We Are The Fair head of production Yasmin Galletti discusses her career, the inspiration behind her new female-led events firm We Are Ops and the issues of gender balance and diversity in the live events industry.
What inspired you to get involved in events, and how/when did it happen?
I’ve always been a big lover of dance music, I grew up down the road from Fabric so I was there pretty much every Friday night. When I was 19, I bumped into a friend who was organising a rave, and I thought, “wow I didn’t think you could do this as a job!”. I ended up doing a lot of free flyering and helping out in that drum and bass music scene. Then I started working for a company called Found Series and Eastern Electrics (EE), which is obviously an existing client for us at The Fair. I started my festival career producing the first-ever EE festival in 2012. It was a bit of a disaster, but the audience loved it, and we managed to come back for more.
Why was it a disaster?
Everything was against us, we were doing it in a place called Area 12, which is now a park in Greenwich but was a car park at the time. Greenwich was the hub for the Olympics and this was taking place while they were on, so the police didn’t want it to happen. It was supposed to be a part of a big scheme where a developer was contributing lots of infrastructure to a series of events, but that fell through a week before. We managed to pull it off but it was basically a bunch of wedding marquees in a car park. Through the quality of the line-up and the incredible atmosphere, it ended up being a really amazing show.
What led you to want to launch a female-led events operation?
I’ve been working at the Fair for five years now and when I started there were only four of us. The directors Nick (Morgan) and Rob (Dudley) are amazing people and have always been supportive of women in the industry. I started to recognise that there were a lot of women joining our team and while production in the industry looked like it was becoming more gender-balanced in terms of people on the ground, the health and safety companies that you see – nothing against them they’re all amazing – but it’s always the same type of people that show up on-site, and the same websites with masculine-looking energy.
One thing a lot of clients kept saying to us is, “Thank you for explaining that to me, and not making me feel stupid. I’m normally too nervous to ask questions about health and safety because I can be made to feel stupid.” I think that’s something I could identify with as I had been made to feel that way before. I think it’s a quality of women working in health and safety or ops can bring to the table.
Will We Are OPS be exclusively staffed by females?
No, it’s not about creating a female-only space. I’m not here to advocate ‘female only’, just a more gender-balanced narrative and offering. For us, the important thing is people’s approach to health and safety and Ops planning and the way they interact with suppliers, clients and stakeholders, with respect and without arrogance. The idea is that the faces of the company and the agenda set by the company are led by the senior female staff from The Fair. Our method of working with people on-site, the way we work with stakeholders, will be led by females.
How many people are involved in the company and how do you see this expanding in the coming years?
There are currently six of us. We are focused heavily on the festival side as we look to the re-opening, though we also work closely with our Placemaking team, supporting Planning Applications, Traffic Management Planning, Crowd Safety in the Public realm and venue sourcing. We’d like to expand our offering more in the public realm activity, particularly around stakeholder engagement and sustainability. We’ve done a lot of up-skilling during Covid – Sarah has done a lot of training in suitability and events for example. We would love to grow the team over the next year, but it will happen naturally and organically as the client base and service selection grows.
What ambitions do you have for the company?
I think a growing market focus for us is authentic sustainability strategies for festivals and public realm activations. A lot of existing clients want to do good work in this area but there are also a lot of smoke and mirrors initiatives as well. More closely to my heart is work on community-led stakeholder engagement. We do that a lot with some of our festivals such as Gala and EE, engaging with the local community. We are also doing this with a lot of our placemaking clients activating public realm. This is also something that is often seen as a tick box, but I believe that genuine community-led engagement sits at the heart of a genuine diversity, equality and inclusion strategy. I think this is hugely important to creating events and activations that can sometimes create division in communities or areas. diversity, equality and inclusion is a real passion of mine in the industry and something we need to work on together as an industry. I’m the co-chair of the AIF (Association of Independent Festivals) steering group with Kate Osler and I’d love the work we do at OPS to support the agenda we are building as part of that.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more women working in health and safety.”
What projects are currently in the pipeline?
One of our existing festival clients is looking at doing something that crosses the festival and public realm borders over the winter, which is looking to be an exciting project. We are starting to see the festival industry and property developer boundaries blurring, we are seeing the ‘festivalisation’ of meanwhile space and corporate events and festival brands looking at more permanent settings for brand activation. We are well-positioned to help build operational plans for these changes in the industry. There are lots of interesting spaces coming into place which require planning permissions and greater local authority engagement all throughout the year.
Do you feel that the gender balance in the industry is being addressed sufficiently – and how best can it be addressed without positive discrimination?
We are having this conversation and therefore there are positive steps happening. I think there are so many amazing women already working in the industry that have always been pushing forward the female agenda. People like Clare Goodchild, Judy Bec and Cassandra Frey-Mills (Without Exception) Phoebe Roberts (Attitude is Everything), Millie Devereux & Sarah Tew (The Fair), Kate Osler (El Dorado Festival) – and plenty more, who have been working in the industry for 15-20 years now, who have got to a point of seniority where their voices are being heard and that’s really positive.
However, we’re only at the beginning and it’s going to keep building. A huge area that I feel needs more attention is the lack of ethnic diversity in the industry workforce. It’s a very white industry, that’s something that we’re looking at as a company, AIF is looking at and many others, but I do think the overarching narrative of the industry is still directed by the same demographic of white men over the age of 40, often from a certain socio-economic background. They’re the people having the conversations with DCMS and Public Health England about how to reopen the festival industry, they’re usually the headliners at conferences and until that starts to change then the agenda will remain very white male-dominated. I know people are doing work on this in the background, Event Production Show being one of them. There is still a lot of work to be done that needs to come from a genuine desire for change, not just a desire to be seen doing the right thing.
I think we’re going to see a lot more women working in health and safety. I think there’s a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas and departments, but I think things are moving more rapidly with that now. On our panel at EPS, Clare (Goodchild) said one of the positive things to come out of Covid was that the industry was now more transparent and open with each other, sharing operational planning docs and SAG (Safety Advisory Group) notes. The industry has traditionally always been closed off about information sharing or vulnerability sharing. I think that has led to women not feeling like they can talk about their experiences on-site where they get talked down to or patronised. What I’ve noticed over the past year since Covid happened is that we’ve all been prepared to open up a bit more about the experiences that we’ve had, without feeling as though it makes us look weak.
In order for things to change I think we need to take this spirit of openness and lean into it. I will now speak openly and positively about other women in the industry and how amazing they are at their job. I will introduce people to each other and make connections without wanting anything in return and at the risk that person is also a festival producer who may end up getting work over me. I think this is a key way to keep building on the progress; keep making introductions, keep talking each other up, keep sign-posting to women and people from other minority groups – sometimes to the detriment of one’s own public profile or at risk to our own profit margins – if we want the industry to change and I think men need to be doing this as well.
Who or what has been the biggest inspiration for you in the events industry?
The people I work with every day. I probably can’t list my whole team here but Louisa Bass, Sarah Tew and Millie Devereux who are representing women in the industry boldly and strongly every day. I’m really inspired by Nick and Rob, how hardworking Rob is, the way Nick approached Covid – I’ve never seen anyone that’s just so constantly fighting for the festival industry and also his business. That’s really inspiring.
We’ve recently hired some kickstarters and I have been interviewing a lot of young people recently for these positions. I was inspired by a lot of them. We have a young girl called Liberty who’s been wanting to join our company for a long time. She’s done all these amazing things off her own back to advancer her career, she’s been promoting her own club nights, setting up her own website, her dedication to getting into the industry really inspired me as well. Especially knowing how difficult it is to get a foot in the door. Her persistence was inspiring to me! Finally, a man called Nana Badu who we met over Covid. He set up BADU Sports many years ago. His methodology for working with and empowering young people from challenging backgrounds has hugely inspired me and also the direction the company will be taking in the years to come.
What is the first career highlight that comes to mind?
Probably my first event director role on site a few years ago. That was the first time I fully realised the pressure of being an Event Director on a show, being responsible for the lives of 10,000 people and their safety. Knowing my peers and clients trusted me with that responsibility was a highlight for me. I have to shout out my first Andy C headline show as well at El Dorado 2019. The 16-year-old girl still in me, who was flying for drum and bass raves almost 20 years ago was saying ‘all this hard work has finally come to fruition!’.