To celebrate International Women’s Day, we have asked some of the UK’s influential female agency leaders to share their stories, from starting out in the events industry to where they are today, including challenges and mentors along the way, and any advice they’d give to young women in events who aspire to be the next generation of leaders.
First up, its Worldspan Board Director Jennifer Jenkins…
Like many people working in the meetings and events industry today, it wasn’t my chosen career. I graduated with a degree in European Studies that then led to my first industry role working in the Conference Department of The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). I’ve now worked in the industry for nearly 35 years. And here is what I now know.
The industry is extremely diverse. I’ve worked in-house for associations and not-for-profits. I’ve worked in-house for corporates and for agencies. I’ve worked across operations, marketing, content and communications disciplines. Latterly, I’ve worked in sales and account management (although anyone working agency-side will tell you that is a whole agency task). So I think that whilst many of us have “fallen into events” those who have succeeded have made deliberate choices about their career progression from that point on. Much of what I do now is business management, finance management, people management. Running an agency is the same as running any other business and requires the same skillset. So making a deliberate move from event management to business management is critical if you want to lead an agency or start your own !
When I first worked agency-side there were two women in management and ownership positions in sizeable agencies. They were always in the news. That has changed materially but only in the last three years. There is now a raft of new, female owner managers and directors. And they are more visible, vocal and opinionated and that is great to see.
In every organisation I’ve worked in, I’ve worked alongside remarkable women. I hope that they know who they are. I hope that I have helped them to have the confidence to progress their careers. And where I could, promoted them. Sure, they are not always the easiest people to work with, but they have always been the best at what they do. I think that is because event management is an intellectual pursuit and these colleagues have been clever. Intellect is often overlooked in our industry or seen to be of less importance than operational prowess. But being able to understand the needs of clients, stakeholders, audiences across many, many sectors is a huge, intellectual stretch. The event industry has always favoured the truly bright!
More than that, the event industry is awash with associations and special interest groups. I’ve invested a considerable amount of personal time in networking across the industry. I’ve held paid and voluntary roles in trade associations, charities and on government boards. That networking, although not something that comes naturally to me, has brought huge benefits in return.
And so I think that this period of disruption, whilst absolutely heart breaking for many, has helped to clear out old and dated practices in our industry. The route to the top for many women will be very much quicker as a result of this disruption than it was for my generation provided that they don’t leave career moves to chance.