Going beyond bias

Catie Owen reports that inaugural Women in Exhibitions (WiE) World Summit took place 13-14 June at MECC Maastricht, and came out of the gate running.

Themed Beyond Bias: Breaking Business Barriers, the inaugural edition of the Women in Exhibitions World Summit demonstrated the value of having important discussions about women in our industry, and that barriers to entry that need to be broken down.

Oana Cipca, founder, WiEThe theme of Beyond Bias was important for Oana Cipca, founder of WiE and business development manager at MECC Maastricht (pictured right). Cipca explained that the WiE team reflected on the current issues the industry face, such as talent retention post-Covid. “Overall, the main topic of the summit was how we can better support the different professions we have in our industry and help them tackle the challenges they face.”

Despite its international scope and diversity, our industry isn’t immune to bias. As highlighted by conversations during day one’s DE&I session, events like the Summit are crucial to empowering women in the exhibitions industry.

While maintaining its female focus, the WiE World Summit invited industry professionals of all genders to the table – co-locating with the UFI European Conference in a show of industry allyship.

“People don’t realise, but exhibitions are the backbone of economies around the world,” said polar explorer Anne Daniels after her keynote talk about her record-breaking North Pole expedition. “Speaking at this summit was important to me because there’s still a big bias against women in so many industries, and having a group where women can get together and support each other is so important.”

Leading the way

Hearing female senior leaders discuss topics such as roadblocks to leadership, inclusivity, talent, and recovering from failure also benefits the industry’s upcoming recruits as much as colleagues. Joy Hurrell, a second-year international event management student from the University of Surrey, UK, was invited to both attend and speak on a panel about attracting and retaining upcoming talent.

Hurrell commented on her first-time experience attending an industry summit: “Speaking for the first time at an event like this was pretty nerve-wracking, and initially it was hard stepping in to network with people who already have connections to each other. But it’s been so rewarding. The longer you’re here the more people get to know you.”

“Having a group where women can get together and support each other is so important.”

Key lessons

Laura Shapiro, portfolio director for CloserStill Media and president of the WiE UK Chapter, reflected on the audience’s takeaways after the event: “We’ve seen that women are on the uprise in our industry, and we need to be fluid so that we can adapt to any roadblocks as they happen.” Shapiro also noted that, from day one, clarity was key. “Many discussions came back to the idea that, if there are problems in your workplace, use clarity in your communication to get to the bottom of the issue,” she said.

For Cipca, communication was also one of the biggest lessons from the Summit: “We need to be looking at those conversations between men and women because we are already helping each other a lot to grow in our careers, but we aren’t communicating and supporting each other enough. Without communication, we’re all missing out on opportunities.”

Header image: Karin Krogh, international senior sales manager, Bella Center, Copenhagen; Justine Rabel, international key account manager, Eventmaker; Joy Hurrell, international event management student, University of Surrey; Silvia Forroova, director partnerships and sustainability, Informa Markets.