100 women who inspired the events industry to come back stronger

It is official. The phrase “resilient woman in meetings” is redundant. Over the last year, everyone in the industry has been put to the test. But in the flurry of rebooking the rebookings, furiously refreshing to get the latest case numbers and restrictions, and jumping on the next Zoom happy hour, it was easy to forget much we grew over the last 12 months. That is why we asked our nominees to take a moment to consider where they were at the beginning of last year and what that means for the coming year and beyond.

Meet the 2021 Smart Women in Meetings Award winners and read their pandemic stories.

First, we put out the call for names of women (or anyone who identifies as female) who inspire our esteemed Smart Meetings community. The testimonials were particularly moving this year. Some told glowingly of brave women who decided to start their own companies to solve new problems when “the pause” ended what in many cases was a decades-long career. One person reached out with a personal story of how her mentor stepped up to lead an industry organization that created space to welcome and embrace diverse members. We need more of that in this world. One of our personal favorites was a description of a woman as an event ninja who brings out the best in those around her and makes them think about new ways to challenge themselves.

We sent three questions to the standout women nominated this year. First, we asked them to describe their approach to resiliency in three words. The descriptions that came up most frequently were: Positivity/Optimism, Flexibility/Adaptability, Compassion/Empathy, Determination/Strength, Innovation and Gratitude.

Then we asked what advice they would give their pre-Covid selves if they could go back to January of 2020. The tips to buy toilet paper and invest in Zoom had us chuckling, but the warnings to focus on what you can control, let some things go, stay positive (even when it felt so much easier to give up) and lean into discomfort brought back vivid memories of difficult conversations we witnessed on our community coffee chats. The pleas to not take anything for granted and to hug your family and friends and take that vacation now were particularly poignant.

Finally, we asked for the “pandemic lessons” that these pioneering women are taking with them into the future. Many said that they learned just how strong they can be and, conversely, that they don’t always have to be strong. Giving yourself and those around you the grace to process grief and pain is part of the hard work of moving on to accomplish that next big thing. After a career spent honing their craft, many found that they had a lot more to learn and that if they embraced that as an opportunity, they would be even more effective on the other side of the shutdown.

We are printing responses from the 100 most inspirational honorees. These irrepressible women fall into eight categories. Each is important to the rebuilding of this essential industry. Visionaries paved the way for all of us as groundbreaking leaders. They demonstrated a fearless approach to the craft, and they reached back to clasp the hands of others following in their path.

Innovators and Entrepreneurs put something new into the world, created jobs and elevated the industry with fresh approaches and creative solutions.

Industry Leaders and Stellar Performers rise to every new challenge and inspire those around them to bring their best selves. They saw the silver linings and helped others to envision a brighter future.

Rising Stars give us hope for a future led by smart, talented, dedicated professionals. They bring renewed energy and perspectives, and we celebrate their advances in challenging circumstances.

Finally, there are our Hall of Fame recipients. The select few we award with this designation have repeatedly shown themselves as true leaders and role models in our industry. They lead the way for us all.

Winners will be celebrated at a gala dinner at the Smart Woman Summit at Resorts World in Las Vegas Sept. 15. This educational day of skill-building and networking will be a reunion of all Smart Women in Meetings Award winners over the last six years.

We look forward to toasting all of you and hearing more of your pandemic lessons in person.