The 1st edition of Women's Leadership Forum, Connect Now India organised by the Indian Exhibition Industry Association (IEIA) in collaboration with the India Chapter of International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), at the Sheraton, Saket, New Delhi, on Oct, 30, saw women leaders in the exhibition domain taking the center-stage.

The recently held ‘Women’s Leadership Forum: Connect Now India’ ended on a high note with several women leaders in the exhibition industry participating and exchanging their thoughts on fostering the idea of inclusive leadership and acknowledging women’s contribution across the exhibition industry. The event which has the credit of being the first of its kind in the exhibition industry in India was designed in a manner that encouraged open discussion on topics unique to women in the exhibitions and events industry regardless of age, individual situation or current position held in their companies. The occasion ensured knowledge dissemination and strategies for the participants that would not only help them succeed in their current positions, but also motivate and inspire them to take their career a notch higher.

The one-day event took off with lamp lighting ceremony by the dignitaries, Ms. Sonia Prashar, Chairperson, Advisory Committee of WLF and CMD- NürnbergMesse India; Ms. Seema Srivastava, Executive Director, India ITME Society; Ms. Bharati Ramola Gupta, Former Partner PwC; Ms. Monimita Sarkar, MD. KW Conferences and Ms. Savita Mahajan, Mentor, Advisor & Former CEO ISB, Mohali and saw the participation of several women leaders from the domain who openly expressed their views on encouraging growth led environment for women, nurturing women’s leadership, creating mentor ship and recognizing the outstanding achievements of the women professionals in the industry as a part of a long-term agenda. The lamp lighting ceremony was followed by Ms. Sonia Prashar, MD, NürnbergMesse greeting the audience and expressing her views on women leadership. While addressing the audience, she highlighted the fact that talent diversity and inclusion creates a competitive environment, which in turn, acts as a catalyst for the growth of women leaders. Going further, a one-minute video message from Ms. Cathy Breden, Executive Vice President & COO, IAEE, was played at the event, which emphasized on the role of women in leadership positions.

The program focused on networking among the participants from different organisation while sharing their own experiences helping each other build up connections and taking back learning with them. It also focused on development and laying out of the road map to strengthen the role of women in the exhibitions industry. With more and more organisations working on talent diversity and inclusion, they are helping drive innovation and creating competitive advantage.

As the event picked up the pace, the keynote address by Ms. Bharti Ramola Gupta, Former Partner PwC enlightened and motivated the audience. Ms. Gupta’s motivational talk touched all the aspects of a good leader. In her address on Leadership Development, Ms. Savita Mahajan, Mentor & Advisor; Former CEO ISB, Mohali said, “There are few things organisations can do to promote women’s growth in an organisation for the leadership position. The first is facilitating a flexible working environment. Secondly, the organisations can insist on considering both men and women while hiring and for promotions and make sure that women workforce is not ignored". 

The one-day event also featured two-panel discussions. The first panel discussion featured the topic, ‘Entrepreneurship Development for Women Professionals in the Exhibition Industry’. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Aparna Bhargava, Regional Head, Messe Muenchen India and the panelists included some of the established names in the industry, Ms. Himani Gulati, Director, Mex Exhibitions , Ms. Vandana Malhotra VP, Lotus Exhibitions, Dr. Poonam Sinha, Joint Director, NIESBUD and a young entrepreneur Ms. Writuparna Dutta, Managing Partner, BizAnekdotes. All the panelists threw light on their journey, the challenges they faced, especially due to their gender, while sharing how they kept themselves motivated and took up all the challenges confidently. Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Poonam Sinha, Joint Director, National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD) said, “It is important to analyze your potential and set goals slightly difficult but achievable. As a woman, we face both financial challenges and gender bias, but we have to find a way to win over it.” She also highlighted the role of Govt in supporting the women entrepreneurs and stressed on preparing well building a strong case for getting the right support.

The forum also witnessed another panel discussion titled- ‘Leaders’ Conclave’ which covered subjects like how to attract women talent in the exhibition industry, promote gender diversity and financial equity etc., which was moderated by Ms. Rucheeka Chhugani, Assistant Director, NürnbergMesse India and the WLF Advisory Committee members including Ms. Sonia Prashar, MD, NürnbergMesse, Ms. Anitha Niranjan (MD, CIM Global), Ms. Seema Srivastava (ED, India ITME), Ms. Monimita Sarkar (MD, KW Conferences) from the domain. Speaking on the steps to be taken for more inclusion, all the panelists agreed on the need to create women-friendly work culture wherein emphasis would be on listening to the employees and the formation of better HR policies, managing gender parity, introduction of a salary slab system, promoting equal pay and opportunities, and flexible working hours for both men and women wherever possible as per job profiles.

In order to ace the game and stay ahead in the corporate world, one needs to break the glass ceiling and it seems all the women in the leadership position have broken the stereotypical norms.

Being a platform to foster skills and leadership in the women professionals, apart from panel discussions, a presentation- ‘Leading the Virtual world –Leveraging technology for organisational and professional growth’ was made by Mr. Atul Todi, Co-Founder & CEO at 10Times who stressed upon the need to invest in technology for the success of any organisation.

Besides, a talk on ‘Leadership roles for Women’ a case study by Mr. Sooraj Dhawan, MD, Falcon Exhibitions, enlightened the audience on several aspects of leadership. Speaking about the women force and their leadership quality, Mr. Dhawan said, “My Company runs on 96% women force and I must admit that women are best possible human resources and exhibit tremendous integrity and ownership. Today, the global MICE Industry is 75% women-centric. From a leadership perspective, women are as good as men. Women understand the power of direct communication”. He shared insights on what skills women should focus on and also reiterated the role of technology for the growth of the organisation by saying that investment in right human resources is the best strategy for development of an organisation.

Overall, the event succeeded in enlightening the audience on the importance of inclusivity in the industry, fostering leadership and encouraging women in taking up leadership roles, attracting new talents, facilitating more networking opportunities for women, nurturing talent, community building, developing and enhancing the skill sets of women to take up diverse and challenging roles, which would help in knowledge exchange and building of the future road map.

Elaborating on the initiatives taken by IEIA to increase the gender diversity at workplace, Ms. Nidhi Sharma, ED, IEIA and Program coordinator, WLF said, “We aim at creating awareness among the industry players by bringing out the potential in women to take up challenging roles through open sessions, case studies, discussions in such kind of forums and by the way of motivating the existing women professionals to gear up for taking up the leadership roles.”

She further added, “At the same time, IEIA is also connecting with the event management institutes and related institutes to bring in awareness about the opportunities available in the exhibition industry so as to have a broader base of gender diverse workforce in the industry. This will help attract young talents in the industry.”

Speaking on the success of the event, Ms. Prashar, Chairperson, WLF said, “The First edition of WLF has been a huge success. We were able to bring out the concerns faced by the women professionals and aim at building a conducive environment of inclusivity in our industry. We are sure that with the right kind of awareness, wholehearted participation by the women professionals and support by organisations to nominate their employees for this program, as seen in the first edition, we will definitely achieve the objectives of this initiative and take it to yet another level in the future editions. We are sure that organisations nominating their team members for participation in the WLF programs are surely going to reap the benefits in the long run, as this forum will help women emerge as strong leaders with the right skill sets and will be better prepared to deal with the stakeholders in the interest of the organisation.”

The next editions of the Women’s Leadership Forum will be organised by IEIA in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad as part of the agenda to promote gender diversity and inclusive leadership in the exhibition industry in India.

The Women Leadership Forum (WLF)'2018 ended in a high spirit with a vote of thanks and felicitation of the advisory committee members and speakers.