This International Women’s Day we caught up with our Venue Director, Gillian Kiamil.
From running her first event at 16 to becoming a director at 34, Gillian discusses the importance of female leadership in her career, how she empowers those around her and why you don’t always need to be striving for the next best thing.
'Take us back to the beginning; have you always had a passion for events?
When I was 16, I went to an all-girls catholic convent, and together with the all-boys school, I decided to run some social events to get the girls and boys together. I made a fortune! We hired out the Irish Centre in Tottenham and ran eight events a year that were complete sell-outs. It was then I realised I enjoyed planning events. Shortly after this, when I was looking at universities I decided to pick the only event management degree in the country and the rest is history!
You are one of three females in our Executive team and a Board member. Was it always your desire to become a leader or did you stumble into the role along the way?
It wasn’t something I set out to do, but it wasn’t something I was scared of, and that’s because of some amazing female managers I’ve had along the way. I’m not a believer that knowledge is power; there is strength in depth, and that’s important to me - all I’ve ever wanted was to help other people come up around me. I’ve been lucky being in the right place at the right time, but I have taken every opportunity that has been presented to me.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Find something you love, and do it to the best of your ability. My advice for next-generation: be true to yourself, have passion in your beliefs and always trust your gut instinct about people and situations.
Olympia London has joined the new AEV working group for diversity and equality. Why do you think this important?
It’s essential to recognise that diversity and inclusion aren’t the same things - diversity in that people are different and inclusion in that all those people have a voice. What is important is that everyone is respected for their role, opinions they have and are seen as an expert in what they do.
I was 34 when I became a director, and I’ve been lucky to say my age and gender has never been an issue for me. I’ve had to prove myself on significant projects, but I believe, first and foremost, I am an Venue Director that just happens to be a woman. Companies that put diversity and equality at the core of their business will get more from their team because their staff feel respected. I’m proud we have nurtured an environment of inclusivity at Olympia London, and I think that shows through the incredible loyalty we have from our staff.
Do you think there are the same opportunities for women in venues, organisers, the supply chain, or is it different across the industry?
There isn’t a specific area of events that woman aren’t welcome or struggle to get into; 20 years ago, there was a real feeling that the girls that got into events were the ones that were waiting to get married. Now I think we have proved ourselves to be logical and practical thinkers and not just seen by our gender.
Do you recommend any support that businesses should consider to ensure help women have equal opportunities in the workplace?
The change in the work-life balance is going to be different after the pandemic. Previously I was religiously in the office five days a week because I didn’t want anyone to feel I wasn’t pulling my weight or using my kids as an excuse. Over the years, I’ve found you will get more from your team if you give them flexibility and treating them with respect. Don’t be afraid to employ someone because you think something might change in their circumstances. Trust that they are dedicated and love what they do for a living.
How do you empower others at Olympia London?
I’m in a fortunate situation that I’ve had a fantastic team around me since Earl’s Court & Olympia and I trust them implicitly. I’m a big believer in giving people the opportunity to fly but letting them know you are there to catch them. The only way you learn is when it’s going wrong. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of things going wrong, but that’s how you learn, and I was lucky that that was how the female leaders around me taught me.
What are you working on at the moment that excites you?
For the interim, it is the collaboration with our new catering partners, Host Olympia London. I’m so excited to work with Gather & Gather they are going to bring us some exciting collaborations through their Gathered Table with the likes of Scully, and of course, great food. We have an opportunity here to change exhibition catering, and that excites me.
In your career as a professional, what’s been the best advice you’ve received?
To trust myself, that I didn’t always need to be striving for the next new thing and that the right opportunities will come your way.'