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Making waves at the Fast Forward 15

Nicola Macdonald heads to the annual Fast Forward 15 graduation ceremony to learn more about the programme that’s been inspiring female eventprofs for five years.

 

It’s a dull, rainy May day when I step aboard The Silver Sturgeon for the fifth annual Fast Forward 15 graduation ceremony, but the mood onboard the river yacht is bright and optimistic. 

Fast Forward 15 is a mentoring programme, conceived and fronted by BCD Meeting & Events’ Fay Sharpe, aimed at women of all ages and roles in the event industry. Each member of the programme is assigned a mentor, who they work with throughout the year to achieve personal and professional goals. 

I’m surrounded by the graduating class from the 2018 programme and their mentors, along with the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed class of 2019, raring to get going. 

Throughout the course of the afternoon, the true value of the Fast Forward 15 programme becomes clear. Almost every member of the 2018 intake give a short presentation on their experiences over the past 12 months and it is readily apparent that the programme has not only given them the confidence to take huge strides in their professional development, but it has also had a noticeable impact on their personal lives. 

 

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Fiona Bool, operations manager – group travel & events at Gray Dawes Group, and CN30 under Thirty winner, tells me: “FF15 has given me chances to challenge myself, step out of my comfort zone and thrive in a new role, plus it’s had a hugely positive impact on my personal life.” 

The achievements of the 2018 group are a testament to the power of the programme, with countless tales of overcoming dead-end jobs, self-doubt, personal problems and fears. 

Francesca Knight, director at Happy Human Incentives, comments: “FF15 was the catalyst that I needed to go from having an idea about setting up a wellness incentive agency to making it a reality. 

“My mentor Nick guided me through the ups and downs of changing direction and made me accountable. I met some inspiring people and leant a lot about myself, but it also made me fall in love again with our fantastic industry.”

 

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What is also clear is the benefit of the programme to the mentors too, I speak to Caroline Jackson, senior principal academic at Bournemouth University, vice-chair of the British Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP) and two-time mentor, who says: “I mentor students on an hourly and weekly basis, but working with someone outside of being a student has been really enlightening and really developmental for me. The programme is well structured, which meant that we each had goals that we had to achieve and we supported each other.”

Finally, I catch up with the women who made it all happen, Fay Sharpe. 

 “It’s as much about the mentor as the mentee,” she explains. “When you mentor you start to challenge yourself. I’ve been really inspired hearing about some of the mentors getting promotions and challenging themselves. 

“While we have 70% plus women in our industry we still aren’t seeing enough women at the top. Things are changing but there are still challenges and we need to help women in our sector become more confident, push themselves and believe in themselves. I’m reliant on the industry supporting me and so far it’s been great. I think that’s because of the passion behind it; it’s not for profit and there’s no agenda, except to do something good.”