| 05/08/2017
Sarah Feske Women's Leadership Forum

Women are making consistent advances in leadership in the exhibitions and events industry. That’s the big headline from the 2017 IAEE Women’s Leadership Forum. But there is a caveat – they have to be willing to lead.


IAEE is the global association for the exhibitions and events industry. Its annual Women’s Leadership Forum is renowned for focusing on topics that are unique to women in the industry. This year I was fortunate to join more than 200 women to explore how to transform businesswomen into outstanding leaders who can contribute more broadly to their company’s or organization’s success.


It was an amazing experience. I was impressed with the sheer number of women in the audience and leadership positions in the exhibitions and events industry. Every one of us was there to listen, learn, and share. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on a few of the key topics this year.


The Role of Women In The Events Industry


The events industry is a great industry for women to thrive. But more than that, it’s an industry where women can learn from each other, have the support of other women, and move up. The Forum showed that there are now more women who are setting the direction, leading, and becoming role models. I was proud that Shepard Exposition was one of the sponsors. We have many women in leadership positions today, and it was an honor to represent Shepard. Our sponsorship showed that this is important to us as a public supporter of women in leadership. We see the value of the goals and messages of this conference, and we want to support them.


The Importance of More Women in Leadership

There was a lot of discussion about this, but I don’t think it’s just a matter of ‘more’ women. Our industry needs more diversity within organizations and in their leadership. I mean diversity in gender, age, culture – the things that make us different.


Leadership isn’t really about the people who have the title or the position. It’s about the people in the organization. Leaders have to adapt their styles and attitude to their audience to be the most productive while remaining authentic. You have to lead in ways that are the most motivating. The real key is diverse leadership, and that’s what every company should embrace. It’s important to recognize diversity in gender, race, age, and background to develop a multi-faceted leadership team.



The Big Value of Diverse Leadership

The big value of diverse leadership is ensuring that you are getting the most out of people, their abilities, intellect, and efforts. You have to be able to motivate and lead people who are different than you and see the world and the company differently. We need to make sure that people can identify with what we are saying and asking them to do so they will want to work toward the common goal.


Leadership Styles – Women VS Men

Leadership style was a big topic. Is leadership different for women than for men?  Ideally, there shouldn’t be any difference. It’s not a competition. It’s not about thinking my way is better than your way. In the past, the leadership of companies and organizations overwhelmingly came from men. We are fortunate to witness this shifting, and it’s important for women to take the lead in changing perceptions, opening minds, and having the confidence to earn a seat in the Board Room.


Each speaker discussed how to change the narrative of the role of a woman in leadership. It’s important to recognize that people have unique personalities and personal styles. You can’t force them into a mold and then judge them. Women should not be expected to act and lead like men, or the other way around. And this shouldn’t always be about gender. There is something to learn and gain from all communication and leadership styles. Everything doesn’t have to be the same.


New Things I Learned

The agenda was packed with insightful sessions and panel discussions. I can’t mention them all but two speakers stood out. Jay Newton-Small was the Washington correspondent for Time magazine. She shared a great message about critical mass and what happens when women make up 30% or more of a Board, leadership team, or even a group of employees.  She discussed the shift in thinking style, collaboration and ultimately speed of coming to a decision once this occurs.  She explained there is a different thought process, with other ways of considering options and decision-making.


At Shepard, we are fortunate to have a company that supports women, and we have a lot of women in leadership positions. I realized that it’s not always like that in every company and it made me want to seek more opportunities to have an impact on others. So it’s imperative to take part in organizations like IAEE and look for other opportunities to be with women in the industry. If we want upward movement for women in organizations, we need to support each other.


I guess it comes down to confidence building. The idea is to help women see their value and competence and encourage them to step up, show what they bring to the table, and ask for a leadership position.



Christine Holton Cashen was another speaker who impressed me. She shared her secret for getting what you want with what you’ve got. I realized that we are the solution for so many of the problems we face. Christine told us, “What you say will come your way.” That means that instead of telling yourself all the things you’re not good at doing … change your message and become great at them. It’s simple and empowering.


The Future of Women in the Industry

I think that the bottom line for my experience at the 2017 Women’s Leadership Forum is the exhibitions and events industry strongly supports women. There are already a lot of women in leadership who can inspire us. There is certainly growth potential. And I think that women have both the opportunity and the responsibility to challenge the old attitudes and perceptions tactfully. We are empowered, and we can change the culture, but we have to model what we want. We have to see the potential and be willing to lead.


About the author

Sarah is one of Shepard’s many “home grown” associates.  As an intern from Georgia State College, Sarah began working at Shepard in 2005 as a sales administrator.  Since becoming a full-time associate, Sarah has been an Account Manager and currently manages the account management department and all things related to account production.  Sarah has been instrumental in the design and construction of Shepard’s Online Show Management Portal and Exhibitor Kit and is responsible for assembling the industry’s most service driven and response account management team.