INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN IN THE EVENTS INDUSTRY PART 15: Carrie Abernathy, Executive Director at AWE and Lead Meeting Planner at Altria, USA

Welcome to the next instalment in my ‘Inspirational Women in the Events Industry’ blog series.  Part 15 features the fabulous Carrie Abernathy, Lead Meeting Planner at Altria and Co Founder and Executive Director at AWE, the Association for Women in Events.

When I was in Las Vegas at IMEX earlier this year, I attended the Association for Women in Events Pink Hour networking event.  Whilst I’d followed the association online for some time, it was my first taste of their events and the driving force behind them; an incredible group of women and men fighting for change within the industry and creating opportunities to empower women working in the world of events and connect with others.  As part of this, they launched their AWE’s Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force, which Carrie founded. She ‘felt strongly that the events industry needed to do more to provide education and resources to women and men who had been harassed. Taking it a step further, I believe that with enough education and resources we can eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace altogether.’  

This is an incredible movement for the industry, and I was proud to be able to sign the pledge in person at the event.

In addition to her inspirational work with AWE, Carrie works as Lead Meeting Planner, Industry Engagement at Altria and has a whole host of impressive experience running events on all scales for 15 – 15,000 attendees, including US Government and Military events, tech, B2B and trade shows.

Carrie has served on several advisory councils and committees to include: PCMA’s Emerging Leaders Committee, Cleveland CVB Advisory Board, Team San Jose Advisory Council, Reno-Tahoe Advisory Board, Salt Lake City Advisory Council, Destination Hotels Advisory Council, Green Meetings Industry Council Foundation (Chair- 2014/2015), Nomination Committee for Professional Convention Management Association and was named Collaborate Magazine’s “40 under 40” industry planners to watch. She was most recently named Smart Meetings Magazine’s Top 50 Smart Women of 2017.

I knew Carrie’s thoughts on what it means to be a woman working in events today would make insightful and inspirational reading, and I was right! Read on…

Can you tell me how you found your way into the events industry?

I was studying psychology in college but planning all my dorm events and outings. A friend said “you should do this for a living” and I said “there is no such thing as “this” as a REAL job!”. Turns out I was wrong. I was going to graduate in 3 years, but I decided to spend a year abroad studying events in Australia and was picked up by a 3rd party meeting firm right out of college after an introduction through a job fair!

Despite being a female-dominated industry, there are fewer women taking senior and boardroom positions- where do you think we stand today with the ‘glass ceiling’ for women in the world of events?  

I think we are making progress.  The Association for Women in Events was developed mostly to try to find answers to this issue. At our inception women made up almost 78% of the industry but only 3-5% of C-Suite level positions. We knew that something had to change and that this subject needed to come to light. In the past 5  years I’ve seen more women become empowered to advance their careers and to be their own champions when they couldn’t find mentors and sponsors. It is really quite an exhilarating time and I think women are only gaining more and more traction!

What’s the motivation behind your events work?

For my day job, the motivation is that I just LOVE logistics and I love making people happy, and getting to do both makes me extremely happy.  With The Association for Women in Events, it is always the stories that I hear. Whether it is someone elevating their career because they attended our annual conference or being inspired to help others—we have some amazing stories that have come from creating this community. Our members are so inspiring and they are the reason I show up and give all every day as Executive Director.

Where do you look for inspiration?  

To other women in the industry!

3 top tips for aspiring event professionals?

-Find a champion and/or a community (like AWE)

-Realize that you are going to constantly evolve and never stop learning!

-Question the “way things were always done”—finding new solutions to problems you didn’t know you had will make you invaluable to an organization with events.

To find out more about The Association of Women in Events please visit their website.

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