Women at the Helm: Peggy Daidakis, Executive Director, Baltimore Convention Center
When asked how she started her career in convention facility management, Peggy Daidakis chalks it up to being in the right place at the right time. The much-respected convention industry veteran started her events career in the late 70s at the genesis of Baltimore’s meetings and events industry, cutting her teeth as an event coordinator and sales representative for the newly formed Baltimore Convention and Visitors Bureau (now Visit Baltimore), tasked with attracting conventions and trade shows to the soon-to-be-opened Baltimore Convention Center (BCC).
“I was working as an aide to the mayor and was asked to help with setting up a new office for the CVB,” Daidakis explained. “I chose to join the organization and became an event coordinator, however, in those days, we all took on many roles—sales, services, administration, anything that we had to do to get us ready for the opening of the center. We were a small staff of two until the city hired a private management company to take charge of the new center, the bureau and the arena.”
When the BCC opened in August of 1979, Daidakis’s career soon began a steady upward trajectory, moving her through the CVB in many capacities, from account executive responsible for servicing and coordinating events in the new facility, to assistant director overseeing the organization’s sales, marketing and operations, to director of client services, focused on customer service, promotion and marketing.
Undoubtedly, wearing so many hats helped prepare her for the bigger responsibilities that were yet to come. In 1985, Daidakis’s career path shifted toward the venue side as director of building services, and just a year later, Baltimore Mayor Clarence “Du” Bums appointed her as the first female director of a major U.S. convention center.
Under her direction, the BCC has played host to gubernatorial and mayoral inaugurations, presidential visits and hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the country and world, and she was instrumental in the venue’s expansion, which tripled its size and features the largest ballroom in Maryland.
TSNN enjoyed speaking with Daidakis to hear her thoughts about being the first woman to break the glass ceiling in convention facility management, what it takes to be a successful leader in this still male-dominated industry and the recent accomplishments that have helped make her trailblazing career even more rewarding.
You have been executive director of the BCC for more than 36 years. When you were first starting in this position, did you feel like an outlier in a male-dominated industry? What was that experience like for you?
This continues to be a male-dominated industry, but trends are changing for the better. Most women seemed more comfortable in the sales, PR/marketing and services roles. It was up to me and a few of my women peers to set the example of how we could be leaders in venue management. Slowly, more women were gaining confidence within leadership and operational facility management. We certainly have come a long way, but we still need to mentor and nurture young women to consider this career.
While gender diversity in the leadership roles within the events industry has moved in a more equitable direction, what do you see as the biggest challenges of being a female leader at this time in our industry?
Sometimes we as women hold back our personality in fear of being labeled as too “aggressive” or too “timid.” I believe that despite hesitations that may be had, women who want leadership roles within this industry should be driven and not afraid to command the room. In addition to certainty, being a successful leader also includes sharing our human side and allowing staff to see trust, respect and passion for the business.
What are the qualities that women bring to venue management that empower them to excel at their jobs?
Confidence, compassion, transparency, honesty and respect. We engage with our teams and welcome their ideas and comments to provide an atmosphere of excellence and pride.
During your time managing the BCC, what have been your biggest successes that you’re most proud of?
Way too many to count! First, I am appointed by the mayor and serve at “the pleasure of.” I am now serving with my ninth mayor! Second, I had the privilege and unique experience to plan an expansion of the center and other major capital projects. Not all venue managers have the opportunity to determine what a new state-of-the-art facility should look like and how it functions. Third, building a team of people who demonstrate that service to our customers is of utmost importance. We receive many compliments. And fourth, our role throughout the pandemic. We shut down events and served for almost two years as a field hospital, testing and vaccine center, warehouse for personal protective equipment, infusion center and warehouse for food boxes that were delivered to families in need. I am so proud of our employees who helped citizens throughout the city and state during this very challenging time.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned over the past two years, both professionally and personally?
Managing business both internally and externally with clients during COVID-19. The center’s staff had to learn to transition and work remotely. They developed protocols and ideas to provide customers with information that was needed for their plans and learned to adapt to the “new normal.” I was overwhelmed and proud of our accomplishments.
What can the meetings and events industry—and the women in it—do to help create more gender and racial parity in convention center leadership, as well as the industry at large?
Continue to have dialogue and networking opportunities to become familiar with venue management leadership.
What advice would you give to women in the events industry wishing to follow a leadership path?
Enjoy the journey. When you are successful, it is very rewarding.
Know of a dynamic woman leader who deserves some time in the spotlight? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.