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Inspirational female leaders in the meetings and events sector

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We continue highlighting inspirational women throughout March, well beyond the International Women’s Day, to mark Women’s History Month. As part of our series of exclusive interviews we spoke to four inspirational female leaders from the business meetings and events sector. These remarkable professionals share their highlights to date and give advice for anyone either considering or embarking on a career in the industry. 

Actively seek out opportunities

Diane Waldron, sales and marketing director of the QEII Centre, has had many career highlights to date including being Chair of ICCA UK & Ireland where she enjoyed working so collaboratively with other venues and industry service providers.

Throughout her career, which has also seen her hold senior roles at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), Natural History Museum, Searcy’s at the Barbican and the Tower Thistle Hotel, she says the best advice she’s been given is: “To dress and act as you would for the job you want rather than the one you have.”

If you’re looking to embark on a career in business meetings and events she says: “It doesn’t matter whether it’s for training, work experience, membership of industry committees etc., don’t wait for other people to suggest opportunities to you, actively seek them out and ask for them.”

If it isn’t broken – doesn’t mean you can’t fix it!

Jess Gallagher, venue and hospitality manager, Royal Society of Chemistry at Burlington House, says after the rollercoaster of the last three years, building the venue back up from complete scratch and welcoming people back to in-person events, has been her greatest career highlight to date. In doing so she feels it has provided a fantastic opportunity to re-visit the way things are done and come back even better than before.

“If it isn’t broken – doesn’t mean you can’t fix it!” says Jess, which she credits as some of the best advice she’s received during her career. “The temptation to do things the way they have always been done is strong, because let’s face it – it’s easy and it works, for the most part. One of my first managers was a huge advocate for thinking outside of the box, and not being afraid to try out new ways of doing things, and they really empowered me to do so. This has been something that has really stuck with me and has served me well throughout my career. The extra mile is what clients will always remember, and what keeps them coming back.”

She adds: “Keeping a cool head and knowing your business inside and out is key for newcomers considering a career in business meetings and events. The great thing about working in this industry is that every day is different, but the flip side of this is that you really have to be prepared for any curveball that comes your way – and there will be many! If you can be the rational cool, calm and collected problem-shooter when it feels like nothing is going quite as planned, you will go far.” 

A ‘no’ is just a ‘not yet’!

Having worked in venues for many years, Sandra Eyre, Director of Business Development, Meetings Industry Association (mia), counts winning big international or multi-year events, which often take months of work and then seeing them come to life, as particular career highlights over the last two decades.

Now being part of the mia where she’s enjoying championing best practice and standards, she says the best advice she’s been given during her career is to ‘believe in yourself, and always remember your worth, through the ups and downs’.

Sandra says: “Keep going with the motto: ‘a no is just a not yet’. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world and I want to believe I am superwoman but I’m not (never let my husband know I’ve said that!). While building your career you have to take note of your own mental health and resilience, and do the right thing for you, sometimes making some tough and selfish choices in your career.”

She adds: “My advice to anyone starting in the sector is if you are there, be there! If you attend an event, conference or trade show, anyone can turn up, so it’s important to make yourself part of the event. Put your hand up, ask that question and never be concerned to seek help and advice from colleagues and industry peers. It’s such a social industry, and we all want to succeed and see others achieve too. When you’re being creative, your idea may be the craziest and will never work, but from ideas full projects can grow, so be bold and think outside of the box.”

Always stand 10 feet tall and be proud of who you are!

Leigh Cowlishaw, who is a member of The Meetings Show’s advisory board and managing partner of Black Box Partnerships, says the best advice she been given during her career, which has seen many highlights, is to “believe in yourself and always stand 10 feet tall and be proud of who you are”.

She says: “The opportunities in business meetings and events are endless and one size never fits all. It’s about being creative, being passionate and celebrating this wonderful sector, which creates experiences that can last a lifetime. Be proud to be part of it. I sure am!”

We had a pleasure to interview many inspirational women for our series including rugby legend Maggie Alphonsi and Paola Diana, Women’s Rights Advisor to the City of London