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Steps to success

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Conference News reporter Louisa Daley explores how women can build a successful career at the highest levels in the exhibitions industry, and how future generations of women are encouraged to follow suit.

There can be many obstacles in the workplace, but your gender, alongside many other factors, should not prevent your success. So why are there less female event professionals in C-Level positions across the industry?

To investigate this question, Exhibition News hosted its second Women in Exhibitions virtual event: ‘The Road to Success’ on 15 July, which was moderated by CN editor, Martin Fullard. The virtual event introduced six of the most successful women in the European Chapter, who shared their experiences and advice on how to build an outstanding career in the exhibitions industry, despite the potential obstacles women face in their careers.

The female panellists included Lori Hoinkes, managing director of Montgomery Events; Daria Smith, a senior event leader; Tamar Beck, CEO of Gleanin; Kellie Reynolds, head of operations at IDEX; Alison Jackson, managing director at Nineteen Group alongside Katariina Rohrbach, managing director at Hannover Fairs Asia-Pacific.

Across the board, the event professionals revealed that they didn’t plan to enter the exhibition industry. In fact, their path was “not a straight line, but a zig zag” says Hoinkes.

Instead, they originated from diverse backgrounds such as the military, publishing, sales and accountancy and eventually “fell into the industry” says Beck. However, Jackson reveals “once you’re in, you’re in for good” because you “immediately know it’s the right job for you”, adds Beck.

Perhaps this passionate feeling stems from how our industry is constantly evolving, which provides event professionals with so many opportunities to transform it, Hoinkes suggests. The topic of gender equality in the workplace, particularly for female career progression, is something that needs this attention.

Statistics show that 60-70% of female event professionals are in middle management positions, whilst only 9-10% are represented on board levels, despite the tremendous amount of talented women in the exhibitions industry. This has resulted in women leaving the industry to launch their own successful shows, as they have ultimately reached the top and are unable to “break down those invisible barriers” states Beck.

“Let’s be clear, this issue isn’t exclusive to our industry,” Jackson argues. At any business, “in the middle of the building there’s lots of talented women, but as you go further up, something happens, and they disappear.” However, we should refrain from comparing ourselves to other industries and instead of waiting for the issue to slowly improve, take action and even learn from one another.

The industry has an “opportunity to collaborate and change this to make sure women have the support, guidance, experience and exposure they need to go after these positions”, argues Hoinkes.

So, where can we start?

Firstly,Reynolds advises to pay attention to the “criteria, experiences and characteristics” of who you are appointing into C-Level positions. She reveals many companies choose stereotypical “male attributes”, such as taking credit, Smith adds.

Whereas, companies don’t look for stereotypical “feminine” traits such as empathy or being collaborative, proposes Reynolds and Smith. They add that ultimately, this causes women’s contribution to be “under-looked and undervalued.” Perhaps all of these attributes are of equal value and are not necessarily assigned to just one gender. Recognising this will allow us to move away from this unconscious stereotyping that men and women do to one another. By inviting more ‘female’ attributes, we can “elevate women without pushing them to adapt to masculine norms, which will help advance women’s careers”, Smith continues.

Next, Beck recommends encouraging male event professionals to actively get involved in the conversation. She states, “the same men at the top of our industry are the key to unlocking this”, we must have this conversation together in order to bring change. Yes, men and women are different, and that’s okay.

Although, this doesn’t mean men should be excluded from the conversation or stay silent. It’s time to realise “we are better together, and we complement each other,” Jackson says. This isn’t just about women supporting women, it’s about everyone supporting each other.

More specifically for future female event professionals, the panellists advise to consider three key concepts.

The first is to be “bold and vocal about what you want” as Hoinkes and Rohrbach suggest. If you’re a female entering the industry, don’t wait to be asked, recognised or promoted.

Seek out potential opportunities and promotions. Hoinkes reassures future generations that it’s great to want to succeed, to grow and to develop.

This could be through “assuming responsibility” for a task or project and even something as simple as “taking initiative”, says Hoinkes. Remember, you must believe in yourself, if you want others to believe in you too.

The second is to find a good mentor or coach, say Smith and Reynolds. A good mentor can “help identify your strengths and support your professional growth and personal branding.” Your personal branding is particularly vital when working remotely, as our online presence is increasing to keep everyone connected. The next time you’re on LinkedIn, consider adding some fresh content and reach out to a new network of professionals and exchange your expertise online. These steps will not only ensure you’re ready for the return of the industry, but for new opportunities of growth.

Most importantly, Jackson and Reynolds urge the next generation of women to “be your true self” and to “be kinder to yourself”. Remember, success in any industry is personal and can only be defined by you. For some it may be money or status, whilst for others its the freedom to enjoy how they work.

Collectively, there is no one solution, but the panellists agree that success is about helping women get the best out of each other.

But you don’t have to reach the very top to be the best. Simply be the best version of yourself and know that progress is possible.

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