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 Julianne Jammers, executive director of SwissTech Village, Hotel and Convention Center.
When it comes to leadership in the events industry, there is quite a bit of gender disparity, especially in facility management. Why do you think that is, and what needs to change in the industry to close that gap?
I believe that the gender balance is shifting in the world of venue management and one of the best examples that I can provide is that of the International Association of Convention Centers (AIPC), the industry association for professional convention and exhibition center managers worldwide. When I was elected to the board in 2018, we were two women and five men. Today, of the seven board members, we are four female venue CEOs/managing directors.
While there was not a specific call or quota objective, I believe that this reflects the reality of women moving forward in their own organizations and at international levels of responsibility to encourage and recognize excellence in convention center management. At the end of the day, I am convinced that soft skills, competencies, and drive to excel are the qualities that are being recognized and allowing individuals, female and male, to excel in this challenging but fun industry.
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?
My path into venue management was not a straight shot and I would wager that this is similar to most of us in this industry. I believe that my success has come from a combination of genuinely liking people over things, multitasking at a moment’s notice (I mean things like directing flow or locating microphones on the fly), and finally not having to be the smartest person in the room. Knowing how to create a diverse team of those who are top in their discipline, who love what they can do together, has given me immense satisfaction in my professional career.
What is the biggest challenge convention facilities are facing right now? What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
As we come out of two years of disruption to the event business, we are spending a significant amount of time rethinking the business and the role that we can play as venue operators. We believe that the move towards hybrid and virtual will continue, and physical events will need to re-focus on how to do two things. Firstly, how to combine the hybrid model with physical meetings, which for us means mastering the tools and know-how to ensure seamless execution.
In addition, and at the same time, we are focusing on what hybrid and virtual cannot offer. We know that the main reason for participants to attend an event is around networking and serendipity — those unplanned and spontaneous meetings that drive relationships and learning. Neither of which can be easily replaced by online events and the power of which should not be underestimated. Our role as venue operators is expanding rapidly into event advising and we are investing and training in technical skills at the event manager level and partnering closely with our clients to deliver on these expectations.
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?
Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword and a nice-to-have but has become an integral part of RFPs as most meeting policies now include sustainability requirements. Beyond reducing waste and eliminating the traditional bag of materials and printed programs, organizers are increasingly expected to be able to calculate the carbon footprint of a meeting. At the SwissTech Convention Center, we are determined to accompany this effort and have signed the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative launched by the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) and other industry groups, where we commit to publishing our pathway to achieve net zero by 2050 at the latest. We make available to event organizers our methodology and results to allow them to integrate them into their own sustainability efforts.
Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.
More Women Leaders
Find more stories from Convene Senior Editor Jennifer N. Dienst’s series on women leaders at convention centers.