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Paving a Path for Future Female Agency Leaders

In this blog, Client Account Director, Nikki Parsons reflects on her experience and the advice she has received from experts to explore aspirations in female leadership and tips on getting to the top. "In deciding my career, my question was always what is the right path for me? The question was never whether I could take a particular path because I am female.  So here I am now in an events career that I love. I aspire to become a leader in my profession, but where do I start?"

Starting Out
Looking back, from an early age my career path was fairly obviously mapped out. From University I fell into events, but once seduced by this great profession, my route has been the expected operational one (as is often the case for women in events) from Account Executive supporting on projects to Senior Project Manager overseeing large, multi-faceted events within a few years. 

What comes next, though, is a question to be explored. I need to bring into focus what will be the “right” move for me in an environment full of opportunity, but one in which roles and advancement routes can sometimes seem a bit blurred when you step outside of traditional project roles. 

Pathways, Challenges & Fears
Panel discussions I attended at the Meetings Show micebook ‘talks’ and the micebook Power 50 last month discussed the varying leadership pathways for women.  Some aspiring leaders start their own agency, some buy an existing agency, and some work their way to the top as was the case for TTA’s very own, inspiring micebook Power 50 leader and session panellist, Liz Zutshi https://micebook.com/portfolio/power50/. However, the panellists all seem to agree on a number of challenges women face: 

  • Impostor Syndrome: a new phrase to me but one I can very much relate               
  • Female Approach: this can hold us back, for example, when reading job descriptions, women need to align with a much higher percentage of the role than a man would need to before applying 
  • Primary Caregivers: not being a mum has meant that I hadn’t considered how the break for becoming a parent, or the ongoing requirements of being a primary caregiver would affect women in leadership 
  • Unrealistic Expectations: trying to be everything to everyone; a phenomenal leader and doing everything else that your life requires 
  • Cultural Differences: struggling to work in different parts of the world where some cultures require men to be leaders

The optimist in me never really considered the barriers to women in leadership, but listening to the experts, it seems the hurdles are real, including really understanding our self-worth and earning potential. Knowing the top agency salaries is a great way to focus the aims of aspiring leaders.  It was noted during the micebook Power 50 launch that for women within the events industry there is less of a gender pay gap and more of a glass ceiling, which creates a whole new challenge.   

Underlying worries about not progressing, ending up not as successful as we had hoped we might be or leading a team who don’t want to be led by us, are all challenges recognised by female leaders who have made it to the top.  The secret is not to let the negative thoughts takeover and keep your eye on the prize!

Luckily, all our barriers, fears and struggles are also balanced by our superpower differentiators which help to lay the groundwork for success. Do not forget that we are:

  • Emotionally complex meaning that we can build more collaborative companies
  • Empathetic; female leaders are often good at selling because of empathy
  • Understanding and caring, can give emotional support to our teams and build happy teams 
  • Inspirational; we often challenge what and how we’re doing things and are always looking for the best 



Aspiring Leaders Assemble!
If you’re still unsure of your next step look no further!  Here you’ll find my top ten advice takeaways from listening to the experts:

  • Get a mentor! Want to know where you can be better and challenge yourself to step up? Work with someone who can guide you in the right direction
  • Surround yourself with people that can support you by doing the bits you can’t do
  • Have a positive, can-do attitude, this will take you places!
  • Build your brand. Do 30 mins of personal PR daily; make the people you’re working for think you’re great
  • Find your girl-gang and build your sisterhood. Look outside your immediate circle and create the ‘I’m not alone’ feeling, build your confidence both in and out of the company you work for 
  • Ask yourself, ‘do I like being comfortable?’ Say yes to things that make you feel uncomfortable and take opportunities. Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone
  • What goes around comes around; make the most of all relationships 
  • Never stop learning or wanting to learn; continuous learning is key
  • Be confident, make mistakes, learn from them and start again ~ always have improvement areas 
  • Don’t try to emulate one manager, pick up the best bits from everyone
  • Most importantly: do what you love to do! 

What is a Good Leader?
But what is a good leader? Well, no prizes for guessing there are hundreds of definitions with recurring themes. Jacob Morgan, author of ‘The Future Leader’ collated a number of definitions from top CEOs which you can find here; https://bit.ly/3uHNs4E but ultimately, leadership is a collection of mindsets, attributes and behaviours that sets those in leadership apart and provides them the skills required to be a leader.

During her inspiring talk at the Micebook Power 50 launch Dr Tara Ruttley, NASA’s Associate Chief Scientist for Exploration and Applied Research, shared what it means to her to be a leader. “You might be ‘The Only’, she told us, “but remember that brings you value and what that value is that you can offer because of this.”

“Trust what others see”
For getting past imposter syndrome, Tara’s advice is to trust what others see in you.  She is also a firm believer in being a great listener, staying focused, and honing resilience skills. In listening to Tara’s uplifting advice, it resonated strongly with me that leadership for women is challenging across many sectors and businesses, but a challenge that we have the tools to overcome.

The most memorable part of Tara’s talk for me was a video of two neurons linking together which happens when you say ‘yes’ and take on new opportunities; doing just one new thing a day can make you better able to adapt and grow. Truly fascinating and a tangible way of seeing yourself grow as you step up, step out of your comfort zone and become that leader you’d always dreamed of being! 

What’s next for me?
These sessions really motivated me to follow my dreams and my biggest takeaway was the importance of having a strong network, a girl-gang. Seeking a mentor is also something I am looking to pursue, after speaking to some of my contacts who have benefitted from this experience.

My next career step will cross the blurry line I mentioned at the start. That means stepping away from an operational role and into a Client Account Director position with TTA.  This is an exciting new opportunity and an important step along my career journey. Taking on this role in a company that is majority female-owned and led, is also inspiring for me and fertile ground, I hope, on which to sow the seeds of future agency leadership.


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