Shero: Tammy Obiri

Fast Forward 15 mentee Adenike Alliu-Ward talks to Tammy Obiri about motivation, challenges, and striving for a more diverse sector

For this month’s Shero interview I decided to choose someone who not only helped really kickstart my journey but also paved the way for me to join the FF15 team: my former manager and now friend, Tammy Obiri. With an infectious spirit that’s a mix of kindness, determination, passion and fun, she’s the reason I’m part of this family today.

I met Tammy in 2016 when she hired me, and I truly believe she is the living embodiment of cool, collected, and caring. From her unshakeable resolve during event mayhem to her uncanny ability to spread positivity wherever she goes, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Our time working together might have been brief, but the impact she has had on my career and outlook is immeasurable.

I asked Tammy a few questions about her greatest achievements, her events career journey, and how her kind-hearted nature has shaped her path – and mine – in the world of events and beyond.

Could you share a moment from your event management career that brought you immense pride and a sense of fulfilment; what made it so special for you?

Completing my Fast Forward 15 mentorship programme.

In 2020, in the middle of the national lockdown I gave birth to my son. I returned to work in October 2021 and really struggled to integrate back into work. Feeling lost, uncertain, and disconnected, I was desperately searching for some kind of guidance. I searched internally trying to access all resources available but just kept hitting obstacles until one day I saw a post about the Fast Forward 15 programme. I talked myself out of even applying so many times and the night of the closing finally just did it and sent my application in.

I cannot express how I felt when I was shortlisted and eventually selected as one of the mentees. While participating in the programme I faced many challenges but stayed firm, I even had a baby in December 2022. Still, I did not throw in the towel. Having now graduated I can honestly say it is one of the best things I have done not just for my career, but my personal growth as well. This whole experience really did bring home that little adage “when God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window”!

In your experience, can you recall a time when you faced a particularly demanding situation while organising an event, and how did your skills and prior experiences contribute to turning things around?

As has been very well documented, event management is one of the most stressful careers (top 5 of I’m not mistaken). Having said that I have to say being a black event manager has presented added challenges.

Often, there are times when I am working on a project as the project lead that I find that clients/parties I work with tend to assume my white colleagues have seniority despite establishing roles very early on in the planning.

It may not always be the case that this behaviour is linked to race but that is the common denominator on all these occasions.

I have learnt through my career to lead from the back and in such difficult circumstances this helps as I am able to focus on the task at hand to keep projects ticking along. Unfortunately, this happens so often that I have also now had to learn the skill of politely correcting such misunderstandings and not allowing it to affect me personally.

What are some lessons or insights you’ve gained through your event management journey that have not only shaped your professional skills but also enriched your personal growth?

People are at the heart of what we do. From the client who provides you a brief to deliver, to the kitchen porter washing up. There are no small parts; no lesser roles. By understanding this very early in my career it gave me access to understand aspects of the event that are often overlooked or delegated down the chain, effectively broadening my operational knowledge.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone from a minority background wanting to forge a career in events, what would it be?

Just go for it!

The sector really does need to be more reflective of the customers we serve and unfortunately it is not there yet. The more diverse the sector becomes, the more diverse a workforce it will attract and as such will grow into a more diverse industry as a whole. This can only be a good thing for us all.