problem exists when women tend to apply all of those rules to their career strategy. Women tend to be socially generalized as “rule followers.” We typically like completing checklists and are most likely to cringe at people who take shortcuts. Most women don’t apply for a new job unless they are at least 80 percent to 90 percent qualified for that position. Women most likely wait to be invited to apply for a promotion. Women pitch one new idea or proposal for every 20 that men propose. There is no gold star waiting for us at the end of the proverbial rainbow. We should make peace with shortcuts.

Mentorship is a tool designed to provide professional advice. Sponsorship is a tool designed to provide professional access. A mentor is responsible to give you advice, and a sponsor is responsible to open doors. After you have decided your career goals, you should begin recruiting mentors and sponsors as needed. It is recommended that you confirm your strategy with your mentors and activate elements of your strategy through your sponsors. In my opinion, it is shortsighted for women to narrow their mentor and sponsor search exclusively to other female executives. 

Return to Rule #1 – What is your endgame? The gender (or race, religion, ethnicity, etc.) of the executive may not be as important as the advice and/or access that she/he is able to offer you. Once you find these people, ask for advice and ask for access. A good mentor or sponsor is going to make you earn the advice/access rather than just give it to you. You will need to manage these relationships to make sure that you get the return on investment (ROI) you are seeking from your mentors and sponsors. 

You need to nurture these relationships to leverage them as a continual resource. There needs to be a mutual trust. You should be prepared to accept and take advantage of the shortcuts that these mentors and sponsors will provide for you. You reward your mentors and sponsors by performing in the opportunities that they provide for you. Realize that, by succeeding, you become part of their legacy. 

Rule #3 Build a war chest and make very wise investments.

Everyone knows this: you have to spend money to make money. The quickest way to lose in "Monopoly" is avoid purchasing any property and attempt to hoard all of the cash you receive from passing “Go.”

Taking risks and making investments is crucial to success. Even though you are equipped with a defined endgame and encompass a set of strategies to activate, you are going to make mistakes and you are going to fail. When you make mistakes and when you fail, engage your grieving mechanism for, at most, 48 hours. Dust off your shoulders and keep moving. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying to achieve something challenging. Not all investments or trades you make in "Monopoly" will benefit you. Continue to work your strategy and take advantage of your key successes. 

The best strategies take time and patience. Adding the practice of patience to your professional strategy takes diligence and focus. Like changing to a paleo diet, the practice of patience and diligence is a lifestyle change. A common definition of the word luck is “where preparation meets opportunity.” Building your war chest is your preparation, and then you have to wait for that opportunity. The practice of preparation and patience is your competitive advantage because you will be to launch your endgame as soon as the opportunity strikes. Plan each final attack carefully; you have one chance to launch a surprise attack.

After Rule #1 and Rule #2, the most difficult step to follow is activating those strategies to reach your endgame. You may have to wait months, if not years, for certain opportunities to present themselves. Waiting is the hard part. The easy part is managing your time in the interim. If your endgame requires a certain set of skills, the interim should be spent learning and/or enhancing those skills. You can achieve this through many outlets, including volunteering for leadership positions in your local professional association, taking free online courses, attending industry education or volunteering for additional projects on your job.

"Monopoly" was originally created by a progressive woman named Elizabeth Magie in 1903, patented as The Landlord Game. Elizabeth Magie was a strong force for the cause of economic inequality and created the board game to make economic theory accessible to the masses. Like Elizabeth Magie, women can become a dominate force in any industry. We don’t need to make minor adjustments in behaviors; we need to be proactive and entitled to earning our power. How can we get started? Pick your game piece, set your strategy and, by all means, pass “Go.” We’ll be cheering for you at the finish line.

Tamela Blalock, MTA, CMP, is a co-founder and past president of the Association for Women in Events, an inclusive community dedicated to the professional advancement of women. She is also the director of membership services of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. During the past 15 years, she has worked in several Washington area institutions including the Central Intelligence Agency, Washington Redskins and George Washington University. She has a BS in Marketing from Georgetown University and a Masters in Tourism Administration from George Washington University. Blalock is also a very active member of MPI, PCMA and ASAE; she invites readers to success stories with the AWE community by using the hashtag #AWEwomen.

Photo by Chuck Fazio

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