Women's History Month: Six Trailblazers Honor the Role of Females in the Events Industry With Insights and Advice

March 23, 2023

March, designated Women’s History Month, marks an opportune time to celebrate the female achievers of the events industry and beyond. We had the pleasure of checking in with six outstanding industry professionals to find out how their organizations support women, what they would advise for the next generation of female leaders and who they believe are women to watch.

Monique Ruff-Bell, Head of Events, TED Conferences

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization supports women?

Internally at TED, many of our key departments and initiatives are led by women. We are provided opportunities to have a seat at the table on the direction of our mission and our business, and we play a huge part in keeping the TED brand strong in people’s minds and hearts.

Externally, our annual TEDWomen event has given women and their powerful ideas access to one of the most influential stages in the world. Since 2010, more than 400 speakers have shared transformative ideas on everything from neuroscience to computer science, education to entertainment and leadership to entrepreneurship. 

We wanted to showcase women doing extraordinary things in the world and change the narrative that it’s hard to find women outside of traditional career roles. This conference takes place every year in October, and we recently moved it to Atlanta for the next three years.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in the industry?

One of my favorite TED Talks is "Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection" by Reshma Saujani. The message of not deferring your dreams due to your battle with perfectionism is a game changer. If you are looking to pursue leadership positions within this industry, it’s important to be brave and take risks. See yourself as a business leader and strategist not just an event executioner. Take on challenges that will push you. Look to see how you can play a part in helping expand your organization’s brand or increase revenue via events. And if at times you fail, it’s important to learn from those failures to help with your growth instead of trying to avoid it. 

Who are some up-and-coming female event industry professionals to watch?

Kisha Allison, former head of content for Money20/20 and currently director of communications at Prudential Financial. She is one of my mentees, and she literally is one of the best content and event professionals within fintech. She truly understands that space and what it’s evolving into. 

Jasmin Chung, director of operations for Shoptalk and Groceryshop. Her organizational and logistical acumen is unbelievable. She has an intuitiveness about events and their operational and production needs that are second to none. It’s like she’s carrying a crystal ball in her back pocket and can foresee oncoming challenges, and has solutions ready to disperse at the drop of a dime.

Amy Calvert, CEO, Events Industry Council

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization supports women?

There are so many ways in which EIC supports and champions women in leadership for our sector. In addition to our Equity Task Force and Sustainability and Social Impact Committee, as well as our EIC Global Awards and Hall of Leaders program, something I am very proud of and grateful for is the way in which EIC on an ongoing basis supports and champions women’s leadership by providing an opportunity for meaningful volunteer leadership. These roles provide a unique environment where individuals have the opportunity to offer their leadership in a way that complements the work they do in their chosen professional role, build a lasting peer network and [discover] new growth opportunities. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in the industry?

I always suggest a few things that I believe can have a lasting impact: Be available to invest in your professional development, build a strong peer network, listen intently, never be afraid to ask a generous question and offer your support to others along the way. 

Who are some up-and-coming female event industry professionals to watch?

There are so many incredible women doing amazing work to lead our industry forward in all sectors. Rather than name one or two individuals, I would rather give a huge round of applause for all of the smart women out there who are flourishing and doing great work running small businesses, consulting and creating opportunities for themselves to follow their dreams and passion — all while fulfilling a critical role in our industry, particularly now when we are all thinking differently about how we build our teams and leverage talent to accomplish our goals. 

In my mind, making that leap takes a ton of courage, vision and resilience. The opportunity to offer leadership does not necessarily correlate with experience or tenure. It also takes passion, conviction and generosity.

Julie Coker, President and CEO, San Diego Tourism Authority

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization supports women?

The San Diego Tourism Authority is a majority-women organization, where women hold many of the top posts, including board of directors chair, CEO, COO, as well as VP and director positions. We’ve implemented several initiatives over the years, including the opportunity to attend women-inspired programs such as Advance, a course specifically designed to empower and elevate women in the workplace conducted by LEAD San Diego, an affiliate of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. We also encourage our women leaders to sit on local community and national industry boards for exposure, development and networking opportunities. Recently, we created an employee-led DEI committee that focuses on diversity opportunities in our workplace, including workforce, community engagement, marketing, communications, visual assets, sales, membership and training.  

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in the industry?

Others often see capabilities, skill sets and strengths in women that women do not always see in themselves. Women have been conditioned to believe they must hit every rung on the ladder and wait their turn before they are ready for a promotion or the next level of responsibility. That’s very rarely true. Women are more than capable, have the credentials and qualifications to step confidently into a promotion or the next level of responsibility. They just have to believe they can do it! We all stand on the shoulders of leaders who paved a way for us, and with that we have a responsibility to pave the way for women who are following in our footsteps. Leave the position better than you found it. Finally, surround yourself with people who support your goals, provide constructive feedback and believe in your potential. Having a small network of women who you count as your inner circle is invaluable.

Who are some up-and-coming female event industry professionals to watch? 

There are so many women who are doing amazing work for our industry. I am not sure all of these women are up and coming — some have already arrived! I will say the best is yet to come. Three women that come to mind are Roz Stuttley, director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the Choose Chicago Foundation; Catarina Rivera, public speaker and DEI consultant; and Cassandra Costello, executive vice president of the San Francisco Travel Association. They are all incredible and inspiring leaders.

Courtney Stanley, CEO, Courtney Stanley Consulting

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization supports women?

A significant part of my company's mission is to empower and amplify women. When I launched my podcast, Dare to Interrupt, it was with the intention to provide space and a platform for women to share their stories, wisdom and advice unfiltered — and uninterrupted — with other women in the events industry as a way to offer mentorship and real-talk support. Understanding that visibility is a key variable in elevating leaders to the top, I created the Women to Watch Awards, in which peers nominate those they see making an impact on their teams and their communities. As a content creator, every keynote presentation, coaching program and podcast interview is designed with the objective to serve others in a way that allows them to align with and tap into their full potential in order to elevate their personal growth and professional development. Sharing my own stories of adversity and lessons learned in the content I create is rooted in my mission to support other women in their individual journey to reach self-actualization. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in the industry?

Know your worth, believe in yourself and don't let anyone dim your light. Stand up for what you know is right and speak out when the moment calls for it. Too often, women are socialized to stay silent and play small. You weren't put on this planet to shrink; you're meant to shine. Become the woman you're most inspired by by doing the work and walking the walk. We see you, we celebrate you and we're in your corner.

Who are some up-and-coming female event industry professionals to watch?

Every single leader on this year's Women to Watch list is phenomenal and undoubtedly worthy of shouting from the rooftops. Some standout women I have truly enjoyed cheering on in recent years include Alex Bakalis, senior manager, sales enablement, Coyote Logistics; Connie Cay-Santos, director of engagement strategy at Quest AV and chief experience strategist at CAY VII INC. Megan Henshall, Ashley Lawson, vice president and partner, Achieve Incentives & Meetings; Anca Trifan, CEO, creator, and strategist, Tree-Fan Events; and Devon Montgomery Pasha, director, North America, Event Design Collective. These leaders operate with integrity, boldness, compassion and a desire to make our industry — and world — a better place. 

Sarah Soliman, President and CEO, Soliman Productions

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization supports women?

Soliman Productions supports women in a multitude of ways starting with our internal infrastructure. My full-time team is made up of majority women. Some of the women on my team work as videographers, camera operators and editors, which are roles often dominated by men. I recall one particular event where we were on-site covering same-day video content. It was myself and three of my girls working this 15,000-plus person conference, and I had a moment where I paused, looked at my team and got overwhelmed with emotion thinking how awesome it is to have these strong, intelligent, overly capable women carrying cameras, producing, editing and delivering an incredible final product to our client. It was so pivotal to the point where our client dubbed us as the "girl power team." I am a true believer that how you support women internally first will carry externally too. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in the industry?

Don't ever allow others to pigeonhole your career trajectory based on your gender. I was 27 years old when I started my business. If I had listened to the naysayers who made me feel insignificant as a young woman going into business, I certainly would not be sitting in a beautiful new office building employing 11 people. Just do you! It's that simple. 

Who are some up-and-coming female event industry professionals to watch?

There are so many incredible women rocking the events industry, but some up-and-coming true leaders are Jo Fostock, director of event technology sales, Xpodigital; Juliet Tripp, CEO, Juliet Tripp, The Events Coash; and Kristi Casale, vice president of meeting and continuing education, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and president, PCMA Greater Midwest Chapter.

Diana Boxey, Global Marketing Director, AMF Bakery Systems

What are you most proud of in terms of the ways your organization supports women?

I’m proud to be a part of an organization that embraces our people and diversity of thought as the company’s greatest asset. For more than a decade, I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to work alongside an incredibly diverse, multicultural leadership team at AMF and within our larger Markel Food Group family, where dynamic women leaders always have both a seat and a voice at the table.

Empowering teammates to reach their own personal potential, AMF Bakery Systems ensures our teammates throughout the organization have access to training and individual development opportunities that set them up for continued success with resources like the Markel Business System University and AMF Academy. By creating a culture of inclusivity, women are given the same opportunities for professional growth and compensation as our male counterparts and equally encouraged to challenge the status quo in pursuit of finding a better way to do things.

With a corporate vision to work alongside our baking customers to help create better food for families around the world while creating better lives for our teammates, families, customers and communities, AMF is focused on our corporate social responsibility as part of our larger sustainability approach. At AMF, we envision a future workforce that is more inclusive, diverse and prepared to make an impact on the baking industry. Critical to our vision of “Better Food. Better Lives.,” our organization believes that we have a duty to learn, teach and mentor the youth throughout our local communities in order to develop the workforce of tomorrow.

What advice would you give for the next generation of female leaders in the exhibitions and events industry?

Build a supportive, diverse network of collaborators and creators. The success of AMF’s event marketing program can be attributed to close industry partners that have enabled us to take calculated risks while combining innovative tech stacks with compelling messaging for truly engaging, experiential exhibits. By connecting your network of trusted experts, you’re able to transform your events and go beyond the limits of what was originally thought possible.  

Also, it’s critical that you’re confident in your decision-making and know your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Transparency and consistent communication with key stakeholders while event planning allows you space for guidance and feedback as well as the ability to leverage the skill set of your wider team. This also ensures buy-in or trust throughout the organization as your events scale and the organization grows. By prioritizing communication, you’re able to share success with your teammates and foster positive, long-term relationships.

What can we do to help the women in the events industry?

By developing a network of mentorship and networking opportunities, experienced women within the industry can help empower future industry leaders. With the globalization of the event industry, initiatives focused on pairing mentors and mentees across cultures and regions could help foster more unique perspectives, improve access to a greater variety of expertise and foster faster innovation throughout the industry.

Lisa Plummer Savas, Lori Tenny and Danica Tormohlen contributed to this report. 

Know of a dynamic and inspiring female leader in the corporate events industry? Nominate her for our Women at the Helm series! Reach out to ltenny@tsnn.com or lpsavas@tsnn.com today!

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