In celebration of International Women’s Day, we sit down with four extraordinary women who've made their mark on the business events industry. We find out what it means to be at the helm of the events industry and their advice for other women in the field.
Natalie Simmons—Global General Manager, cievents
As the global general manager at world-wide events organisation, cievents, Natalie Simmons comes from an organisation that’s long since championed women in leadership roles. Currently the organisation has seven women in general management positions.
"We are very privileged to be part of this industry. Not only do we get to create amazing experiences for customers every day—whether it’s a meeting for 10 people or an event for 6,000—every experience is unique and is limited only by our imagination,” says Simmons. “It is also an industry without barriers, whether you are a man or a woman, opportunities are endless and in over 20 years in this industry I have only been limited by my own doubts,” she adds.
Her advice to ambitious women in the industry: “Take every opportunity that comes your way, no matter at which part of your journey you are at, back yourself and seek support from those around you. Find people you admire, seek them out and ask for help—this is a wonderful industry, full of supportive people.
"Don't put up hurdles, it’s a collaborative industry so I urge you all to fully participate in it. You will love the ride!”
Robyn Johnson—CEO, Meetings and Events Australia (MEA)
In 2016, Johnson was appointed the new chief executive officer of MEA, bringing with her more than 20 years of experience where she managed her own event company and served as a senior executive at Business Events Sydney and Destination New South Wales. In the last two decades, she says she’s seen a number of shifts in the roles women play in the industry as a whole.
“The events industry in Australia has traditionally had a high participation rate of both women and men. Traditionally, women have tended to be more involved in event management than technical areas such as audio visual and exhibition staging, however this is slowly changing,” she says.
“Our ‘Young MEA’ programme encourages greater gender balance and our activities have strong representation of men and women. MEA is committed to advancing gender equality across all sectors of the events industry,” she adds.
Jan Tonkin—Managing Director, The Conference Company; President, International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO)
With nearly three decades in the industry, Tonkin founded The Conference Company 27 years ago and never looked back. Now the organisation has offices in New Zealand’s Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin as well as Sydney, Australia. Tonkin is also currently serving as president of IAPCO and a regular presenter at the association’s training academy.
When it comes to women in the industry, the sky’s the limit, she says.
“There are any number of great examples of women who have excelled in the business events world and I don’t see any glass ceilings that would make others looking to join hesitate for a moment,” she says.
“If you are curious by nature and enjoy seeing people learn and flourish through the networks and connections they make as a result of your efforts behind the scenes, then I’d recommend you immerse yourself in the events industry, grabbing every opportunity with both hands (even volunteering) until you find just the right niche.
"If you have access to a supervised mentoring programme, do sign up as I’ve seen first-hand the benefits to mentees as their mentors pass on hard-won knowledge and generously offer guidance. Even if such a programme isn’t available, you’d be surprised, I’m sure, at how willing the seniors of the industry are to help, on an informal basis, those who are keen to also pursue their passion.”
Janet Tan-Collis—CEO, East West Planners; President, Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS)
Industry veteran, Janet Tan-Collis has been championing women in the MICE industry over her 37- year career and as the CEO of East West Planners and president of SACEOS; she’s certainly learned a few tricks to stay ahead of the game.
“This dynamic industry will challenge and stimulate your mind,” she says, adding that it’s important to be “good-natured” as it allows one to better cope with daily stresses with understanding and patience.
“Staying fit physically and mentally should also become second nature,” she advises, but celebrating good outcomes with family, colleagues and friends is also so vital.
“Celebrate living, enjoy every day regardless of how the day started and at the end of each day take a pause, a deep breath, smile and continue the celebration.”