How Allyship is Elevating Women in the Events Industry with Cat Kevern

Two Women in the frame How Allyship is Elevating Women in the Events Industry with Cat Kevern
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Episode description

A rising tide lifts all boats. 

That’s the perspective Cat Kevern, Director of Electric Cat Productions and Chair of NOWIE (The Network of Women in Events), brings to promoting women in the events industry.

Rather than shaming or alienating others, Cat invites everyone to elevate women and strongly believes in the power of allyship.

In this episode, Cat discusses how NOWIE is fostering a supportive community for women and setting industry standards. Cat also shares her journey from starting out as a freelancer to establishing her own business, offering valuable insights into navigating the events industry as a newcomer.

Press play to learn how to build a successful career in events and champion the advancement of women in the industry, no matter who you are.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • To build a successful career in events, leverage your transferable skills, take initiative to learn what you need to know, and gain experience in a variety of settings
  • Reduce the barrier to entry to create an inclusive and empowering environment
  • Lean into allyship to promote equity and representation

Things to listen for:

02:28 Leveraging transferable skills to build a career in the events industry

06:26 Taking the initiative to learn needed skills

09:09 Amplifying learning and career growth through freelance work

10:30 Stepping outside your comfort zone and learning on the fly

12:35 How NOWIE supports women in the events industry

16:28 The importance of allyship in elevating women

21:31 Setting standards and increasing accessibility in the events industry

25:23 How to get involved with NOWIE

Meet your host

Felicia Asiedu, Director, Europe Marketing, Cvent

Meet your guest host

Cat Kevern, Director of Electric Cat Productions and Chair of NOWIE (The Network of Women in Events)

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Cat Kevern: I loved it so much, and I think the two go so hand in hand. I wouldn't be where I am today with Electric Cat if wasn't for NOWIE because running a non-profit with zero experience is very similar to running a business with no experience running a business. So I think I learned a lot through NOWIE, and I vividly remember the day where I Googled, "What does a chair do? What is a panel?" I started from absolute ground zero. So it definitely will happen really quickly, which sometimes I do have to take a breather and go, "Wow, okay, I have done a lot in a short space of time," but I genuinely think I wouldn't be where I'm with my business if it wasn't for A, the experience of NOWIE, but B, the connections and the inspiring women around me.

[00:00:44] Alyssa Peltier: Great events, create great brands. But pulling off an event that engages, excites, and connects audiences well, that takes a village. And we're that village. My name is Alyssa.

[00:00:56] Paulina Giusti: I’m Paulina. 

[00:00:57] Rachel Andrews: I’m Rachel.

[00:00:58] Felicia Asiedu: And I'm Felicia.

[00:00:59] Alyssa Peltier: And you're listening to Great Events. The podcast for all event enthusiasts, creators, and innovators in the world of events and marketing.

[00:01:08] Felicia Asiedu: Hi, everyone. What's been going on in this wide, wide world of events? My name's Felicia, and I am your host for this week's episode. So this month is all about celebrating women. I know we had International Women's Day. To be honest, we should have International Women's Year as far as I'm concerned. So what we've decided to do, we won't go all that way, but we're celebrating this month, and we have some great women on our podcast this month. If you missed the last episode, be sure to go and check it out. But today, I am joined by Cat Kevern. Now, why don't you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?

[00:01:43] Cat Kevern: Thank you so much for having me Felicia, super excited to be part of your podcast. As you said, my name is Cat Kevern, and I am the chair of NOWIE, the Network of Women and Events. I also run Electric Cat Productions, which is my business. So a little bit more about NOWIE. We are a non-profit and everything we do is to empower women within the events industry. I'm sure we'll touch more on it later so I won't go too deep into it. I was freelance for just under eight years before setting up my own business and now run Electric Cat Productions, which is a marketing and events agency.

[00:02:12] Felicia Asiedu: Love it. Thank you very much. So you did a far better job of that than I ever could, so I'm glad you got to introduce yourself. But we were just talking about working for large corporations versus not, and you're like, "Well, I skipped that." So how has your career got... what brought you to this point today?

[00:02:31] Cat Kevern: So I think probably everyone you speak to, I fell into the industry. More specifically, I fell into the live music events side of things, and I was actually at university studying law. I grew up in France, so I moved to Paris when I was 18. My dad thought it would be a great idea if I didn't know what to do to become a lawyer because then at least I would have lots of money, but I hated it. After a couple of weeks, months, I knew that it wasn't for me. I still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, but I loved the nightlife that there was in Paris compared to where I grew up in the countryside. So I started going out quite a lot, and I realized that I could get in for free if I started handing out flyers in front of light clubs, so started from there, really.

[00:03:17] Felicia Asiedu: I love that. I did that too. I remember I joined what was called a street team at the time and now was it, I think it was Lil John was on tour, and I was part of the street team. I was like, "Yes, if I hand these things out, I can go and watch concerts for free."

[00:03:31] Cat Kevern: Amazing. Well that's way more fun than probably the nights that I was involved with, but I really loved it. It all started from there. Because I was in France, nobody else in the team spoke English, so I got really lucky in that I got involved with, they just used to pull me backstage and be like, "Can you just translate for this artist?" Then they got me to go meet people at the airport, help with contracts, translations, things like that.

[00:03:53] Felicia Asiedu: Love it. Now, that is our first lesson learned, I think, about transferable skills. Sometimes I talk to university students or people that are very, very new into the industry and they're like, "Oh, I don't really have a full CV. I don't really have much to give." I'm like, "Hold on, there's so much about you that probably you can give and look at that 'cause you speak two languages. Excellent. You'll be the translation person."

[00:04:15]] Cat Kevern: Yeah.

[00:04:16] Felicia Asiedu: So it's really cool. 

[00:04:17] Cat Kevern: I took it.

[00:04:20] Felicia Asiedu: I love that. So that was you in your very beginnings and getting into the industry. So what happened after that? When you say you fell into the industry, what was your most serious, "Right, this is my job now and I'm in the industry?" What was that beginning?


[00:04:33] Cat Kevern: Again, I think my dad was like, "You need to go back to uni," because I dropped out, and he was obviously not impressed at having a dropout daughter, but I knew it wasn't for me. So I'm really pleased that I did 'cause I think otherwise, I would've wasted three, four years of my life and then not ever used that degree. So my family were quite set on me going to uni and getting a career. So when I think after about a year out, I decided to move back to the UK and studied events management and marketing. I think actually I did it all the right way because I really had my head screwed on when I did go to uni.

So I studied at the University of Hertfordshire and from day one, I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew that I loved events, I was piecing together that you could make a career out of events, and I was like, actually, I did really love that, but I never thought I could even make a career out of it. So I started studying, lived at home to save money, and I was working alongside that as well. So I was working at Feats and Wetherspoon's all at the same time and also doing a bit of events on the side. So I, through my university, got involved with the staffing company and did some work for them over the summer and then got involved with a couple of club lights in the UK. Then it all just escalated from there, really.

[00:05:48] Felicia Asiedu: Love it. For those of you listening across the world, Boots, let's imagine you're in America, is like a CVS. Wetherspoon's, there's just nothing like it.

[00:05:58] Cat Kevern: I did learn a lot in a short space of time, but as much as I do look back on it now, I definitely picked up a lot of skills I took into my events career.

[00:06:07] Felicia Asiedu: Brilliant. Let's talk about that career. So Electric Cat Productions, I saw you the other day at Confex wearing the brightest T-shirt along with your bright phone, and I was like "Electric Cat, that's about right." So first of all, tell us what made you want to start your own business and then tell us a bit about Electric Cat.

[00:06:26] Cat Kevern: So I have been freelancing, I always say since I started Genie really, 'cause that's when I really started getting into events. So depending on how you look at it with COVID it's been eight, 10 years roughly that I've been in the events industry. As you mentioned earlier, I have never been full-time. I've never worked in-house with an agency or a company for more than a couple of months on a project basis. So it really just came very organically because I was freelancing, so before COVID, well, 100% events. Then during COVID is when I really started to have to look at other opportunities so that when I realized that events weren't coming back any anytime soon, I really dove into the marketing side of things and was very grateful that I'd studied events and marketing. So I taught myself graphic design during COVID and absolutely loved it, just got really, really into it.

Then through that, web design, 'cause I was always building my portfolio and then I realized that obviously it's a little bit of a bigger project so I could charge more with Squarespace and platforms like that. I never really learned how to code, but I learned how to use Squarespace really, really well. Then through that, I learned a little bit Shopify, a little bit Wix, and then, again, just naturally progressed towards marketing strategy, taking all of the learnings that I had from my uni degree and applying them and looking at things a bit more wholistically than someone saying, "I need a new logo." So I'd go, "Okay, how does that sit. What else might you need? How can I assist you? How can I help you reach your target audience?" Then COVID came to an end, events started coming back.

But by this point, I already had lots of really great clients I was working with on the marketing side. So I found myself in a bit of a transition phase where a good six months I was really juggling being on-site at an event and going home and then doing all my marketing projects. So I was really spinning a lot of plates and that's when I realized that it was a bit much, really, and that I wasn't able to deliver all of them to the quality that I would hope. So it was great to have all that work, but at the same time, I wanted to be able to deliver it all properly. So that's when I decided to start the business, and that is round about the time when I met Eloise, who was the first team member to come on board and then the rest is history, really.

[00:08:37] Felicia Asiedu: Oh, brilliant. That just sounds so cool, and I think you've given us a little bit there of your uni journey and discovering what it is you wanted to do. You sound like a real self-teacher type. You're like, "This is what I want, so I need to learn it. This is what I want, so I need to go and learn it." I just think that should be really, really inspiring and help people to realize that you can set up your own business if you put the time in and the effort to saying, "I need to learn that. I want to know how to do that." So I don't think anyone's handed it to you. Sounds like you've done a lot for yourself.

[00:09:09] Cat Kevern: I think my parents have always pushed me out of my comfort zone from a child, and that's something that I'll always be very grateful for. I think moving to a foreign country at the age of seven, there was no such thing really as a comfort zone for me. It was all different, it was all new. Being freelance, I think jumping from one company to the next was so valuable for me because what one company did was totally different to what the next one did and how the team was structured, how organizationally, operationally, how things ran was totally different. So every event I felt like I was learning so much, and I've always just loved learning. You mentioned about, yeah, I starting your own business I think very rightfully so, there is no half measure. It is an all-in kind of thing. I don't have children, but I can imagine it's like having children.

[00:09:56] Felicia Asiedu: Yeah, they're very all in, I can tell you. I wish there were some days where I can, "Not today, I'm not a mum today." But yeah, we won Diverse Speaker Bureau, and it does feel like in order to get that to the place where we want it to be, we would have to go more all in than we are now, so lots of respect to you. That is your every day, that's your day job is what you do. I think building up, we're going to talk about NOWIE. You said you're the, is it president?

[00:10:30] Cat Kevern: Yeah. It's just a title, isn't it? But yeah, so I was very lucky to get involved with NOWIE when I was at uni. I think just from sheer passion energy and relentlessness emailing the founders, they just one day were like, "Cat, you just should run, shall we?" They handed me the bank account and the logins, but it took a few years, but I loved it so much. I think the two go so hand in hand, I wouldn't be where I am today with Electric Cat if it wasn't for NOWIE because running a non-profit with zero experience is very similar to running a business with no experience running a business.

So I think I learn a lot through NOWIE, and I vividly remember the day where I googled, "What does a chair do? What is a panel?" I started from absolute ground zero, so it definitely will happen really quickly, which sometimes I do have to take a breather and go, "Wow, okay, I have done a lot in a short space of time," but I genuinely think I wouldn't be where I am with my business if it wasn't for A, the experience of NOWIE, but B, the connections and the inspiring women around me.

[00:11:33] Felicia Asiedu: Oh, brilliant. Well, so president, like I said, come on. I know, I just feel like when someone hands you the keys to something, you'd be like, "You know what? I fancy being the president." It reminds me of a lot of our U.S. companies that we deal with, so you get all the different types of job titles. I know that's one of the things we talk about a lot in events with women and our job titles, but in the States you can often call yourself the president and the vice president. I love that. Oh, man. See, maybe it is part of our difference between women and men as well, who the men will be like, "I'm the president," and you're like, "No, no."

[00:12:07] Cat Kevern: We don't even care. I remember having the same conversation with Harriet when she joined. Well, at the very beginning when we reformed the committee and I vividly remember her response, "Mate, I don't care about a title." One day I said, "I think you're not just the treasurer, you should be vice chair." She was like, "Okay." That's how that happened.

[00:12:27] Felicia Asiedu:  Yeah. I love that so much. So delve in a little bit more for me with NOWIE. You mentioned what it's done for you, but what does it do generally for women in the industry?

[00:12:36] Cat Kevern: Yes, to give a bit of context, now, it was set up as a Facebook group by Zac Fox and Sarah Cole who now absolute powerhouses within... Sarah runs her business. Zach is COO at Kilimanjaro events, so all the huge concerts that take place across the UK and they really set it up, yeah, 11 years ago now. It started as a group that women could share job opportunities with other women before it hit the mainstream job market, really, so to promote women. They were just sick and tired of seeing the exact same replica of middle-aged white men on boards at events in companies structurally and all across the board, really. So originally when it was set up, there were three pillars, which are the three pillars that we still have to this day, which are networking, job opportunities and increasing representation across the board. So everything we do serves those three pillars, and we have a variety of projects, events, programs and initiatives that all come within those three pillars.

[00:13:37] Felicia Asiedu: How do women typically respond to it? How do you grow your membership? Do you reach out and say, "Hey, you should be part of NOWIE," or do you find people find you naturally? What happens?

[00:13:45] Cat Kevern: So maybe contrary to some of the other organizations that are similar to NOWIE, if you look at network of Women in Exhibitions or Women in Live Music, so we're not a membership-based organization. We don't charge anything to our members. We never have, we never will. Everything we do aims to be inclusive and barrier to entry costs can be one of those, so we want to eliminate that and never want to even have that conversation. So we consider anyone who joins the Facebook group a member. So when we say we have over 5,000 members that's in our Facebook group. We don't have membership, so it's not a goal where we are actively trying to recruit new members. We are always actively trying to recruit new sponsors, though. So if anyone sees or hears of anyone with a big bag of money, send them our way. But yeah, we're not trying to change the modules. We consider that anyone who identifies as female or is happy to be identified as part of a group of women is already part of our community.

[00:14:41] Felicia Asiedu: That is so, so nice. I love that, reducing barrier to entry. Just lastly here, you touched on sponsorship. What would the sponsorship do? What does sponsorship pay for if someone said, "Actually, I want to support that?"

[00:14:54] Cat Kevern: So quite frankly, it pays for all the non-sexy stuff that we cannot get via partnerships and contra and things like that. So when you look at our AGM, so there are now a team of just under 20 of us volunteering our time. So the cost of that alone just on train tickets and lunch comes to close to 1000 pounds when we do EPS, this year Confex Event Production Show, so we curated all the content of one of the stages. We had a stand, we had networking drinks. So for that we needed about six people. Again just in hotels, trains and food was, again, 700 to 800 quid. So our website, Slack membership, there's lots of operational costs that I'd never even really thought of. So we do have a couple of thousand pounds a year that go surely towards operational costs, but with those sponsorship opportunities.

So for instance, sponsors can get involved by partnering up with us on a specific event anywhere in the UK or in London. They can get involved by supporting us with our newsletter, visibility opportunities on our website and things like that. So because we've put so much work behind the scenes over the last years really getting NOWIE where it is today, I know now that there is such great value for sponsors. So when we have those conversations, it doesn't feel like we're asking for nothing in exchange. I know we have a lot of value to give to those businesses that are willing to come on board and support our cause. I think International Women's Day is a great example of when it was lovely. Loads of people made great posts about us and mentioned us in their posts and reached out to us to ask us if we could give feedback on articles, if we would take part in podcasts, if we take part in... I think last week I spoke at two different events.

I've got this podcast, I've got one at the end of the week. So it is great. There are lots of people that are reaching out and that have interest, but if people do really want to support women, what are they doing throughout the rest of the year? How are they actually engaging and how can they support beyond? It's that double-edged sword because when people reach out, we all give our time for free. So none of us have ever taken a penny in payment for our time with NOWIE. But with that, every time someone reaches out, sends an email, inquires and asks us to help them, we are pushing ourselves out of pocket even more by giving even more time. So it's a double-edged sword.

[00:17:21] Felicia Asiedu: Now I hear you. It's women supporting women to progress as women when actually what we need is a little bit more of the allyship so that it's not just like you said, other women giving their time, their money, their efforts and actually, there's much more of a how can other people support this community? So I love to hear that. It's so funny, I sat in a room just last week on International Women's Day and it was a bunch of women, all women. Two of us had been asked to bring a couple of men. So a lovely lady called Hannah brought Martin Fillard. I brought Richard Bridge from Top Banana and we interviewed them and we had a great conversation on stage, but they were two of the most senior men in the room.

There might've been another four, and then it was a room of 100 women all on International Women's Day sat there talking about women's issues being women for women by women. I think they were very grateful to have the two guys on stage because it broke it up a bit, and they were able to say, "Okay, well as a man, how are you thinking about salary? How are you thinking about roles and rewards and help and maternity and all of that?" Luckily, we had great guys so they could answer those questions, but Martin was so like, "Where are the men?" He said, "Where are the men in this room? Yes, you've got us out here on stage, but we need more allyship from across the industry to make sure that you are not just out of pocket doing a great job, but we need help."

[00:18:49] Cat Kevern: We always joke at NOWIE that we're going to curate a panel that's something about, I don't know, the fastest motorbikes in e-sporting bring all the audience, trap the men and then we say right plot twist, it has nothing to do with motorbikes. There's no speed, no wheels, no sporting events. We are going to talk about women and how you can improve and what you can do to better support women. But all jokes aside, you made some really good points because I did a talk at EMEC by MPI last week, and it was about women in events. We had some men in the room, which was really great. They came, I think, of their own accord. I didn't trap anyone, I would say 35% more men. So it was really, really great.

I was really pleased because in the past, we have seen it where there's just one or two men and again that almost uncovers a whole other thing we could talk about, about how to make sure that men feel comfortable and that there is a space for them because we need to make sure that we're not alienating anyone. But at EMEC we had this great setup, so I decided to just pull all the chairs together and just turn it into a conversation 'cause I thought people will learn a lot more from having a conversation than me just talking at them for 45 minutes. So we pulled all the chairs together, and I asked questions to the people that joined the talk, and the first three people to talk were all men.

It was just really interesting 'cause there were four in the room and three of them were the first three to talk and took up quite a lot of airtime, which I'm really pleased that they engaged. But then I just did a little, "Can you raise your hand if you noticed the first people to speak were all men?" So it was just really interesting, I think most people had noticed. But it just illustrated beautifully some of the points that we were making around confidence and speaking up and allyship, again, another topic that came up and half the room hadn't heard of the term perhaps because it was quite an international crowd and perhaps because they just weren't familiar with the English terminology. But yeah, again, just really interesting to see people's reactions.

[00:20:50] Felicia Asiedu: I hear that, and one of the things that Martin said when we were talking is that he doesn't want it to be combative. We're not like, "Where are the men so that we can come and attack you?" Or, "Where are the men so that we can... that isn't it. We really should be coming together." I love that you turned your chairs in 'cause that's such a good representation of, "We're here, we're working together, let's talk together." It is funny that your first three people to speak were men because I like it, 'cause like you said, it's engaged. But it's funny, it's like, did the dynamic shift in the room because you had a different mixture?

Who knows? We can never say, but as long as what came out of it at the end was for the progress of what you were talking about, then I love it. I'm here all day for that of maybe we should have considered that on this podcast, bring one our male counterparts and we just have a nice, well-rounded conversation. So let's move this into setting some standards. So if we're thinking about some of the challenges that we've literally just spoken about, including salaries and job titles and confidence and imposter syndrome and all that stuff we just spoke about, what kind of standards are being set do you think, in this industry and NOWIE helping to set some of those standards in any way?

[00:22:02] Cat Kevern: Well, I would hope so. I have definitely made it my life's mission to make sure that I finished my career in this industry, that it is a better place than when I started out, because although I haven't been in events for all that long, I've already started to notice some changes. I think especially in the live events space, which I have a lot more experience in, it's only really recently that I've moved into more sporting events and to more corporate experiential and different sectors of the industry. But especially when you look at events that are temporary builds and it's not taking place inside of a venue, it is very much like working on a construction site. It's still very lad-ish, still very male-dominated because of the nature of the infrastructure, the suppliers, it's a lot of power, water, scaffolders. It's very, very masculine still.

I think that there's a long way to go because perhaps because of the nature of the events taking place outside of a traditional venue, they perhaps thinks that they are outside of traditional norms and laws and that certain standards don't apply, but I think it is changing. We're seeing a lot more women in those roles. I think it's becoming more accessible. There's definitely a bit better representation, and there are just so many more great initiatives that there were before some great events for newcomers to go and understand what's it really is like to work in the events industry. There are more mentorship programs, networking events, awards for newcomers to the industry. So I think we are definitely moving in the right direction. But with NOWIE, we do have a very big vision that we do want to become the industry standard, well, standards for women in the industry.

So one of our really big goals is to come up with an accreditation system, I think along the lines of B Corp, but for women in events. So we will identify key criteria and key standards that we really want to see adhered to across the board, so whether it's maternity, whether it's menopause, pay gap representation, senior leadership. Exactly as you said earlier, it's not about shunning those who aren't doing well, it's about encouraging people to start their journey, similar to sustainability. Lots of companies, they like to talk about their sustainability because they think they're not doing enough, but there's a lot to be learnt from acknowledging no one's perfect and we are all learning and we're all... as long as companies are willing to get started on that journey, then we can help them to get there.

We want to be able to provide best practices for actually what does it look like when someone goes on maternity leave? What did it like when they return to the workforce? What does it look like when a woman goes through menopause? How can you support women that are at that stage of their life? So we've seen some progress and it's great. I think with NOWIE, it really is so rewarding because as you put a lot in, and we collectively as a group put a lot of time and energy and effort into making it as great as we can from our members, but we do get so much out of it where we see and hear of so many great stories of people that it has helped in their career. I think we've still got a lot of work to do.

[00:25:23] Felicia Asiedu: I love that. I love that so much. If there are ways that people can support, like you said, sponsorship, we do want to know where can people go to find you, how do people find you and NOWIE? What can we do?

[00:25:36] Cat Kevern: So you can head to our website, which is www.NOWIE.org. You can follow us, we're on all the social media. LinkedIn is probably our main one. But if you identify as female and want to become part of the community, then check out the Facebook group. You can also share jobs in there. You can share jobs on LinkedIn and we'll reshare them. You can find the contact form on our website if you want to reach out and drop us a line. We will be in touch and hopefully, we could set up a conversation with the right person within our team to have a conversation about ways to partner, to get involved, or if sponsorship is something that people are interested in, then we'll be happy to share more.

[00:26:17] Felicia Asiedu: Love it, and we'll also put some of your resources and web links in our socials when we share this podcast. You've given us such gold in terms of career, thinking about, it's not necessarily you go to university one time and know exactly what you want to be in life. Not everyone does. I studied commercial music production. I'm definitely not doing that now, so you've given us some great nuggets in there. I just love the sound of the community. I would say for those of you in the UK, watch this space 'cause I'm going to talk to Cat at some point about what we can do together with Cvent and NOWIE and hopefully, make something work. So I appreciate your time today, Cat. It's been great.

[00:26:57] Cat Kevern: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a really great conversation.

[00:27:01] Felicia Asiedu: No problem. Thanks for listening. I'm just going to say one more thing. I hope you are tuned into this series 'cause Cat is not the only great woman we've been interviewing. So if you haven't checked out the last one, do and if not, check out the next one.

[00:27:17] Hosts: Thanks for hanging out with us on Great Events, a podcast by Cvent. If you've been enjoying our podcast, make sure to hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode. You can also help fellow event professionals and marketers just like you discover Great Events by leaving us a rating on Apple, Spotify or your preferred podcast platform.

[00:27:37] Felicia Asiedu: Stay connected with us on all your socials for behind-the-scenes content, updates, and some extra doses of inspiration.

[00:27:45] Hosts: Got a burning question or an epic story to share? We want to hear from you. Find us on LinkedIn and send us a DM or drop us a note at greatevents@cvent. om. And a big thanks to our amazing listeners, our guest speakers, and the incredible team behind the scenes. Remember, every great event includes great people. And that's a wrap. Keep creating, keep innovating, and keep joining us as we redefine how to make events great.