“It’s all about talent” by Sonia Thomas

creative team

creative team

Published on 25 October 2023

Since becoming closely involved in the exhibition industry in 2006, an industry that I fell into and came to love, I have often heard that attracting and retaining talent is a major challenge which is still relevant today, 17 years later.

I’ve heard the industry referred to as the invisible giant, representing the equivalent of the economy of a small country. And yet, as we learned from Joy Hurrell, an events management student from the University of Surrey at the Women in Exhibitions inaugural world summit in June, exhibitions are rarely on the event management syllabus. I know that certain industry professionals are striving to raise the profile of the industry by delivering lectures (myself included), and exhibition management programmes do exist, but these tend to be the exception as opposed to the rule. Incidentally, many event management courses tend to have more female students than male students.

So let’s ask ourselves, how good are we at retaining our talent? And what about female talent in particular? How many women, fully trained and performing well, left the industry because of a lack of career progression opportunities? Women who found themselves hitting that famous glass ceiling because their bosses were guilty of unconscious bias or because they just didn’t know they existed/saw their potential? When staff leave, they take their competencies and knowledge with them…

I have also heard stories of women who have had to forego a career within the industry just because they had children, or who were obliged to put their career progression plans on hold. Are we encouraging young mothers to come back to work if they wish to do so? Can they continue progressing despite having children? And how are we integrating them back into our teams after a prolonged break? Certain organizations are addressing these issues to help retain this precious talent so things are changing, albeit slowly. But there is more to be done.

Women too are becoming more empowered: they are raising their voices, they are challenging their own personal biases and are taking a proactive stance in carving out their caree path. I personally work with women across the globe, coaching them and helping them develop: we can’t change others, but we can change ourselves. And by changing ourselves, we often change how others behave towards us.

I love the work that I am doing with Oana Cipca and the other women within the Women in Exhibitions network empowering women and helping them find their path, and working with great organizations that have the will to change things.

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