Our next Q&A features Soraya Gadelrab, director of Reventalize and president of Women in Exhibitions Network’s UK Chapter.
What motivated you to get involved with Women in Exhibitions Network?
If I’m completely honest, I have never found gender to be a barrier in my personal career progression. However, over the last decade I have become increasingly aware of a distinct feeling among younger females in the industry that career progression just isn’t there for them and they can’t see how they will ever reach the most senior positions in the sector. They don’t recognise themselves in the faces of those currently at C-Suite level. At first this came as a surprise to me as I’ve never allowed barriers to stop me. But the fact is that this sentiment is absolutely real and I felt truly compelled to try to support the next generation of female leaders. I wanted to help show them that the opportunities are there for the taking, no matter your gender, race, sexuality etc. We just need to give them the tools to realise their potential and gain the confidence to reach for that next step. The world is everyone’s oyster, we all just need to start diving for those pearls.
Thanks for agreeing to mentor some of our members over the coming year. Why does mentoring matter to you and what do you think are the key benefits for mentees?
Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to have had a number of incredible mentors, including the likes of Andrew Evans and Toby Wand, both in an official and unofficial capacity. I cannot stress just how much they have each helped me to become who I am today. For me, the benefits of mentoring are so many. It is one of the only professional relationships you will have with someone whose only objective is to support your personal career progression. This is an incredible thing, which shouldn’t be underestimated. It creates a dialogue that can be truly, and sometimes brutally, honest. And with honesty at the core, they can challenge without fear of impunity, be a sounding board when you have things you cannot discuss within your organisation, and, most importantly, they can often see us, our challenges and our pathway so much clearer than we can see ourselves. No matter how hard we try to look.
How can we best support and empower the next generation of women leaders?
It’s all about open dialogue and including men in the conversation. It’s not a complex issue we’re trying to solve. We have simply identified a generation of industry professionals who have a desire to progress and drive the industry forward but don’t always see a clear pathway. By understanding what drives them, how they want to work in the 2020s (let’s be honest, it’s not the same as it was when I first started in the industry) and what barriers they feel they have come up against, we can – together as an industry – begin breaking down the barriers and opening up more opportunities across the board.
What’s your biggest achievement so far? What are you most proud of?
I once worked on an incredibly exciting project in Belgrade, Serbia. It was a USAID funded programme and they’d brought me in to work with a local team to pull together the concept for a new event. I was to take the team through all the steps of strategising and event planning for, what was to become, the Belgrade Food Show. Other than the fact that is was lovely to work with a fantastic new team in a beautiful place I’d never been to before, I found it so satisfying! It was my first consulting role (although they didn’t want a consultant as such but an actual event director who was running events to support the project). What I learnt on that project was immeasurable. It was an opportunity to bring everything I’d ever learnt in my career to date to the table and tailor it in a way that was suited to them. It was that first personal moment of recognition that my knowledge and skills were valued by the greater industry and that certainly played a part in me setting up my own consultancy in 2020.
Any advice you’d like to share?
One gem I always share with colleagues is the importance of self PR. If you don’t believe in yourself, others may not either. I see younger colleagues achieving great things, but they sometimes find it hard to blow their own trumpets. It feels unnatural and inauthentic to them. But without sharing your achievements, others won’t see how you rise through the ranks. My advice is to share your achievements but share them in a way that sounds like you. It doesn’t have to be in corporate language, be yourself. Admit that you’re shy to share it but that you’re challenging yourself to believe in yourself more. People buy people, and even that sense of honesty opens a little window into the real you. If you really can’t bring yourself to share your wins, find a personal champion, a friend or colleague who will do it for you (and you can reciprocate). Some people may feel more comfortable with this approach. LinkedIn is great for professional updates. Don’t just see it as a job board, it’s much more a digital community for your sector. Make sure you’re seen there by the rest of your community – become a face of the industry.
Our industry has been among the worst hit by the pandemic. What drives you to keep going when it’s been really tough?
A love for the industry. In 2020 I’ve seen a number of colleagues move out of the events sector (hopefully temporarily) out of necessity. I’ve even considered it too. But the fact is, we work in events as we love to be part of something greater. We pull together to create incredible experiences, we work so hard and leave every last reserve we have on the show floor – often walking away from the event exhausted with sore feet and lost voices. But no matter how broken we are, it always feels so worth it. It’s that sensation of creating something unique and that feeling of great achievement when the doors close and the stands start coming down.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know:
Sometime in a past life I was an English teacher. I spent a year teaching at a British nursery in Cairo, where I was known as Miss Sue. And one year teaching boisterous teenagers English in Pisa, as well as going to the barracks once a week to teach the Commissioner of the Carabinieri’s kids English too. The random things we do when we are young.