Women Leading the Way at Convention Centers: Julia Corkey

While women outnumber male business event organizers, only a minority of women hold executive positions at the facilities that host their events. In this fourth installment of a continuing Convene series about female leadership at event facilities, we ask Julia Corkey to share her perspective as the chief executive of the International Convention Centre (ICC) Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Author: Jennifer Dienst       

Julia Corkey seated in auditorium

“The most rewarding part of my role is knowing that ICC Belfast is an integral part of a wider events ecosystem within Northern Ireland,” said Julia Corkey, chief executive at ICC Belfast in Northern Ireland, “and that our team takes great pride in the positive social, cultural, and economic contribution we make.”

The business events industry, at large, is comprised of women — 77 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But some spaces are quite the opposite, particularly facility management, where just 21 percent are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We’re spotlighting women who have worked their way up to the top spots at convention centers around the country, and up next is Julia Corkey, chief executive at ICC Belfast in Northern Ireland.

When it comes to leadership in the events industry, there is quite a bit of gender disparity, especially facility management. Why do you think that is, and what needs to change in the industry to close that gap? In addition to your skills and capabilities, to what would you attribute your success in a male-dominated sector of the business events industry? What attracted you to this side of the business?

It is no secret that the events industry can be high pressure, and historically an expectation of being ‘always on’ has had a direct correlation with time spent physically outside the home. However, we have all become adept at working remotely and more flexibly over the past two years and I believe continuing to offer this enhanced flexibility will make it easier to attract and retain top female talent within our industry.

I think facilitating and optimizing the collaboration between stakeholder groups — both internally and externally with our clients, partners, and delegates — is key to success. The most rewarding part of my role is knowing that ICC Belfast is an integral part of a wider events ecosystem within Northern Ireland and that our team takes great pride in the positive social, cultural, and economic contribution we make.

International Convention Centre Belfast building exterior

Earlier this year, the International Convention Centre (ICC) Belfast became the first meeting facility in Ireland to earn the Green Meetings Silver Award from Green Tourism.

What is the biggest challenge convention facilities are facing right now? What do you see as your biggest opportunity?

In order to service the pent-up demand for events, the next 12 months are set to be incredibly busy. This places an onus on convention facilities to remain operationally efficient whilst upholding platinum standards.

At ICC Belfast, we used the extended closure period to invest, both in our technical infrastructure and in our people, to remain ‘match-fit’ and ready to reopen. ICC Belfast has since emerged from the pandemic as a market leader with a reputation for innovation. Technical infrastructure has expanded significantly at the convention centre, which is now fully hybrid by design and well-equipped to deliver on the objectives of our national and international conferencing clients.

As the first Green Meetings–certified venue on the island of Ireland, I believe that ICC Belfast has an opportunity to gain further recognition as a venue of choice for large-scale, sustainable meetings. Belfast has been ranked among the top 20 most sustainable destinations in the world [source: Global Destination Sustainability Index], and as custodians of the city’s international convention centre, we recognize the important role we play in supporting Belfast’s ambition by mitigating any negative environmental impact created by the world-class business events we host.

Our cover story in our March/April 2022 issue highlights how the design and functionality of convention facilities is changing because of the pandemic and the evolving needs of groups. From your perspective, what do you predict will change at your facility, as well as at convention centers as a whole?

Following the accelerated development of digital event solutions at ICC Belfast, we will be making further investment in our facilities with the installation of a ‘Changing Place’ [editor’s note: Changing Places is a UK-based initiative supporting the installation of accessible restrooms in public spaces] ahead of The Harkin Summit taking place in June. This two-day event, hosted in partnership with The Harkin Institute and Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities, will welcome delegates in person and virtually to positively reframe the narrative on approaching, supporting, and enabling persons with disabilities to achieve their career goals and aspirations.

The ‘Changing Place’ is designed to enhance the health, safety, comfort, and dignity of someone who may need extra support when visiting our venue. This represents a massive step forward for ICC Belfast’s accessibility and we are delighted to be better able to serve the needs of the thousands of delegates that attend events in our venue each year.

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.


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