Deep dive into a four-track WiE session in Maastricht

WiE Summit: Stephanie Selesnick offers a perspective from a North American Chapter founder.

The inaugural Women in Exhibitions (WiE) Summit was held just ahead of the UFI European Conference in Maastricht, Netherlands last June. As has been reported elsewhere in this edition of EW, there were over 100 men and women in attendance from several countries. I was part of a sizeable North American delegation.

First impression: This was, hands-down, the best Women’s Conference I’ve been to anywhere in the world. The quality of speakers was top notch and the mingling between delegates was friendly and fun -– and included some good business too. I was one of the speakers, facilitating an hour-long session with breakouts based on the topics discussed earlier in the first conference day.

During my session, delegates self-selected from four different topics for a deeper dive discussion: Generational Differences; Growing the Diversification and Inclusion of our Exhibitors and Visitors at Our Exhibitions; How to Stand Up for Yourself, and a focus group on the future of WiE (not covered below). Here’s what I found:

Generational Differences: anchored by Martha Donato, founder and partner of US-based Mad Event Management, the 8-10 participants were mostly next generation younger women. Some are still students at university, others getting their feet wet (newbies). They discussed the challenges of being taken seriously in the workplace and how to find a career pathway in the industry.

KEY LEARNINGS: Don’t discount younger people within your organisations. They have a completely different perspective and knowledge set than you do. Use their ideas, particularly in making events more exciting, relevant, and interactive. Use their great ideas for attracting others their age to your events and possible employment. Finally, use them as ambassadors to talk about the fun and creative aspects of show business.

Diversification of Visitors and Exhibitors: Interestingly, most senior executives selected this topic and turned it on its head.

They wanted to make initiatives in DE&I for the exhibit floor economically sustainable. Can it be done? Yes. Should it be done? Without a doubt! People want to see others who look like them – be it by colour, religion, sex, etc.

Think of it as enlarging your community (and bottom line) by attracting then nurturing new sub-communities.

KEY LEARNING: Sustainable DE&I attracting exhibitors and visitors takes a long-term plan, investment (including people, not just money), buy-in from upper management, and creativity. Done properly, it will become self-sustaining too.

Stand Up for Yourself: This was the largest group, consisting of all age groups and job titles. Facilitated by Laura Purdy, GM, Canada-based Exhibition Place, many participants shared stories of being sidelined, harassed (particularly younger women), and having ideas stolen by other, mostly male colleagues. It wasn’t a gripe session – instead focusing on techniques and tips for counteracting these real-life workplace issues.

KEY LEARNINGS: This issue is a big one, and something we as an industry need to pay more attention to. If affects women in all jobs, around the world. Suggestion to our male counterparts: listen more closely to what the women in your meetings are saying. You might learn something new. Also, if someone in your organisation says they are being harassed, act – immediately. Even better, put a system in place where people can share concerns in all confidentiality. This should include a clear procedure on what actions need to be taken.

Not sure yet where and when the second WiE Summit will be held. Send your team. I’ll see you there!