It is with a fair amount of expertise and self-confidence that many female colleagues at Messe Düsseldorf head groups, departments, divisions and projects. On the occasion of the International Women’s Day on 8 March we spoke with four colleagues about their experiences as women in leadership positions and how they encourage other women to also make the move to the executive level.
Be it in IT, stand construction services, new customer business or the print industry – our female colleagues “have the knack”. In our interview they talk not only about their experiences in the exhibition business but also about personal challenges, how they deal with prejudice and their aims.
How the proliferation of female leaders has developed in the event and exhibition business
Already two years ago we interviewed Kirsten Deutelmoser, Director Business Development, about female managers in the meetings and exhibition industry. She found that there were fewer women than men in the top management of German exhibition companies. But what about female managers in the exhibition and meetings business today? “We have not established new figures yet – as such I cannot provide a fact-based answer here. My feeling, though, tells me that things have not improved so far”, explains Deutelmoser.
Kirstin Deutelmoser is also the founder and a member of Women in Exhibitions DACH (WIE). The WIE women’s network connects women from the exhibition business with each other and motivates women for managerial positions. “I think that we as women have to network a lot more intensely, in general and also in women’s networks”, says Deutelmoser. She also views a self-confident appearance and positive self-marketing of one’s own successes and achievements as especially important since one should not rely on “the (female) boss to always detect the talent by him/herself”. In her view it is key to always stay true to oneself nevertheless.
Heterogeneity in IT – but not on the executive levels yet
As a Group Leader in the IT Department for the area of application systems Stefanie Pulla knows exactly which challenges and demands are made on women in executive positions working in seemingly male-dominated domains. She clearly feels that there is something missing without women: “The world is changing. New ideas are needed. It is women who inject that fresh breeze, that different approach.” Even though IT staff is getting increasingly heterogeneous, high-powered women are missing, especially on the exec level. But this shouldn’t be a reason for stopping women from accepting these positions – although you will have to put up with the odd joke once in a while: “The work is pleasant because the department – the topic – is simply interesting and exciting. The key is to always stay positive and react calmly to jokes.”
Women who want to attain leadership positions have to be above all persistent, Pulla stresses. “Rigid thinking patterns have to be broken down”, she explains, “and you always have to do more than expected. This is the prerequisite for climbing the career ladder.” Despite all the persistence one should always stay true to oneself because not even women have to bend over backwards. This is also why Ms Pulla recommends all women with an interest in leadership positions to not only have staying power but also stay themselves in the process.
Inspiring women from the print industry
Speaking of female leaders in male-dominated domains, Sabine Geldermann must not be missed. “The drupa Director has been active as an executive of the world’s leading trade fair drupa from our Printing Technologies portfolio for 10 years now. Especially at the beginning of her career working in her first project manager position in her mid-20s she was also confronted with obsolete gender stereotypes: “I experienced obsolete gender stereotypes when I started my professional career because leadership is often associated with typically male rather than typically female characteristics.” To be perceived as successful as a female leader “women should act with self-confidence, be communicative, appear confident and build their ‘hard and soft skills’”, says Geldermann.
Women in the print industry also have the opportunity to network with and be enriched by the more than 9,500 members of the world’s largest online network, Girls Who Print. “I have been able to take part in panel discussions with inspiring US personalities such as Pat McGrew, Betsy Davis and Deborah Corn. And on the European level, Beatrice Klose, Secretary General Intergraf, is an impressive personality. Beatrice is an expert on European affairs in the print industry, Executive Director of the European umbrella organisation Intergraf and an inspiring ambassador for our industry.”
Leveraging leadership positions to promote women
Nora Wernick has the say in Sales & Services. She is the Head of Department and comes with several years in a leading position at Messe Düsseldorf under her belt. She also knows that prejudices and stereotypes can be an issue for women in leadership positions. “A good sense of humour and blunt directness in response, however, have usually proved successful in dealing with them. Here nuances also play a role – true to the motto, ‘Why swing a morning star axe if you can also fence with a foil’.”
This is also why she uses her leadership position to specifically promote women in her area of responsibility: “Equal opportunities in terms of further training, career opportunities and salary go without saying, as does mutual support and promotion. However, there should also be an option to reconcile family obligations with professional needs. This, of course, requires company-wide scopes, which I fight to widen and grant to my team without restrictions.”
In addition, Wernick refers to an ILO Study dated 2019 according to which “57% of the companies surveyed reported improved recruitment and retention of skilled labour thanks to gender diversity.” Furthermore 54% of the companies reported internal performance improvements in the areas of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial openness. Accordingly women in leadership positions are definitely important and also an enrichment for the company from an economic point of view.
Women inject a breath of fresh air into executive levels
Women in leadership positions are not only important, they are indispensable. Diversity is important so that new impulses and different perspectives can always be exchanged. And even though there are considerably more women in the exhibition and meetings sector than in other industries, there is still work to be done.
On today’s International Women’s Day, we would therefore like to appeal to all women once again: you are great, you can do it, we need you! Take the advice of our MD women to heart and don’t be put off by the challenges that a leading position brings. Diversity promotes the exhibition and meetings industry.
We would like to thank our interview partners for their openness and honesty, and we are proud to have such great female colleagues as members of our exhibition family. To all women: have a successful Women’s Day!