IWD 2022- How Ashridge House Champions Women in the Events Industry

Written By Amy Brangwyn – Resident Blogger at Ashridge House

It almost seems unthinkable to consider there was a time where women couldn’t vote, couldn’t wear trousers, couldn’t partake in debates and were relegated to the parlour to embroider handkerchiefs. Imagining women in the past, hidden in the drawing rooms while the men talked about ‘serious matters’, feels somewhat laughable. 

But it wasn’t all that long ago. My grandmother remembers being ushered out of rooms, handed knitting needles and being told not to think too much – as if using her brain might be harmful.

As modern women we have a lot to be grateful for. It’s thanks to the righteous indignation of our foremothers that we have the freedoms afforded to us. International Women’s day was born from a movement that began in the US in 1848 when two American women were barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention. 

Incensed by this outrageous inequality, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott congregated a few hundred people at their nation’s first women’s rights convention held in New York. The protest called for civil, social, religious and political rights for women in what is known as Declarations of Sentiments and Resolutions. This gave rise to an entire movement calling for equality and fairness in what had been an utterly male centric world.

International Women’s Day as we know it now was only recognised by the UN in 1977 – so it’s still relatively new despite emerging from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the 20th century in North America and across Europe. The 21st century celebrations have been less about radical social reform and could be seen as somewhat diluted. There aren’t marches and protests but more of a worldwide recognition of the achievements of women globally, championing the successes and innovations accomplished by women.

There’s no hiding the fact that the world of business has always been dramatically male dominated, with women fighting for positions of power in organisations where most of the workforce was male. However as the world finally catches up with the fact that women shine in management and leadership roles, we are starting to see some promising statistics. 

Female CEOs worldwide are on the rise. In 2021, 26% of all CEOs and managing directors were women, a sharp increase from only 15% in 2019. The proportion of women in senior management positions globally is now 31%. It’s not yet a completely level playing field, but it’s definitely heading that way. 

Ashridge House is one such place that champions women’s careers. Especially the events department which is entirely female led. As a celebration and recognition of International Women’s Day 2022, I was curious to know what the team could share with me about their experience working in the events industry, and whether they felt it was a supportive and encouraging sphere for women to excel in. 

I wanted to find out if Ashridge House was an outlier or whether the world of events and hospitality is an arena that women feel more able to elevate their careers in. So I interviewed executives and managers to get their take on how they feel this industry promotes and supports female excellence. 

Lucy Le Gassicke, our head of Sales & Events has been at Ashridge House for almost a year now. With over 20 years experience in the events industry in sales and marketing positions, she’s had opportunities to see the business from many angles. Working across venues, catering, in-house, buyer side and with event management agencies has given her a unique perspective and a sought after ability to be able to view things from a plethora of different directions. 

Her favourite part about working for Ashridge House is the “unique mix of creativity blended with commercial, operational and team management”. The balancing act between different departments allows her skillset to shine. 

The appreciation of abundant opportunities within Ashridge House is something Ella Robjant-Boyd echoes. She’s a Sales & Events executive and has been with Ashridge House for almost four years now. Ella loves that, “each day is so different, one day you could be planning with a floristry team for a wedding of 200, the next you are mapping out a three day international conference and the next you could be working with a production house for a feature film on location!”

Our Public Events Project Manager, Beatrice Outram also loves the diversity and “endless possibilities. With Ashridge House now opening its doors to the public after historically being a private venue, it’s a very exciting time for events here”.

I was curious to know what it felt like to be part of an all female team there. I wondered if it made a difference to the workflow, or how any of these inspiring women felt in the office on a day to day basis. 

Beatrice describes the team as “inspiring”. She feels that the passion and expertise of the team is incredible and is a nurturing place where she can learn from the experience of others and also have her flair for creativity and performance encouraged. 

Lucy shared that she feels they’ve created a culture of women supporting women at Ashridge House. They celebrate each other’s successes and pull together to lend a helping hand when needed. Ella told me that being part of a female led team is powerful, “achieving so much in really difficult and uncertain times. The team is made up of women who are all incredibly smart and intuitive, amongst so many other things! We all worked really hard to be where we are now, which gives us a great team security blanket of knowledge and experience to fall back on.”

The events industry is one of the rare professions that is actually dominated by women. Almost 80% of meeting, convention and event planners are female. Considering that so much of the world of work has been male focussed, I wondered if my interviewees could shed some light on what makes events different. 

All three suggested that it was actually easier and more pleasurable for women in the events industry, because of a natural ability to multitask. Ella noted that “women have an amazing skill to think creatively and logically and having the perfect balance of both is what makes a brilliant event.” I chatted with Beatrice about the joy of juggling a huge variety of clients while having to think outside of the box, engaging both the general public and stakeholders. Lucy echoed everything, adding that the events industry is ultimately about making people happy, which involves creativity and organisation, drawing on the magical multitasking ability that does seem to come quite naturally to women. 

It’s apparent that the hospitality and events world champions women’s careers. Beatrice mentioned that there have been events especially curated for professional women to connect with, learn from and support other like minded women. “Functions such as ‘Lunch and Learn’ and ‘Women in Business Networking Events’ are prime examples of this, as well as events focusing on supporting and celebrating women who have a family as well as a thriving career”. 

Throughout her impressive career, Lucy has always noticed that there have been an equal number of women and men in senior positions within the events industry – and it’s been a real source of inspiration to her. She shared that over the last few years she’s seen a vast improvement in the flexibility of the industry to support new mums to continue to work and be able to be there for their children. There are currently three of her team who work part time hours to fit around family commitments and she feels it would be “an incredible loss if these women had to leave the industry due to a lack of flexibility in the workplace”.

At Ashridge House you really get the feeling of supportive camaraderie, growth and encouragement from the events leadership team. It’s wonderful to see the incredibly cooperative nature of everyone at the venue. They all shared that they feel seen, heard, valued and respected in their working environment.

For International Women’s Day 2022, I’d like to celebrate being part of this incredible team. I feel incredibly lucky to have been brought on, and at the same time feel empowered to say that I’ve worked hard to deserve this position. In previous jobs I’ve felt like I should perhaps be less celebratory, but here I’m encouraged to take up space, try new things and be totally supported, which in turn makes me more able to be supportive. 

Ashridge House showcases strong female leadership and fosters an environment that enables us to thrive. There is a concerted effort to showcase women, their achievements and ideas, and to be inclusive. That amplification of previously restricted voices is where the change can really begin to happen. 

Although we are far from securing total gender equality in the events industry, there are places within it which are holding a beacon, and Ashridge House is certainly a bright flame in the movement towards true equality.

 

Sources:

Women in business 2021: A window of opportunity. (2021). Grant Thornton

Women in Management (2022). Catalyst


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