“Life is a game, play it; Life is a challenge, Meet it; Life is an opportunity, Capture it.” ~ Unknown

Fay Sharpe, founder of Fast Forward 15 introduces Shero Gabby Austen-Browne with pride: “I was fortunate to meet Gabby 5 or 6 years ago when she applied to be on the FF15 programme. She struck me as a really positive person and of course she won the place. I am so proud she is one of the founders of Diversity Ally setting the standard in the industry. Inside and out she’s a wonderful person. It shines through.”

Who is Gabby Austen-Browne and what is driving her?

I’ve always treated life as a “game”.  I used to describe it as a competition, but I recently came to the realisation that I wasn’t articulating properly what I really meant by this. If I were to break it down, I enjoy the process of honing a skill and doing it to my best ability. I relish the challenge of putting myself out there, heart and soul, despite the risk of failing in public. So, It was never just about “winning”, yes I am competitive, but generally that was with myself,  because one of my biggest fears is that I will leave this planet without having fulfilled my full potential.

Having this mindset is what most likely helped me have a successful career as a dance artist and one that made me determined to have a successful career in the events industry. To be honest, I am not sure where this mindset came from, I did not have any real role models, champions or leaders in my life. My father died when I was 6 years old, my mother was emotionally and quite often physically absent and my grandmother (who I lived with for a number of years when I was young) had schizophrenia. I was an only child and life was lonely and hard at times. But I pushed on, because I had an imagination and dreams.

After my dance career was brought to an end due to an injury, I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to transition to a career in events. To enable this I completed a diploma in Events Management for Marketing and Communications, with the Event Academy.

After the course, I set about finding a job. For my first role I applied to be an Events Assistant. I needed to learn the ropes quickly in order to move up the ranks, which was my initial plan. I was offered a role as Event Manager however, once I started I felt I did not fit in at all. I wasn’t trained or developed and was mostly left on my own… to fail. I left fairly quickly thinking that the corporate environment was not for me.

Following this experience I decided to apply to work in a venue that was considered more “urban”, feeling that I wouldn’t struggle to fit in as much. After a week of being there, my boss informed me that she was leaving and asked if I thought I was up for taking her job. I of course said yes and had a great time, honing my skills on the job. During this time I heard about Fast Forward 15 from my old lecturer at the Event Academy. I knew this would be the perfect programme for me, as my plan was to move up the ladder as quickly as possible, since this was my second career and I wasn’t getting any younger! The confidence I gained, the skills I learnt, the connections I made and the network I built by being on the programme, helped push me to seek a new role, which I did whilst gaining a £10K pay rise! The role models and the guidance I received whilst on the programme was a revelation for me and I came out a better events professional and a more rounded person.

In January 2020 I started a new role as Events and Sales Manager for 5 restaurants and a hotel in Lyme Regis. I was super excited, this was a lot more responsibility with a nice pay rise and bonus scheme. Then 3 months later the pandemic hit and by April 2020 I was made redundant, no furlough; nothing. I had to go on universal credit to keep a roof over my head, then my grandmother passed away from Covid-19 at the end of April. If that wasn’t enough, the protests around racial inequality and systemic racism happened, at a time when everything was quite raw for me. This left me fired up and with a passion to do something about the social injustice.

I had always been involved in the D&I space-  during my dance career, and even my first volunteering role in events was for a charity that supports creative activities and opportunities for adults with physical and learning disabilities. In 2019 I joined the diversity committee for the Event Management Apprenticeship Programme to help support individuals and organisations to access and make the most of event apprenticeship programmes. This, and seeing the struggle that the industry had with diversity and inclusion led me to launching an education, training and consultancy business called Diversity Ally, with a fellow Black female events professional who I met on LinkedIn.

Since our launch in July 2020 we have worked with companies across the sector, including; venues, agencies, media and publishing, associations and exhibition companies.  We are currently in the midst of planning the inaugural Diversity In Events Awards in April 2022, so watch this space! Our mission is to drive diversity in events, through the work we do, through supporting other organisations trying to move the needle, by educating and by encouraging action. I am capturing this opportunity and am up for the challenge.”

Gabby Extra Bits:

Member of the MMU Events Connect Advisory Group/ Guest Lecturer on D&I / Diversity Committee Member for the Event Management Apprenticeship Programme/ DEI board member EventWell //Qualified 250 Hr Yoga and Meditation Teacher