From mid-2020 on, it seemed like a week didn’t go by without a reminder of how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting women in the workforce. For Toni Piela, RX Americas’ Vice President of Corporate Development/M&A, and mother of an extremely energetic two-year old, it was the spur she needed to found RX US Women Connected - an Employee Resource Group which is now working to maximize the potential of RX Women through mentoring, education, networking and leadership development.
1Tell us about your role at RX and how you arrived there?
RX was my first job out of college - I graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2008 with a B.A. in Public Relations and entered one of the worst job markets so I felt very fortunate to find a home at RX (Reed Exhibitions). I started in the Central Marketing department as a Marketing Associate, working up to a Marketing Director in 2013 - I think I’ve worked on almost every event RX US owns! I decided to take a major leap in late 2014 and join the Corporate Development Team working on mergers and acquisitions (an area I had absolutely zero experience in) and launches. I’ve been in the role ever since and have worked on some great acquisitions including JIS (Jewelers International Showcase) and Florida SuperCon.
2What has been your experience as a woman working at RX?
There have definitely been times when I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously because I was too young, too inexperienced or not vocal enough. As an introvert and someone that likes to really reflect and think through things before presenting an opinion, I’ve had to learn how to use my voice in a way that feels authentic while still stepping outside my comfort zone at times.
I’ve had great mentors and advocates along the way in my career, including Kerry Prince, Brand Director, and Marie Browne, Group Vice-President. Having women to lean on who have faced similar challenges and turning points in their careers has been so beneficial in making major decisions about “what’s next”.
Transitioning to becoming a working mom was definitely my hardest challenge - in a role that requires you to travel with relative frequency there is just no avoiding the ’mom guilt’… it always feels like you are sacrificing something. I constantly remind myself that I am setting a good example for my son in terms of work ethic and understanding that women can and should do the work that makes them feel fulfilled and accomplished.
3What prompted your involvement with Women Connected?
The COVID-19 pandemic was a personal challenge for me as a working mom of a young toddler. When I started reading reports about the global impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce and how disproportionality it affected women, I voiced my desire to Alinne Rosa, HR Vice President, Americas, and Ray Rhodes, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity, to create an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women to share their challenges, access content to help them in their careers and find mentors to help them in keeping their careers on track.
ERGs are independent, voluntary groups of employees who share common interests and want to make a difference in the workplace, and the wider community. There are over 100 such groups across RELX contributing to diversity and inclusion including groups focused on race, gender, LGBTQ+ and generational interests. Within RX right now, we have ERGs for Pride in US, Australia and UK; Women Connected in the US; African Ancestry Network (AAN) in the US; First Nations in Australia; and an ‘all-encompassing’ ERG in Brazil representing all diversity dimensions.
"There are over 100 such groups across RELX contributing to diversity and inclusion including groups focused on race, gender, LGBTQ+ and generational interests."
4What support have you had launching the group, and what has been the response?
Having Ray Rhodes, Keith Davis (RX US Pride ERG) and Milton Montaque (RX US AAN) to lean on has made my life so much easier. They have done a lot of the 'hard work' in terms of sorting out the right recipe for a successful ERG within RX. Several RELX Women Connected ERGs have also welcomed us with open arms and given us pointers on the best way to structure our ERG.
We had our official launch meeting in late May which featured two members of the RX Leadership Team, Michele Tiley-Hill, Chief Financial Officer, and Alexandra Smyth, General Counsel, who shared their experiences as women working their way into senior leadership roles. They were honest and transparent about their challenges and their success. I can’t imagine a better way for us to get started.
5Describe the mission and goals of RX US Women Connected
Our official mission is to “maximize the potential of women through mentoring, education, networking and leadership development to enable women to build rewarding and sustainable careers, contribute to the success of the organization and make a positive impact on society.” We plan to achieve this mission through monthly Chapter meetings offering education, utilizing the NetWorx Mentoring Program and working with local charitable organizations on fundraising and giving initiatives. We also can’t wait to get back together as a Chapter in person. The value of face to face networking and connection can’t be understated.
"Our official mission is to maximize the potential of women through mentoring, education, networking and leadership development to enable women to build rewarding and sustainable careers, contribute to the success of the organization and make a positive impact on society.”
6How do you aim to empower RX women? What sort of activities does this involve?
We make it clear that our meetings are a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts and experiences. Where there are clear issues or action items, Fernando Fischer, President of RX Americas, has an open door for me (and all employees!) to discuss and propose solutions to make RX an even better place for women to work. When approaching content and education, intersectionality is always top of mind. Providing a variety of perspectives and experiences and working with the other RX US ERGs helps to give our members well-rounded interactions.
7How important are Allies to your mission, and what role can they play?
Allies are crucial and we are still working on getting them more involved in our Chapter. There are so many things that men can do to make the workplace a more inclusive environment - we plan to cover some of these tactics in an upcoming session.
"There are so many things that men can do to make the workplace a more inclusive environment"
8What’s on the agenda for the coming months?
We just had a session with Performance Coach Angela Scalpello covering building your own personal brand and self-promotion which was a topic highly requested by our members. We are taking a bit of an August hiatus due to vacations and a busy show schedule, although we plan to produce some content related to Women’s Equality Day on August 26. Later in the year we will cover ally education, work-life balance and a session with some of our exhibiting customers that are women in male-dominated fields to learn a bit more about their experiences and perspectives. On my personal agenda is welcoming Baby #2 in the fall…I’ll make sure the ERG is in great hands while I’m on leave!
9What would you say to any women considering a career with RX?
Come join us! The Inclusion and Diversity program that has been rolled out is making RX an even better place for women to work and we have so many talented women in leadership roles which you don’t see in every organization. The event industry as a whole has an amazing community of women that are supportive of each other and very open to sharing experiences, best practices and networking.