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 world, and up next is T. Taubie Motlhabane, CEO of Cape Town International Convention Centre.
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?
This is an unfortunate legacy of patriarchy in the educational and employment systems of many countries. The way to change it is a will to do so, backed by commitment, and ensured by making the requirements for gender parity part of our strategies, key performance indicators, and targets during the employment process. Training and development of more female leaders in these roles is also crucial to ensure succession. At our convention center, we are proud to say we currently have a female in the role of GM: facilities operations. More women in positions of leadership, influence, and power need to take on the responsibility to be agents for the change in gender representation at the top levels of industry management.
In addition to your skills and capabilities, to what would you attribute your success in a male-dominated sector of the business events industry?
It is very important to develop an inner strength or what is widely known as Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to be able to make it in any leadership role. Women must navigate twice as astutely to get as far as our male counterparts do — make the right connections, build relationships, and trust with both male and female counterparts. This is an industry of people, and it is important to have good relations with people. Interpersonal skills are very important in this business. Women are naturals at this. It is wise to tap into our natural talents and learn the best attributes from leaders of substance (male and female).
What attracted you to this side of the business?
The desire to be in a position to make a meaningful change has driven me to where I am today. Strategy is the roadmap to change. Being in a position to develop or influence a company’s strategy has always appealed to me.
What is the biggest challenge convention facilities are facing right now?
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of the events business in general. However, as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic and move towards recovery, we are realizing that the biggest challenge post-COVID is shortage of skilled labor in the events industry. A lot of convention centers lost good people to other industries such as tech, and as we ramp up, we are faced with this global skilled human capital shortage. Some venues are even faced with having to cancel events due to lack of staff, which is not ideal for a sector that depends on events for our recovery. Convention centers also face the need to diversify their revenue streams and build more resilient businesses.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
As the saying goes, “There is a silver lining in every dark cloud.” COVID has afforded us the opportunity to think outside the proverbial box. We now have the opportunity to redefine what our purpose is beyond being the physical space to hold events in. When we consider 4IR [Fourth Industrial Revolution] for instance, we recognize easily that COVID-19 catapulted us two decades, and that acceleration holds a myriad of opportunities for our future. To realize these opportunities however, we must be willing to venture into unfamiliar territories and get out of our comfort zone. That is where the innovative and future-bound thinking happens.
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?
Convention facilities are evolving to being more than white boxes that await its clients to fill it with purpose and color. At the CTICC, we are re-imagining our future and value proposition. COVID has afforded us the opportunity to repurpose our facility to be the box that clients can find value, purpose, and color in. We are becoming the solutions and innovation center for our city, country, and continent by addressing challenges in key economic sectors such as technology, agriculture, green energy, finance, health, and tourism. I believe that eventually most convention centers will evolve to serve the new needs of their communities.
Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.