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Mentoring Insights: Alison Willis and Julie Mann

September 25, 2023

EN has teamed up with Women in Exhibition’s UK Chapter to publish Mentoring Insights: a series of Q&As between senior mentors and female mentees as the pairs share aspirations for their mentorship.  

In the fifth Q&A of the series, mentor Alison Willis (pictured right), divisional managing director of Easyfairs, and mentee, Julie Mann (pictured left), senior account manager – Associations, ExCeL London, give an insight into their mentoring relationship, and what they are both gaining from working together.

 

Mentor, Alison Willis, divisional managing director of Easyfairs

 

Why did you want to become a mentor?

I think the scheme is a fantastic initiative, that I am delighted to support.  We have an internal mentor programme at Easyfairs, and it is a real benefit for team members to be able to gain knowledge from different experiences and advice away from their day-to-day team and responsibilities. Also, as a working Mum – I have faced many challenges, especially regarding work/life balance and parent guilt, so to be able to share my journey and offer support is something I enjoy doing.

Describe where you were in your career at the same stage as your mentee is now. What opportunities laid ahead and what challenges did you face?

I was a sales director at UBM – desperate to progress to event director. Juggling young children with my ambition was my biggest challenge, especially due to the need to travel and network at that point in my career.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for someone at your mentee’s stage of career to overcome? And what are the top skills needed to overcome this?

Career progression is often a challenge, particularly having a clear structure and path with a realistic timeframe to achieve career aspirations.  Our industry is fast-paced, with the constant pressure of deadlines, so much so that it can be a challenge to also work towards the next step in your career and be patient to ensure you acquire all the skills necessary for the next step.  Skills-wise, resilience is key, and being proactive with your career progression is so important. I would advise others not to wait for it to happen – focus on the skills you need and go about acquiring them, whether it be training that you need, a mentor, or something else to get to the end goal – take positive steps to identify the gaps, and proactively go about filling them.

What do you hope your mentee will gain from mentoring?

Confidence and clarity. The clarity to recognise what the current challenges are within their role, and then the confidence to action the solutions.

What are you yourself learning or gaining from being a mentor?

Expanding my event network is always important – meeting more wonderful people across the industry and helping support them is very rewarding. And when something happens, like a well-deserved promotion, it is very rewarding to feel a part of that journey.

Tell us about your own mentors; have you been mentored and how did it help you?

No official mentor as such but I have been very lucky to be surrounded by some amazing professionals and legends over the years, who I still seek advice and support from.  Kate Disley is a dear friend, and we often collaborate and share experiences to support each other. Duncan Reid, as an ex-manager and friend, is also fantastic. And working with Matt Benyon at Easyfairs is also like having a mentor, as he offers constant support. That’s to name only a few – there are many more! This is what makes our industry so amazing, the collaboration, network, and support system we have! Plus, we like to have fun!

 

Mentee, Julie Mann, senior account manager – Associations, ExCeL London 

 

Why did you seek a mentor? 

To bolster my confidence and personal profile, internally and externally. I wanted to better understand how senior colleagues overcome obstacles and challenges to help me develop my client relationship building skills.

How many mentoring sessions have you now had with your mentor? 

Five sessions 

What has surprised you about your mentoring journey so far?

So far with the help and guidance of my mentor, Alison Willis, I believe I have become more confident and work with more conviction, which has allowed me to overcome some of my challenges with a forward-thinking approach.  I also have an influx of fresh ideas for how I can personally develop myself within the industry. 

Describe where you are in your career and how you got to where you are now.

I have recently been promoted to senior account manager within the Conference & Events team at ExCeL London. My development involved a combination of managing and maintaining relationships with existing and new clients, ensuring their satisfaction with the services offered by ExCeL London. I am also responsible for identifying new business opportunities and developing strategies to increase revenue with strong analytical and problem-solving skills. I continue to learn and adapt my approach with new information, using trends in specific sectors by attending industry events and trade shows.

Why did you choose this industry? 

Our industry plays a crucial role in bringing people together, building connections, and facilitating knowledge-sharing and collaboration. The industry also has a huge economic impact on the UK. The associations’ sector is instrumental in shaping health policy and influencing healthcare outcomes on a national and global level. It is a vital and dynamic field that offers a range of opportunities for professionals interested in policy, advocacy, research, education, and other related areas which I find very rewarding. 

What opportunities lie ahead and what challenges did you face? 

The events industry is growing rapidly and there are many opportunities for career growth and development. Technological advancements are providing new ways to engage audiences and create immersive experiences.

Equally there are many challenges within our industry and the biggest challenge that I face is that the industry can be highly competitive, and it may be difficult to stand out in a crowded market. This is especially true in today’s digital age, where there are more ways than ever to promote events and reach potential attendees. 

What do you think the biggest challenge is for someone at your stage of career to overcome? 

I believe it is to continue learning and adapting to changes in the industry. In today’s fast-paced and rapidly evolving world, it is crucial to stay up to date with the latest trends and technologies to remain relevant and competitive. Additionally, networking, building strong relationships, and demonstrating leadership skills are also essential for career growth and success.

What do you hope you will gain from mentoring? 

Being encouraged and empowered in my personal development to increase my confidence, to have informal goal-oriented discussions, and to create opportunities to further my personal and professional profile externally.

Please can you tell us about your career goals.

My career goal is to continue working within the events industry, to further my career within a sales environment, and be able to manage and lead a team. 

Applications for the mentoring programme, from both potential mentees and mentors, are open to all Women in Exhibitions’ UK Chapter members. Find out more about membership at https://www.womeninexhibitions.co.uk/become-a-member/ and apply now to be a mentor/mentee at www.womeninexhibitions.co.uk/mentoring.

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