Our next Q&A features Alison Jackson, group managing director at Nineteen Group.
What motivated you to get involved with Women in Exhibitions Network?
I started in exhibitions in the early 90s and noticed a lack of senior woman in most organisations. I also noticed that the industry was losing a lot of real talent because some companies did not sign up to flexible working and many women felt it was just too hard to keep working after having children. It always struck me as very unfair.
We are living in different times today and there is a more open attitude to flexible working, but sometimes women are not confident enough to put themselves forward for the next role. I think WIEN can help mentor, develop and just give women a stronger sense of identity and the confidence to aim higher. I admit that this is not the only diversity issue within exhibitions but as a full time working mother, I feel I can help younger talent develop and more importantly stay in the market.
Thanks for agreeing to mentor some of our members over the coming year. Why does mentoring matter to you and what do you think are the key benefits for mentees?
Mentoring is a way to give something back. I have been fabulously lucky as I have had access to some great mentors over the years. None of them told me what to do be merely listened and made suggestions. I think the key benefit is having a safe space to discuss whatever is on your mind. None of us are perfect and I found when some of my mentors opened up, it made me feel more human.
How can we best support and empower the next generation of women leaders?
Women have made substantial progress in all walks of life and I think the best way to support and empower is to create a network that women can tap into for training, a chat, advice or anything they may need at a given time.
Tell us a little about yourself, how did you get into exhibitions & events?
I did a degree in Modern languages and worked for a cultural exhibition company in France on a work placement. There was nothing glamourous about it. Lots of coffee making and talking to English museums about moving valuable pieces of art from the UK to France. When I finished my degree I was going to teach English in Spain but saw an advertisement in The Guardian for a sales role at Montgomery Exhibitions. I was broke so thought I would do that for a short time to save up to go to Spain and now I am still broke but feel very privileged to have worked in exhibitions and conferences for so long.
What is unique about your business?
Nineteen Events is a new fast growing event business with supportive investors. It’s unique because of the quality of the team we have managed to assemble in a short period of time. Our senior team in particular represent the strongest team I have ever worked with.
What’s your biggest achievement so far? What are you most proud of?
Without question my daughter Isabelle. It took a long time to have a child but my husband and I never gave up.
Who or what inspires you to be even better?
I am naturally curious and love learning from other people.
If you could go back to earlier in your career, what (if anything) would you do differently?
Nothing really, I have been very lucky. I did once take a more junior role when my daughter was very young as I wanted to work flexibly. In hindsight I should have stayed at the same level and requested the same flexibility as the role was not particularly satisfying.
Any advice you’d like to share?
Surround yourself with great people of all ages and backgrounds and never claim to have the answers. If you don’t know, just say I don’t know.
Has your definition of success changed over the years?
Not really. I’m pretty down to earth and whilst I work hard, friends and family have always been my priority.
Our industry has been among the worst hit by the pandemic. What drives you to keep going when it’s been really tough?
Look it’s been tough and will continue to be tough for some time but in my darkest moments (and trust me, homeschooling for the 11+ is not enjoyable) I know that people are meant to be together and events will come back harder.
When the pubs opened in the summer, I don’t recall everyone saying “Oh don’t worry I will stay in and have a virtual pint or glass of wine”. We may well interact with our communities more through digital touchpoints but I think face to face will bounce back. We just need to be patient as it may take longer than we think… Also yoga helps me to keep going.
What do you think are the main / new challenges ahead?
After COVID there are lots of challenges ahead. Retaining and attracting talent is key.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know:
I am in love with Jurgen Klopp and I live with a die hard Manchester United fan… I am also a big fan of Karaoke.