Carrie Abernathy: Inspiring Words From an Industry Leader

CareerMeeting Planning

Carrie Abernathy talks about her influential roles with Association for Women in Events and Practice Greenhealth

Hometown: Christiansburg, Virginia
Positions: President and founder of Association for Women in Events (AWE) and director of education, training and events for Practice Greenhealth
Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg; studied meetings, incentives and conferences at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia
Certifications: CMP, CEM, CSEP

What attracted you to the meetings and events industry?

I have always been good at bringing people together and networking, and one of my dorm-mates in college suggested that I turn this into a career. At the time, there wasn’t a program at Virginia Tech focusing specifically on event planning, and I had no idea that I could actually make a career out of something that I loved.

Once I moved to Australia to start studying events at Victoria University, I just felt I was going in the right direction. Events for me are exciting because I work all year or several months on one, and then it happens and I start all over again. Being able to constantly change the show means that I never get bored and I have an opportunity to outdo myself over and over.

What is the mission of the Association for Women in Events (AWE) and how are you fulfilling it?

The Association for Women in Events is dedicated to the professional advancement of women in all facets of the events industry. We came together two years ago with the goal of making sure women had a safe community with resources [geared toward] their specific career needs.

We have expanded from there, based on our members’ desires. We’ve launched an immediate coaching and mentoring program for our members, and a sponsorship circle that helps women find funding and connections to move up in their careers. We are getting ready to launch some really exciting new initiatives to include awards and a mobile application.

What have been some of the successes you and AWE have achieved, and what are some challenges you face?

We have been lucky to have some great organizational partners and individual champions in the industry that have allowed us to fund our work and keep the organization moving forward.

There have been some challenges, since we are a 100 percent volunteer-run organization, and we rely on our committees and board members to keep us moving ahead. Another challenge is that we’ve had global interest very early on, and we are learning how to scale and engage people all over the world in a way that is meaningful and sustainable. Luckily, we have very passionate board members and supporters, so we’ve been able to provide our members with a quality community and resources very swiftly. We are learning and evolving as we go.

What is the focus of Practice Greenhealth, and what are your responsibilities with it?

Practice Greenhealth is a nonprofit membership organization founded on the principles of positive environmental stewardship and best practices by organizations in the health care community. I work to provide our members and health care organizations with the best online and in-person education and events possible.

We are very proud of our work and our organization’s mission—to provide education to members on how to successfully implement environmentally sound strategies in the greater health care community. As director of education and events, I oversee our main conference, CleanMed, the premier national environmental conference for leaders in health care sustainability who are on the leading edge of greening the health care sector. My job is very fulfilling.

What advice do you give to women serving in leadership roles, and how is AWE helping them?

Women in leadership roles should share their knowledge and journey so that other women can learn from their challenges and successes. I think we have a great group of women that is doing just that at our meetings and through our webinar series, but it can never be said enough.

I also challenge women in leadership roles to expand their networks and make sure they are still reaching out and making connections with younger professionals in the industry. So many times I see established professionals that stick to their “cliques” in the industry, and so it may be intimidating for younger professionals to reach out.

The awesome thing about AWE is that once members sign in to our member zone, they have access to online immediate coaches and mentors—women in the industry who have identified certain skills they are proficient at and are willing to share their knowledge and experience. We are always looking for mentors, sponsors and committee members—anyone in the industry can reach out to me directly.

Something AWE is very proud of is our Sponsorship Circle, which goes beyond a traditional mentorship program. Career sponsors are mentors that actively assist in planners’ professional growth instead of taking a more passive role of providing advice. These women and men are true champions for talented newer industry professionals and help connect them to resources, career openings and networking that will help elevate those women to the next level of their career. It is very inspiring to be a part of something different and have an active role in the shift in mentorship to sponsorship in our industry.

What are your future plans?

Right now, my focus is on providing the most cutting-edge events and education I can to my members in both positions that I currently hold. For AWE, I feel strongly that strategic partnership and sponsorships are something we need to focus on to make sure the organization is a thriving resource for women far into the future.

Is there anything else you would like to say about women in leadership?

Women have always been incredible leaders—but now more than ever it is time to get involved and make sure your voice is heard and that your skills aren’t being overlooked. I’m also really proud in the shift that we are seeing where women are banding together rather than feeling as though they need to compete with one another. We really are better together.