In honour of International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate all of the strong, talented women in our fast-paced, complex events industry. To put perspective on the current landscape for women in our industry, we have invited several female leaders from across the Vancouver Convention Centre and our wider organization of B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) and sister-facility BC Place for a timely roundtable discussion. They all get candid about their journey and the evolution of the role women play in their respective areas of expertise.

The women who participated in this discussion are:

  • Rehana Din, Chief Financial Officer, PavCo;
  • Patricia Jelinksi, General Manager, BC Place;
  • Alikie Knight, Senior Manager, Venue Operations, Vancouver Convention Centre;
  • Sarbjit Minhas, Manager, Facility Services, Vancouver Convention Centre;
  • Jennifer Rafuse, General Manager, Centerplate (Vancouver Convention Centre Food & Beverage Partner)

How has the industry evolved for women over the past 10 years?

Rehana: Overall, there is more diversity in leadership roles, and I believe this has been key for the growth and development of women within any industry. This allows women to identify leaders who they are more similar to and envision themselves in a leadership role. The definition of a leader has evolved over time, allowing women to embrace what makes them unique or different and see those aspects as a benefit rather than something holding them back because they do not fit the typical “leader” mold.

Jennifer: Years ago, there was the thought that women aren’t cut out to be chefs because they couldn’t handle the pressure or take the heat of the kitchen. The labour is too difficult and hours are too long. It was a “boys club.” We now see a surge in women restaurant ownership, management and chefs, which were generally perceived as male roles in the past. 

What is being done within your industry to promote and develop women?

Patricia: I am a long-time member of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and served on their Board of Directors for a two-year term. Women hold significant leadership roles in the Association including Chairs of the Board. They have a great mentorship program as well for young professionals and I highly recommend the opportunities provided through membership in this organization.

Rehana: Mentorship programs and peer relationships are extremely important when it comes to developing the next generation of female leaders. I have noticed that it isn’t only women mentoring women, but also men are mentoring women because they realize the value a person can bring regardless of gender. Having good relationships with your peers in an industry is also vital for growth so that you have people to relate to and get honest feedback from.

What do you think is the most significant barrier currently for women in your industry?

Alikie: The most significant barrier for women in this industry is balance. Balancing responsibilities of work and home is difficult, especially for women with children or those caring for aging parents, and many face the reality of making the choice between career and family. Attempting balance can often lead to burnout, with expectations high for being present and available for those on both sides of the scale. This is a creative, high-energy, and time-demanding industry with expectations of being available 24-7 knowing that "the show must go on."  

Rehana: I believe the biggest barrier throughout my career and many others has been internal. It has been engrained in many women to question our ability or to doubt ourselves more than we should. Having the self confidence that your voice and opinions matter is extremely important but seems to be hard for many women to believe. For so long, women have not been invited to have a seat at the table and it is important to realize that we do deserve to be there just as much as any male counterpart.

Jennifer: Changing the mindset of women and their peers to be confident and speak up with what they have to say or for what they stand for. Having a career or re-launching into the industry after having children, or conversely sacrificing the idea and thought of having a family and choosing not to because of their career.    

What woman inspires you most and why?

Sarbjit: Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. As an Indian woman, what really struck me about her story was how she approached media interviews early on in her career when she first moved to the U.S. Usually going in to an interview I stress about my accent, how I pronounce certain words and how I am presenting myself. Indra Nooyi had the confidence to stand out by wearing her saree because she didn’t have the money to buy a business suit and to speak her truth. That self-confidence struck me greatly and has taught me that if I want to achieve something I can still be myself and go out and do it.

Alikie: The woman who inspires me most is Lady Gaga. Not only is she an innovative and inspiring artist, but she is a self-made woman who stands up for what she believes in and stays true to herself. I saw her perform in Las Vegas, and she told us "when you walk out this door tonight, do not leave this room loving me more, leave loving yourself more". This speaks to true to leadership, which is not about being the best, but about making everyone else better.

If you could have dinner with any woman, living or dead, real or fiction, who would it be and why?

Patricia: This is a very personal choice for me - it would be my Mother who passed away when I was seven. She was a force as a leader in our local community and I know I have missed her guidance and advice throughout my personal and professional life.

Jennifer: Nadia Comăneci. The hard work, training, and dedication that she demonstrated resulted in her being the first gymnast to be awarded perfect 10s at the age of 14 at the Olympics. Her documentary didn’t just focus on her wins and perfect scores, it also put into focus the trials and tribulations along her journey and that inspired me at a young age.

What advice would you give to young women starting out in your industry?

Alikie: My advice is to not be stuck on a certain career path. Build your skillset in unexpected ways that diversify your profile and add to your toolkit. You can leave your mark in profound ways if you take risks and tackle tasks or apply for roles that others shy away from.

Patricia: Learn all that you can. Take advantage of training or project team opportunities. Find a few people who will mentor and support you, in and outside, of the industry. Get involved and build your networks.

Jennifer: Don’t allow anyone to put you down or tell you that something isn’t possible. Regardless of gender, the sky is the limit given the right attitude, drive, motivation and goals. If you have thoughts or opinions voice them, and if you do, you might just notice that you have a seat at the table.

Rehana: Don’t underestimate the power of relationships. Do your best to build relationships with peers and mentors because you never know where that person will be in five years. Learn to say yes to opportunities you usually wouldn’t be comfortable because they may lead your career in a completely different direction than you expected.

Sarbjit: Have a purpose in whatever you choose to do. Do your best to be self-aware and evaluate yourself. Don’t be entitled – work hard!

Looking beyond the events industry, we recognize the need for progress on gender equality and expanded dialogue on issues faced by women. This makes us very proud that the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of girls and women is coming to Vancouver in June. Taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Women Deliver 2019 will bring together over 6,000 of the greatest minds, strongest activists and most progressive leaders from across the globe to build a more gender equal society.