It’s almost Spring time, 2019 is well and truly under way and it’s time to shine a spotlight on a truly inspirational woman in the events industry as part of my blog series – which has opened exciting conversations with women all over the globe about how they view the industry and how they’ve got to where they are today.
My next interview is with the determined, successful yet incredibly friendly and down to earth Fay Sharpe. She’s vice-president of global events agency BCD Meetings and Events, and founder of Fast Forward 15; a mentoring scheme set up for women working in the events and hospitality industry to encourage, inspire and empower them to reach their goals.
Fay’s experience and story has really inspired me – and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat to her about her career, her achievements, and what it means to be a female event professional today.
Can you tell me how you found your way into the events industry?
I started in hotel management and hospitality at university and worked as a graduate trainee for Hilton… a tough year and I can’t say it was my favourite time in my career. However, one of the things the manager asked me to do was to put on a wedding fair, and 400 people turned up – which was a great success for a small hotel and my first flavour of events. I worked for Hilton in Sales and Marketing and really enjoyed the meetings sector, and then the opportunity came along with a business contact to set up a venue finding agency.
How important has goal-setting been to you on your journey to where you are today?
I started off goal setting and really not even knowing I was doing it; I don’t come from a particularly well-off background and my mum asked me what I wanted to do for a career. I knew I wanted to be somebody and achieve something, so I set myself a goal to be a millionaire by the time I was 30. Whilst I’ve had other goals, this was really my life goal – it wasn’t about the money necessarily, but achieving something and being somebody. From that, I’ve realised money isn’t everything – there are much more important things in life, and when you reach your financial target you’re able to help others, which is important to me and something I’ve been championing for some time now.
What would you say your biggest career challenge has been to date?
I think having children and being a crazy successful business-woman is really difficult! Whatever you do, you feel guilty; whether you’re at home with your children and not working or vice versa, and probably one of the things I’ve had to settle within myself is that you’ve really got to do what you think is right. Family comes first, but sometimes you have to compromise, and if you have good people around to help and you’re there for your family when you need to be you can make it work.
Where do you think we stand today with the ‘glass ceiling’ for women in the world of events?
It is encouraging to see that so many people have engaged in the question. Women are feeling more empowered to take things into their own hands rather than just waiting in a company. They’re setting up their own thing, going freelance or taking steps to where they need to be, and there are now a lot of guys in the industry who also recognise a balanced company is a good company. I’ve seen some really encouraging signs from our industry of women achieving more and more and not being afraid to go and blow their own trumpet.
I think that in the past there have been old boy’s clubs, but that’s changing and the progressive males in our industry are embracing the fact that today’s workforce is diverse. Whether it’s multiculturalism or gender, it doesn’t really matter, it’s ‘can we do the job’ and will we challenge, create and be the best we can be.
What’s the motivation behind the mentoring scheme you founded; Fast Forward 15?
Two things; when I was working in hotels the senior level was very male dominated, and an early boss once said to me that when I had children things would be tough for me, that I wouldn’t be able to get on and progress. I’m someone who, when given a challenge, will say ‘yes I will!’
Going back to my first objective, and when I achieved my goal to become a millionaire, I think that you suddenly think of all the people that have helped along the way. It’s more than just having the latest gadget – helping other people is as much an achievement as setting up businesses. It’s a very motivational thing, I love to help people.
A few years ago I gave a talk at a big event show, and gave everyone in the audience a task to write down a goal of where they wanted to be in a year’s time, and post it to themselves. I got a call from a lady who was there, offering to have lunch with me. She got out a piece of paper and handed it to me, which said ‘I want to set up my own business by the end of next year.’ She hadn’t reached her goal within her time-frame due to some hurdles in her personal life, but was so proud to tell me she’d handed her notice in at work, created logos and was a step closer to reaching her goal. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
Do you think the mentors get as much out of the scheme as the mentees?
Absolutely, I think it makes them challenge themselves too. Also they learn from the mentees and gain a different perspective on both sides. Equally the mentors learn from each other and we’re built on amazing alumni.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere! You have to be open in life to things that come to you; they can often lead you down a path you wouldn’t expect. I did a Vision Board workshop recently and set myself a goal to go on a retreat. I went along and met lots of people and found a new perspective – things tend to pop into your life all the time and you just have to be open to them. I read a lot too, I love ‘The Secret,’ it’s one of the books I swear by and so is ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ – there’s a lot of truth in that. I’m always reading nuggets of things from people; I’m active on LinkedIn so enjoy reading things there and reposting, and I also write a blog.
Top tips for aspiring event professionals?
I would just say to anyone starting out in anything, be clear about who you are and who you want to work with; look not just at the salary and job title but the company and what they are about, be clear about where you want to get to. I’ve always been very determined; always learn from everything you do, embrace mistakes and move on, using them as positives.