Inspirational views

As part of our International Women’s Day coverage, we asked five senior women in the events industry to inspire us with a story about a challenge they’ve faced in their career and what they’ve learnt.

person sitting on top of gray rock overlooking mountain during daytime

Brenda Hobday, CEO, ShowShoppa

I love the events industry, from launching new events at NEC to filling Twickenham Stadium. The buzz of knowing that all the work is coming together for a short period of time.

Maybe it’s just that, the short period of time that gives it such a buzz, but that is also the headache. The nightmare of trying to keep juggling the cashflow for the rest of the year, of picking up momentum again halfway through the year, finding email databases blocked because of an excess number of gone-aways. So, running two events is logical, until one event has to be cancelled and the business folds.

I started to think about how to engage our audience all year round and created ShowShoppa, the ecommerce marketplace platform for event organisers, where we can
engage with visitors and exhibitors all year and keep the till ticking over from commissions.

I wish I had created ShowShoppa before I had the problem...

Kate Simpson, marketing director, Business Design Centre

My experience over 15 years in my company has seen me move through most departments, taking on different roles from event management to venue sales and now marketing.

I saw a gap in our business activities and developed my skills to fill it. Even in a supportive environment, it can be a challenge being the first to do something especially if you’re the youngest in a team or the only woman.

If you look up the hierarchy of your company and don’t see anyone like you, it doesn’t mean what you want to achieve can’t be done, so don’t let it stop you – look around you for
perspective or mentorship and keep going. Form a group of likeminded individuals who work in a similar field to the one you’re aiming to progress in and share your ideas and experiences with them. Five years on, our informal group still bounces ideas off each other and gets recommendations.

Industry associations and networking events are a great place to meet people and you will generally find event professionals are friendly and willing to offer support and guidance.

Chloe Richardson, VP senior corporate relations, Explori

I remember being repeatedly told that women can’t thrive in commercial roles because they’re either too emotional or too family orientated.

First of all - what’s wrong with being emotional or having children? Neither of those things are a negative when it comes to building and nurturing business relationships. If anything, they produce great qualities in a salesperson - demonstrable empathy, understanding others, and the ability to multi-task and compartmentalise.

But, it’s also simply untrue. Women are not more emotional than men and not all women want to have children. So it’s both irrelevant and factually inaccurate.

What did I do about it? Initially, I wrote an article about how false that misconception was. I ran free to attend social sales coaching to the female event community, and alongside some others in this space, have been a vocal ambassador for women in sales, events and event tech ever since.

Most importantly, I carried on doing exactly what I had been doing… showing that you can be a woman who thrives in a commercial career. There are many of us!

Kim Proctor, head of production, CrowdComms

After completing a degree in Entertainment Technology, my first job in event tech was as an on-site technician. Despite organising the logistics around event set-up, carrying flight cases filled with hardware and ensuring that event software ran smoothly, I was often mistaken for the teleprompting girl or a member of the catering staff. Amidst heckles of 'Are you sure you can lift that?', my response was to retain my sense of humour, put my head down and get on with the job in hand, ensuring that my clients received the best support possible and that their event was a success.

Being the only female in the team of 14 when I first began my career is in stark contrast to my current situation: I now lead 32 event production staff, almost half of whom are women.

Katie Whatley, director, 52eight3

When I launched my business five years ago I had so many questions. Some around forming a successful business model (what can I offer the events community?), some incredibly practical (do I really need to pay all this tax?!) and some of myself (am I going to be able to make this work?).

I find women can be swayed into thinking that they are unable to be successful without having a coach from the get-go. Whilst I’ve had positive experiences with business coaches, the best support and advice I’ve had are from those with great experience – they’ve been there and done that.

When I’ve had challenges at work, I’ve found the most experienced person in the room and taken them for a coffee. Asked them to share their own ‘war stories’ and learned from the mistakes they’ve made.

I’ve also learned that taking time to clear my mind and think through a particular challenge helps enormously: the answers are often there inside already, you just need to give them space to shine.