As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to recognise the incredible women who have made strides in the live entertainment industry. One such woman is Jen Mitchell, the General Manager of the AO Arena in Manchester.

Jen has worked in the venue and entertainment industry for over two decades. During this time, she has worked on large projects and with notable organisations in the field. This includes the opening of Kings Place in London, which held 100 concerts in its first five days, as well as her time at the first direct Arena in Leeds. Jen’s commitment, hard work and dedication have earned her the respect of her colleagues and peers, as well as the admiration of many young women who aspire to follow in her footsteps.

In this exclusive interview, Jen shares her thoughts on her career journey, the challenges she has faced, and her advice for young women looking to make their mark in the live entertainment industry.

How did you get started in live entertainment, and what were the key turning points in your career?

Completely by accident is the short answer! I think like a lot of people, I went to university not quite knowing what I wanted to do, so I did a course in Psychology and Ergonomics but started to work at my student union on the side. I did everything over the three years I was there from crewing to artist liaison (there’s some stories there!) and eventually became a venue supervisor at the age of 18 whilst still studying. I loved the venue life and really enjoyed the work but as it came time to leave uni I still didn’t know what careers I wanted so I continued on a Masters course in Criminology. I did, however, then start volunteering at Leicester city council in their events department and was fortunate to work on big scale events such as Radio One’s One Big Sunday which was a lot of fun and a great experience, and that started my real love for events and live music.

I think the real turning point for me, however, was at the age of 26 when I took a job in the Middle East working on the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar. Whilst this wasn’t live music related I learnt so much about management and stakeholder engagement, that really set of my management pathway.

What do you think are the most important qualities that successful professionals in the live entertainment industry possess?

You need to be true to yourself and trust your judgement whilst being professional and courteous to everyone you engage with. Take advice when its offered from someone you respect and admire, they’ve been there and done that! I don’t think I’ve met anyone in this industry that isn’t passionate about what they do, which is good, otherwise the long hours can be tasking. One of the biggest qualities I’ve learnt to have over the years is to know when you need to be strong enough to take time back for you, that’s essential. I know I spent too many hours working when I was younger trying to prove I was good enough to do the job, have faith you are and don’t burn out it doesn’t help anyone. Above all have a sense of humour… sometimes you have to laugh or you’ll cry.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had in your career and how did you overcome them?

I think some of the key ones were around my age and also gender. I was fortunate to be in senior positions at a young age, however, my peers were generally middle-aged or older and it took a while to gain their respect and trust. I think the main way I overcame those was be friendly and be open to learning whilst trusting my own ability and knowing I’d earnt the right to be there.

How do you measure success, and what are some of your proudest achievements?

I think success and therefore how you measure it is very dependent on each individual and what your own personal goals are to you at that time in life. I would say success to me has changed over the years from putting my first event on from start to finish and just getting through it, to now, where I’m so proud of my achievements across my career and doing it all these last year’s raising a young family. I’d say my next goal is working alongside my AO Arena colleagues to bring such an iconic venue into its next chapter of life with the redevelopment we’re doing. I’m so excited to be part of that.

How would you like to contribute to the evolution of the live entertainment industry and what impact do you hope to leave behind as your legacy?

I hope I can prove you can have it all, a successful and enjoyable career, alongside a great family life. It’s easy to suggest bigger things and, of course, I hope I leave some kind of legacy in the venues and teams I’ve been part of over the years, but from a venues point of view I hope I can deliver a world class venue at the AO Arena, and whatever future projects I’m lucky enough to be part of, whilst also leading and supporting the amazing teams I’m fortunate to work with. If I can do that ‘simple’ task I’d go into retirement a very happy lady.

Today, on International Women’s Day, it’s important to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women like Jen Mitchell, who have worked hard to pave the way for future generations of women in the workplace. Jen has become a respected leader and role model in the live entertainment industry. Her insights and advice are invaluable to women who are looking to make their mark in live entertainment. As we continue to strive for gender equality in all industries, it’s women like Jen who inspire us to keep pushing forward and breaking down barriers.


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