“I learned to speak up for myself” Image 1


“I learned to speak up for myself”

Mary Larkin, president of Diversified Communications' US operating division and incoming president of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, on female support systems, why everyone needs a mentor and how to overcome the glass ceiling.

m+a/tw: You have been in the exhibition industry for 25+ years. What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in the exhibition industry, aiming for a successful career?
Mary Larkin: I would advise anyone entering the industry to be aware of all aspects of the industry and/or the events they work on. I took interest in what other divisions were doing with their events and I learned every aspect from operations and registration to who the top buyers and sellers were at the event. That working knowledge of how the overall show works – and not just the part I was involved in – really contributed to my success and growth within the organization. As for skills, I think the ability to network, learn and work collaboratively with the entire team is key.

Did you ever experience obstacles in the industry due to the fact of being a woman, i.e. glass ceilings? How can these be overcome?
Yes, at times I did. The “meeting after the meeting” or the impromptu conversations where other opinions were shared excluded me and other women. I was also too busy to take the time to network within the organization but ultimately, my work and results helped negate that. I also learned to speak up for myself and that resulted in more opportunities for education, new events and attendance at industry conferences. I would advise any 2|2019 27 women woman to acknowledge her accomplishments and to share them with her manager. Also being clear about what you want to do and being open to opportunities that present themselves allows you to learn new skills, industries and ultimately network with other industry professionals.

What can be done to improve the career opportunities for women in the events industry?
Women need to support other women more and to recognize the accomplishments of their colleagues. I made a conscious effort to do what I could for other women in my company and in the industries we serve. I took a leap of faith and launched a program for women’s leadership and education during a seafood show and that has grown significantly over the past few years. For men in leadership positions, they can help by mentoring or sponsoring women in their organizations, giving opportunities to women and of course, ensuring fair and equal pay for women.
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Takes her stand: Mary Larkin discusses the status of women in the industry at the UFI Global Congress.


Mary Larkin is president of Diversified Communications' US operating division. She has been with the company for over 23 years and has risen through the ranks. She is also contributing to the industry, most recently as incoming president of UFI – the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

What is your take on mentorship: Do women need mentors in leadership positions in their organization to be able to advance their career?
Everyone needs a mentor – not just women. Learning the culture of your organization and what it takes to advance your career is important. Getting advice from outsiders who know your organization is also very helpful. They can advise you of your “blind spots” and help you navigate situations that may arise. I have a wide network of women and men who have mentored me throughout my career. Those mentors and sponsors keep you grounded and confident at the same time.

You participated in the “Women in Senior Leadership” program of Kellogg School of Management. Why did you decide to take this course?
The course was life changing for me. I had been looking for a program on leadership or general management for a while and the brochure came across my desk. Other programs did not really address issues that were coming up in my day to day work. The program really focused on leadership but addressed how issues impacted women specifically such as negotiation, decision-making, career management etc. I gained more confidence during that year, networked with women from major companies from all industries, learned new ways to look at situations and had an overall broader view of both my organization and the industry as a whole.

You are currently incoming president of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. What do you hope to improve for the industry during your UFI presidency?
I would like to focus on issues that are facing our industry and work to resolve those issues in a pre-competitive landscape that will benefit all. Of course, I would like to do what I can to advance the role of women at C-level positions within the industry.