International Womens Day image collage

Left to right: Jaimé Bennett, Cecile Koch, Celia Hodson, Bel Hanson, Fiona MacKinnon
Left to right: Fay Sharpe, Katherine Nelles, Naomi Hollas, Karin Burger


Today, the 8th of March, marks International Women's Day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a day to raise awareness about women's equality and to fundraise for female-focused charities.

To recognise International Women's Day, we spoke with some of our female colleagues and partners from across the globe to discuss and celebrate their achievements.

Jaimé Bennett, Business Director EMEA, PCMA

Jaime Bennett landscape

Jaimé Bennett

Over the last 16 years I have worked in many facets and roles within our industry from agency to exhibition organiser and CVB to corporate and association. I was also the youngest person to be appointed as chair of the Association of Irish Professional Conference Organisers.

My route into the industry was not intentional. My uncle got me a part time job in a conference hotel while I was studying. My original career plan was to be a barrister in family law, but after experiencing events it turned out that the buzz of building relationships, planning projects and handling budgets were more for me.

At first it was all about organising events seamlessly and being one step ahead of clients by thinking about their needs and delivering before they asked. When I started to understand conferences, why they take place and the reasoning behind associations my mind was blown. I quickly started to see the bigger picture and the impact conferences have on communities, destinations and international partnerships.

My career plan was to work my way through a variety of organisation types and roles to get an in-depth understanding of the entire industry, which I feel I have done a pretty good job of over the last 16 years. Through my experience I discovered PCMA and its vision of driving global economic and social transformation through business events, which really aligned with my own personal values. Last year I joined PCMA's EMEA team as its Business Director and my top priority is to ensure it is developing products and services to serve the unique needs of our EMEA audiences.

My life motto: "You can learn many skills, but you can't be taught passion or perseverance."

Cecile Koch, Managing Partner and Founder, Boardroom Global

I have learned that being patient is often key to achieving great things. The longer you wait for a deal, for a partnership, or whatever you want to accomplish, the greater the outcomes will be – otherwise you would have dropped the original idea a long time ago.

In addition, building strategic partnerships creates endless goodwill and business opportunities you might have thought could not even happen.

The future looks bright for women; gender equality is one of the top priorities for a lot of organisations and corporates.

Fay Sharpe, Founder, Fast Forward 15

I'm very proud of the community that we have created with Fast Forward 15 (FF15).

10 years ago, at an awards ceremony around 78% of the nominations were men and only 12% were women. In an industry predominantly female I thought -why are there more men being nominated for these awards than women? So, I decided to do change it and came up with the idea of FF15 where we mentor 15 women within our industry for free and help them achieve their goals and be the best they can be.

FF15 is supported by male and female mentors who we recognise as successful leaders within our sector. Now in its seventh year we have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of women and inspired women to believe in themselves and to go after what they want.

As I have a huge number of applications for the FF15 programme, I have now launched my new Mentoring Excellence initiative. Through this I work with businesses to set and reach clear goals which will help them to deliver and achieve their own aspirational success. Having started with nothing myself and I am so proud of what I have achieved; I built a multi-million £ brand which I then sold for £15.9 million and creating FF15 where I support and give clear mentorship to the mentees through experience and my own personal success. I am also working on a collaboration to launch FF15 within the political sector with the aim of helping women to break through the glass ceiling and change the face of UK politics.

My life motto: “The secret to confidence is to believe in yourself. Whatever anyone says to make you doubt, don’t. If you believe in yourself, you can make anything happen”.

Fiona MacKinnon, Business Events– Associations & Sectors, VisitScotland Business Events

Fiona MacKinnon potrait

Fiona MacKinnon

I have had the pleasure of working in the wonderful international world of conferences and events for more than 30 years, in London and Scotland. I have represented venues, cities and now I represent my country, Scotland.

I have seen many changes and challenges in the international marketplace throughout my career. The constant is the partnerships and relationships that are developed with colleagues and clients.

The industry is resilient, and we adapt to change readily. This will be needed more than ever before in this global post Covid era. For the event professionals of the future, it will be a very different environment and experience. I have had the privilege of working with Naomi Hollas, a next generation event graduate. Naomi has set up Event Grads as a support community for event management students, championing and supporting the next generation of event profs.

Naomi Hollas potrait

Naomi Hollas

Belinda Hanson, Senior Manager Operations and Programs, International Society for Computational Biology

I started off my career as an army officer, where I learnt many valuable transferable skills such as project management, thinking outside the box, attention to detail and the ability to anticipate my next steps. All these skills helped me to carve out a new path and lead me to my current career.

I now work for the International Society for Computational Biology as the senior manager of operations and programs. In this role, I am responsible for organising scientific conferences for our members. The global events allow scientists to come together to share their research and to collaborate on future projects.

The best part of my job is organising and creating events on different continents, as well as virtually, as it gives attendees new experiences and perspectives. This coupled with engaging programming may spark that ‘aha’ moment that furthers their scientific research in turn which makes the crazy hours, endless emails, and ceaseless spreadsheets all worth it. 

My life motto: “Don’t be afraid to own ALL of yourself. Every label you wear (planner, parent, gamer, gardener, athlete, artist) they collectively make you the dynamic person you are and will allow you to bring new skills and perspectives to any challenge.”

Celia Hodson, Founder and CEO, Hey Girls

Celia Main landscape

Celia Hodson

Through Hey Girls I’d love to ensure that all girls and women have access to period products, knowledge about menstrual products and to clear away any myths or stigmas around menstruation. We have achieved so much since we launched in 2018, but my ultimate goal is to eradicate period poverty, which is a huge challenge. Hey Girls has been on an incredible journey in such a short space of time. I am very grateful for the continued support and collaboration from the various Scottish enterprise networks I am a member of, but also to the government and business leaders for believing in my business model and my mantra of ‘we’re for dignity, we’re not for profit’.

Karin Burger, Manager Europe, SPIE Europe

Karin Burger landscape

Karin Burger

I originally trained as a secretary in Germany but started a career in the events industry in 1989 and have since been working for a variety of clients across Europe. Over the years, I have worked in almost every aspect of events, from organising the conference programmes to planning and overall management of them.

As well as being SPIE’s manager for Europe, I am the director and company secretary at SPIE Europe Ltd where I manage all the events for Europe and act as a liaison for the various committees in which SPIE is represented.

Katherine Nelles, Corporate & Incentive Market Manager - UK (South) & Ireland, VisitScotland Business Events

Katie Nelles potrait

Katherine Nelles

As a Canadian who relocated to Scotland, I now jokingly call myself a Scotadian. My career in the events industry started in 2011 in Canada and led me to move overseas. I believe that my career has been helped immensely with the inclusion of mentorship. Being able to find yourself in a community that values continuing learning, not only on trends and market research but on personal development is important.

I am very passionate about my work with VisitScotland Business Events, as Scotland has so much to offer and is more than castles, whisky, and kilts. Its innovation, inclusion, climate justice and equality. It makes me proud to be part of a team that is helping connect organisations to these values. Being in Scotland for just over seven years, and working for VisitScotland now for three years, I wouldn’t want to be with any other team.

My life motto: Surround yourself with people who inspire you to challenge yourself.

Continue our IWD stories and read more about the fantastic women within the events sector in Scotland.