By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
With an impressive portfolio, Nancy Walsh, President, North America for Informa Markets, has established herself as a powerhouse in the exhibitions and events industry while remaining approachable and friendly. Her career continues to be one of envy for many, but especially for those young women inspired to lead. She got her start in an extremely male dominated industry and ascended to the executive level in three major organizations – she was named President in two of them. She has led award-winning teams, as well as launched new initiatives that are still formidable in their respective industries.
Nancy has grown with the changing landscape, including the challenging environment we are in today. In achieving the top-level titles, she has always been a strong and yet compassionate person. She is known as a welcoming leader to anyone new to the industry. She is direct and honest in her feedback, is not afraid of challenges, and is able to find humor in situations where it is needed.
Here, Nancy shares with IAEE how she has developed her talent over the years, her views on leadership and her advice for professionals looking to grow their career.
You entered the industry when top-level positions were predominantly held by male colleagues. What strategies did you develop while negotiating your advancement in the industry as a woman, and how much do you think that plays into how you conduct business today?
I have always viewed myself as a professional and a leader, and never allowed myself to believe I was inferior because I was a woman. I don’t view myself as a woman in the workplace, I view myself as a professional. And similarly I don’t view my male peers as men in the workplace, I view them as professionals too. I think it’s important for women not to be intimidated, to take a seat at the table, and to be bold. It’s also important for leadership not to fall into the trap of making decisions for women, especially working mothers, and what they want or are able to handle. As leaders, the greatest gift we can give women is to let them decide what they want and what they can manage.
In your experience, in what ways have you seen women truly move the industry forward and what would you like to see more of?
I think we are starting to see more women in leadership positions, which is really encouraging to me. There are so many incredible female leaders in the events industry whom I respect and admire. What I would like to see more of is women comfortable in their own skin, and leadership better engaged in work-life balance. I want women to really take ownership of their careers and what they want out of their careers – whether that is more opportunity to ascend up the ladder, or less pressure to. I think remote working helps significantly as well, especially for mothers. Balancing motherhood and a demanding and fulfilling career is difficult, and for those women who want to start a family, it can often feel like a choice. While we have seen significant progress, I think we need to continue to provide working mothers who want to have flourishing careers the flexibility and support to do so.
You have been praised for your ability to make others feel welcomed to the industry and your willingness to share your knowledge. What do you emphasize the most to those you mentor?
Again, I think it’s important to take a seat at the table. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and speak with confidence. If you consistently exceed expectations and are confident in yourself, you will go far. Surround yourself with people who know more than you and be open to diverse opinions – you can be both confident in yourself and open to changing your mind.
You have also garnered much admiration for your leadership qualities. In your mind, what are the top qualities of a great leader and how do you apply these traits when managing your teams?
Someone once told me that it’s not about being admired, but being respected. I know that not everyone will like me, but I try to meaningfully earn everyone’s respect. I also think communication is key – I have been in situations in the past where I have felt communication was broken, and it’s important to me that I am as transparent and communicative as possible with my team. Trust and respect are earned. I try to balance EQ and IQ in my style too; as a leader I think it’s important to not only understand the business, but to understand your teams. It’s just as important to be compassionate and understanding as it is to be intelligent and innovative.
Who are some of the women that you admire and why?
The women I admire are the many women I’ve worked with, from mentors and leaders, to direct reports and team members, who have taught me new skills and expertise from watching them navigate the workplace, grow their careers, and develop strong relationships. I have learned so much from the inspiring women throughout this industry, and continue to every day.