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 Ellen Schwartz, general manager at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) in Los Angeles, California.
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?
The gender disparity exists at the top level of facility management as a result of the “old school track/career path” to running a facility. The pathway to the top usually ran through operations and/or finance — both heavily male-dominated areas. As someone that came from neither of these areas, I am a firm believer that, really, it’s the person and not the path that’s the most important. Also, there has been a swell of interest around having someone from a sales/revenue/customer background lead. There are currently lots of women and POC in leadership roles (VP/director) at centers, and this should pave the way for more diverse leaders in the near-term future.
For me, curiosity, a willingness to work hard, the ability to ask good questions (especially in the areas I’m least versed in), surrounding myself with an excellent and diverse team, and … most importantly, a good sense of humor, has contributed to where I am today. Prior to being on the facility management side of the business I spent many years in show management and special events. A move to Miami led me to the venue side of the business (sales) and I’ve never looked back!
What is the biggest challenge convention facilities are facing right now? What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
Currently our biggest challenge is getting back to pre-pandemic levels of business. We’re on the road, but [we] hit the Omnicron bump and are hopeful things smooth out now. Our challenge has created new opportunity to host new/emerging events — e.g., the NFT space — as we have availability that we might not have had pre-pandemic.
Our cover story in our upcoming 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?
We’ve all upgraded our air filtration and cleaning practices and I believe these changes will be permanent. We know the importance of tech in facilities, and bandwidth has become highlighted with the streaming that we are seeing more and more of. At the LACC, we are looking forward to our expansion to give us contiguous exhibit space, a multipurpose space with a beautiful outdoor terrace, more meeting rooms, and an update [that] will unify our facility, bringing us to the forefront with digital signage and more. Health, safety, and security are always top of mind for all venue managers and this will not change.
Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.