MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.
Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP
Lead Meeting Planner, Altria;
CEO, A Woman With Drive
For sparking conversations on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the meetings and events industry
Abernathy has always been a strong proponent of equality, especially through her work developing the Association for Women in Events, which included founding the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force. After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, she felt that the events community had a gap in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) development. She reached out to her colleague and friend, Derrick Johnson, DES, CMP, director of event strategy and development and chief diversity officer at Talley Management Group, to see if he was interested in co-leading a weekly virtual conversation about DEI issues.
The initial aim of their podcast, Events: From Black to White, was to create a safe place for no-filter conversations. Now they are working on actionable items each week that attendees can use in their professional and personal lives. For example, a recent conversation was around implementing diversity in requests for proposal (RFPs) and asking event vendors to get involved.
“We try to provide small steps that individuals can take daily to affect real change,” she says. “We always tell people to start small, but realize that you are truly empowered as a meeting professional to affect change on a greater scale.”
This is especially true now that many events are hybrid or virtual, enabling planners to reach more people around the world. “We can showcase diverse speakers and perspectives, reach more diverse audiences, and spread important messages unlike ever before,” she says. “I challenge all event professionals to remember that they hold the power to reach the world’s audiences and to implement real change. Own that power!”
They are now working on getting the word out and getting more people involved in making change in the industry.
“I love to challenge and push growth and innovation,” says Abernathy. “The future excites me—even after a pandemic and a difficult year that the meetings industry has had. I feel very optimistic that we are on the cusp of real change, real greatness.”
Best Business Advice
“Connect yourself more to a message and passion than to a company.” That, says Abernathy, is the best business advice anyone ever shared with her. “Also, just because you choose one path, that doesn’t mean you are stuck in that path for the rest of your life. I hope people are inspired to personally and professional evolve and know that change is scary but necessary for innovation and growth!”
In addition to golf, which she loves, Abernathy blogs at A Woman With Drive, a site that ties together her love of golf, events, leadership, coaching, and travel. She also has an events podcast with co-host Juliet Tripp out of the U.K. called Like an #EventBoss.