Women At the Helm: Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group

November 5, 2021

Ask Carina Bauer about how she got into the events industry, and she’ll tell you that while she was “born into it” thanks to her father, Ray Bloom, a serial entrepreneur in the hospitality and meetings industry who founded IMEX Group in 2002, that doesn’t mean her fate was necessarily sealed. 

“I actually started my career in catering, running a chain of coffee shops and later joined IMEX by accident when I stepped in to help when one of the team fell ill a year before our first IMEX in Frankfurt,” Bauer explains. 

That happy accident resulted in a complete immersion into the business events world, first as marketing and operations director for IMEX Frankfurt, then as CEO of IMEX Group following the brand’s expansion into the U.S. in 2009.

Fast-forward 19 years later, and the heir apparent to the Brighton, U.K.-based organization is not only known for her passion for the meetings, exhibitions and travel industries, but also for mentoring future leaders while working tirelessly to help transform the industry into a more sustainable, diverse and inclusive one.

“There’s nothing like [a live event] for me—the smell of the carpet, the wall of noise as you enter the halls, the diverse range of people and cultures, the sights and sounds of people enjoying each other’s company and doing great business,” she says. “I love it all!” 

TSNN had a chance to speak with this dedicated leader as she gears up to travel across the pond to celebrate the 10th edition of IMEX America, taking place Nov. 9-11 at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, to get her thoughts about where we are now when it comes to female leadership and how far the events industry still has to go in achieving true gender parity. 

Why do you think there aren’t more women in top leadership positions at exhibition companies in the U.K. and North America?

Tradition plays a large part. Plenty of women are event planners, managers and directors, but exhibition companies have tended to produce leaders with operational backgrounds. However, this is already changing, with many women in very senior positions across the trade show industry, including Mary Larkin, Nancy Walsh, Lisa Hannant, Julie Driscoll and Lori Hoinkes, to name just a few.

Employers are increasingly becoming more agile and flexible, and understanding that a truly diverse workforce is healthier, stronger and more profitable. Of course, being in events or exhibitions means time away from home, and if you have caring responsibilities, that needs careful handling. But this doesn’t just apply to women. Enlightened companies know full well their staff can have many kinds of caring commitments. It’s very limited—and limiting—to label these “female,” although it does still happen. 

We’ve introduced fully flexible working at IMEX, for example, to allow all staff to manage their whole lives in a healthy and blended way.

What are the qualities that women bring to these roles that empower them to excel at their jobs?

Collaboration. Intuition. Ability to listen. Empathy. A more nuanced but powerful definition of what success looks and feels like. A commitment to value and an instinct for inclusion rather than competition. I believe that both men and women need to have a balance of so-called male and female energy to succeed in life and in business. 

What are the biggest challenges of being a woman at the helm in a historically male-dominated industry?

When I first took over as CEO of IMEX in my early 30s, I experienced more age-prejudice than gender prejudice. As you get older, this, of course, gets easier! Today, I don’t find that there is a particular issue in being in a historically male-dominated industry. As you state in your question, that is historical, and there are more and more women sitting at the top table with me. 

Overall, I find that the way men and women communicate around a table is very different, and so the important thing is to make people aware of this and ensure that conversations are run in an inclusive way for all genders and personality types. That’s the best way to achieve better representation of viewpoints in all settings.

During your time leading IMEX Group, what have been your biggest successes that you’re most proud of?

Pre-COVID I would have said the growth of the business and launch and growth of IMEX America. However, my pride in how we as a business and a team have handled the past 20 months is certainly at the top of the list now. 

More than surviving, we’ve used the past year to reshape aspects of the business. In fact, I ticked many things off my long to-do list that frequently got pushed out thanks to the demands of organizing two shows every year. The marketing communications team has gone fully agile, with no directors or seconds, and it’s working really well for them. Other staff have dropped their job titles—an acknowledgement of their more flexible role in the company. 

We’ve transformed the IMEX culture, and our engagement program is something I’m very proud of. It’s a huge asset for the business. We’ve introduced new systems and processes and increased transparency across the company. The fact that we’re about to recognize our 10th edition of IMEX America feels like a real triumph. 

What can the trade show and events industry—and the women in it—do to help create more gender (and racial) parity in exhibition leadership?

Keep on learning, training and focusing on small incremental changes and steps that take your whole organization in the right direction. And don’t let perfect get in the way of progress! 

It’s so important to be open-minded and create a culture where open, honest conversations can be had. The whole IMEX team recently attended an online workshop run by Greg DeShields of Tourism Diversity Matters. I was so proud of everyone’s honesty, humility and willingness to learn and change. Above all though, leaders must lead—and speak up and out. They must openly support and encourage each other, too—that’s so important!


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