International Women's Day: Kate McMahon

Read more about her inspiring career story as part of our International Women's Day series.  
Be a steel fist with a velvet glove. Someone told me this once and this is advice that I’ve based my career on. Sure, you may look all poised, sweet and polished on the outside, but remember that you are forceful and you can drive that fist when you need to.
Kate McMahon

Ever since middle school, I’ve known that I wanted to be an event planner. I was on the prom committee in high school, had the time of my life planning the prom, but I didn’t really understand that event management was an option in college. Like full transparency: didn't know that was a thing.

So when I started applying to schools, I was looking into hospitality and tourism related programs. I was even considering a culinary degree when I found a program at the University of Massachusettes called Hospitality Tourism Management that just so happened to offer a focus in Event Management. I was thrilled. Planning had always felt like a part of my DNA, and here was a chance for me to act on that.

My first job out of college was a sales role at a The DMC Group. So I wasn’t exactly an event planner just yet, but I was liaising with event planners, selling and promoting destinations to them, and hoping that they would bring their large events and congresses to those international destinations. About three years into this role, I ended up doing a sales pitch with FCM Meetings & Events, which at the time was known as CI Events. I was pitching to their then-General Manager, Katie Fraser, and I remember walking out of that meeting knowing that I had to work at Flight Centre because I had to work for that woman. I could tell from day one that she was a force and someone I needed to have as a mentor and role model.

Unfortunately, she didn’t have any open roles at the time, but we kept in touch over the following few months. Then one day I got a call from her saying that a role for Event Manager had just opened up and I guess you could say the rest is history.


One of the most exciting aspects of working for FCM, particularly when I was just starting out, was getting to learn about this entirely new side of corporate travel. At my previous role, I felt that I had learned everything about it that I could learn in that position. But at FCM, I was finally getting into the actual travel side of corporate travel. There are certain events from this point of my career that still stand out as being some of my biggest personal accomplishments. I was leading my colleagues through planning of highly complex events. We’re talking events with upwards of 3000 people going to a destination with three waves of attendees, storms, oversold hotels – you know, the really complicated ones. They may not have been the “sexiest” events, but just knowing that I could lead my team through those challenging circumstances (and succeeding at it) was such a rewarding experience.

Over the course of the 8 years I’ve been with FCM, I’ve probably had my hand in every single role of the business, which has helped me grow into my current role as a Business Leader. I’m constantly trying to learn more about the industry so I can stay ahead of the trends, teach the rest of my team, and overall just lead by example. I like to think that my journey to FCM started with Katie (who is now our Head of Events at FCM Meetings & Events in Australia) inspiring me as a female leader, so now, as a woman in leadership myself, I strive to emulate that.

M&E team

I think the events industry, in general, is very female-dominant, so it's very natural to get to work with and be led by fierce women in this industry. But the FCM leadership team, specifically, is composed mostly of women. Joining them has been such a natural fit – especially when it comes to that work life balance. I'm getting married in a couple weeks and will be entering that new chapter of my life. Knowing that our executive suite is female driven gives me great comfort that when I want to go on maternity leave, there’s going to be a support system around me.

That being said, being a woman in this industry does come with its challenges. In my experience, when coming up against men in the workforce – specifically when you’re negotiating with a client or trying to convey that you are a subject matter expert (SME) in the events world – we, as women, feel tempted to make ourselves small. We apologize. We bite our tongues. But we shouldn’t have to. Yes, be polite and respectful – but also be assertive.

Be a steel fist with a velvet glove. Someone told me this once and this is advice that I’ve based my career on. Sure, you may look all poised, sweet and polished on the outside, but remember that you are forceful and you can drive that fist when you need to.

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