Emma Barrett, Women in Exhibitions board member and the Founder of Broadway Events, discusses the need to nurture talent and ensure equal access to leadership positions across the industry.
Events and exhibitions are big business. They contribute an estimated £84 billion to the UK economy and anyone working in the sector knows that businesses are run as tight ships, and the bottom line and sales targets are always front of mind. It’s therefore no surprise that the top jobs – executive level roles – require an acute business acumen.
If you look at a job advertisement for a c-suite role in the sector, you’re faced with a litany of corporate vocab that is not for the faint hearted: strategic plans; profit and loss; complex stakeholder relationships; company policies; employment law; regulatory compliance. Here lies the challenge: when and how do you develop the necessary skills for leadership positions? Is your current career path and trajectory pointed in the same direction as your ambitions?
Around 80% of new starters in the events and exhibitions sector are women. Often, but not exclusively, these roles are in event management, marketing, or operations. Before you know it, you are five, ten, fifteen years into your career and have honed your delivery skills to a fine art.
You stop and pause, think about your ambitions, and career hopes and dreams. You think about your next promotion, inside or outside of your organisation, asking: where next?
For most of us the ‘next move’ will be a linear step up, with more responsibly for projects, budgets, and people. By this point you are growing in skill and confidence and are fast becoming an expert in your field. Meanwhile, colleagues coming up through other routes – from sales to finance – are getting their heads around knotty organisational operations, and may or may not be working on events first hand.
Perhaps you look at your boss and the fellow execs and think: I can do that and the rest I can learn. But when the next big job is advertised, confidence dwindles, and questions start to arise for you – and others – about whether you have really developed the full set of practical and soft skills to operate at senior level. Have you driven business as well as delivered it? Have you brought in revenue rather than met targets? Is your team performing because of your initiatives?
It’s these questions, and others, that either stop women going for senior positions or starting up on their own, or worst still: stop the employer putting women into these roles. So, if a vast amount of the roles in our sector (which are primarily held by women) are not priming people throughout their career to lead, then what needs to happen to change this?
The UK chapter of Women in Exhibitions was launched to support women at every stage of their career in events and exhibitions. We recognise that being a leader isn’t innate and the necessary business and soft skills need careful honing, and a deliberate approach to personal development.
This is why Women in Exhibitions has launched a training programme that is available to both the staff of its member organisations and its individual members, so that everyone who is aiming for the top can do so with their eyes wide open to the opportunities, and the skills needed.
The training programme is curated with leadership in mind. Public speaking, managing difficult situations, and building resilience are but a few of our upcoming sessions. Building skills today for tomorrow’s leaders will ensure that there is a rich pool of talent when the time comes to recruit for the sector’s next leaders.
For businesses, it’s an important time to show commitment to shaking up leadership and the pathway to the top. It requires investment and persistence because change starts with today’s leaders. It’s also important to recognise that this is good for business: a wealth of research shows how diversity at board level leads to better business results, a more engaged workforce, and innovation. But we’ll only get that diversity by nurturing talent in the first place.
As a sector, we need to think about employees, talent, and the next generation of leaders in the same way as society is starting to think about trees: what do we plant and nurture today to ensure we have a forest tomorrow?
You can see the full training programme and become a corporate or individual member of Women in Exhibitions at Womeninexhibitions.co.uk