100 Women Who Inspire Us: Trail Blazer

Meeting Planning

Paola Bowman, convention services manager, Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau

Inspiration: Inspiration is everywhere, inward and outward. However, what inspires me the most is my faith, my family and people that want to make a difference in the world. In this industry, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by great role models, thought leaders and change makers.

Superpower: Resourcefulness and connectedness. I bridge people and ideas to make great things happen!

Action Item: I think when we try to boil the ocean, we miss the mark. I’ve come to the realization that I can’t change the world; I can only change and improve myself to make a difference in the world. The time is now to continue to evolve and innovate, and stay educated on the pressing issues not only in our industry, but in society as a whole. Above all, practice kindness.


Kim Marie Casey, director of catering, The Kimpton Journeyman Hotel

Inspiration: Professionally, the team I work with inspires me. Collectively, both from a sales viewpoint and operations standpoint, we know how hard all of us work in the hospitality industry. Teams don’t move forward unless we support each other. Personally, my mother and children inspire me.

Superpower: Swimming and motorcycling. Swimming is both empowering and rejuvenating, mentally and physically. Mentally, it allows my mind to relax and be open and fluid, which fosters creative brainstorming and free-thinking. Some of my best ideas happen when I am lap swimming. Physically, it keeps me healthy and in tune with my body through all stages of my life. It is soothing. Motorcycling demands that I focus on the ride and my adeptness on the open road. I remain centered on myself and the effects of Mother Nature. It is empowering, as I am dependent on myself and must stretch my abilities to many different heights of accomplishment. After I rode on my own to Sturgis and back, I knew I could do anything I set my mind to.

Action Item: Lead by example, follow with purpose. Women are going to collectively evoke change in this movement by having a unified voice. After attending the Women’s March in Milwaukee, along with my mom, I was inspired by the diverse group of women I was surrounded by. Standing in that crowd, I accepted I will not change the world singlehandedly. However, to be part of this change movement, I will show up and be present, aware and mindful. Be a just voice and lead by example.


Christina DeVore, events and meetings manager, Extra Space Storage

Inspiration: I’m inspired by the event process, from the shaping the “why” to the details that make it memorable, to the wrap up. Every little step is important because it helps me grow as a leader in the industry and helps me reach out to others I aspire to become along the path. The leaders before me taught me to enjoy the journey and care about the details. This is an industry inspired by human connection, and we are the magic-makers creating the experience to connect people with each other. I am inspired to stay challenged by innovation and where the future is headed.

Superpower: Adaptability! As a meeting planner, we have a million tasks coming at us every day, especially during a conference. I try to keep a positive attitude and not project the pressure onto my team. I must be quick on my feet to problem-solve, and I need to be able to change plans in a moment’s notice. I love this part of the job, because I never know what challenge I will overcome, and I love that I’ve managed the plan without anyone becoming aware of it.

Action Item: I will stay engaged in the industry by learning about innovations that will change not only events, but event marketing and technology. As our habits change through technology, it changes our experience at events. As meeting planners, we are constantly being challenged to stay in the know and cutting-edge. The customer experience is evolving, and that includes the experience at all types of events—web-based or live.


Zoe Fernandez, director of event marketing, Merkle

Inspiration: My team! I am surrounded by a great team of highly motivated individuals. I constantly learn from them, and I admire their dedication and passion daily. Creating a great event experience. I love meeting and exceeding attendee expectations — working to turn any event, regardless of its size or budget, into an experience to remember.

Superpower: Remaining calm under pressure. When producing events, there is always a fire that needs putting out, an issue to fix or a challenge to overcome. For me, this is one of the things that makes working in events interesting and exciting—and it makes for great learning experiences. I love being able to solve things and say, “I got this!”

Action Item: Ensuring event agendas and presenters are representative—that the stage has both female and male speakers. Changing perceptions of women in events—that we are not just administrative support or logistic owners or planners, but also strategic counterparts that play a critical role in the business.


Tonya Hawes, global events and field marketing manager, Trifacta

Inspiration: I am inspired by great people who share their gifts with the world to make it better, people who step out of their comfort zone to help their community. Their greatness fuels innovation and creativity in their field. It’s this kind of example that inspires me to step up in my community, in my workplace and in my relationships. I am inspired to be an innovator and to bring new ideas and new ways of attaining results as an event leader. I strive to be a risk-taker.

Superpower: Event vision. Regardless of size and scope, I can see the strategy forward and articulate that vision to my partners, vendors and internal stakeholders.

Action Item: I strive to be a compassionate person. I have been blessed to live in many places in the United States and around the world, and it’s helped me to better understand the community’s culture and value, and to be more compassionate of others. I like to mentor youth, and try to share my wisdom to help them navigate the challenges of growing up.


Joanna Lean, assistant manager of global event management, Scotiabank

Inspiration: Connecting with people’s stories, experiences and energy truly inspires me. We all have a unique footprint, and we often forget how kind, creative and giving the world can be.

Superpower: Experience creator. Whether it’s in my personal or professional life, experiences create happiness, knowledge, excitement and inspiration.

Action item: “We rise by lifting others” is a fundamental quote in this pivotal time in history. By encouraging and supporting one another, especially as women, I believe we can focus on building each other up instead of knocking each other down.


Rebekah McWain, associate director of events and national sales, NCIA

Inspiration: I love devising creative, problem-solving solutions, and am highly motivated to see my ideas unfold toward an end goal.

Superpower: Time travel—I’m always thinking and working ahead.

Action Item: I like to remember that there is room for everyone, so I try to listen, lend a hand and uplift—I save the competition for my own personal goals.


Pat Riley, executive director, National Cowgirl Museum

Inspiration: The strength, achievements and determination of the women represented in the Museum from Sandra Day O’Connor to Georgia O’Keeffe to Dale Evans inspires me to make sure their stories are told and their history preserved and made available to as many people as possible…so they can be inspired.

Superpower: Ability to recognize people’s talents and bring them to light.

Action Item: I believe the work we are doing is impacting the world. We have had women from all across the globe visit the museum and be united by impactful messages. “My word is my bond” is a signature saying in the American West but resonates equally with all people who believe in honor and trustworthiness. We want visitors to understand it is not about geography or borders or boundaries but a willingness to be fearless and do what has to get done. Or as we also say, “always saddle your own horse.”


Anya-Anyielle Reed, trade show operations manager, Solar Energy Trade Shows

Inspiration: My fears actually inspire me. I have social anxiety, so for the longest time, my fears would hold me back from participating in activities, or just doing things that I was interested in. But this year, I set my goal to push past those fears and use them as fuel and motivation to accomplish my goals.

Superpower: Ability to stay calm under pressure. In this industry, we are constantly managing several tasks, juggling deadlines and working through unforeseen occurrences. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. But when everyone else is freaking out, I’m the calm voice that says, “It will be okay. We’ll figure things out.”

Action Item: We are in a time period where women are finding the courage to speak up more for themselves and demand equality in pay and respect in the workplace. I would love to mentor women who are early in their careers to help them develop the courage and confidence to stand out in the workplace, and receive the respect they so rightly deserve.


Sandra D. Serota, global training coordinator, Johnson & Johnson Vision

Inspiration: My family inspires me the most. I wanted my twin daughters to see that a woman can be a wife, mother and successful career woman, all at the same time. My daughters have embodied that lesson, and are both successful career women.

Superpower: Being supportive of others. If someone needs a shoulder to lean on or words of encouragement, they can reach out to me. Being happy and smiling is contagious, and I’d like to think that I share my smiles with others!

Action Item: Like the song says, “All You Need Is Love.” That message definitely applies to the world today. If we could just be kind to one another, the world would be a much happier place. Something that seems so easy is just so difficult for so many people.


Angela Skeen, founder, Eventfully Angela

Inspiration: I am inspired by risk—by the dreamers, taking action no matter the unbelievable odds stacked against them, no matter the multitude of times they’ve failed before, no matter the people who have stood in their way and told them it couldn’t be done. That struggle, that journey, that grit gets my heart and creativity pumping. In particular, anything that ever came out of Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou and Jane Austen. The life, work, and vision of these three strong, forward-thinking women is timeless, and a constant source of personal inspiration and motivation.

Superpower: I have affectionately been called the human form of Xanax, with the power to calm event anxiety and panic.

Action Item: Be kind. It may sound too simple, but I believe in its power. Kindness is contagious, and I plan to spread it like confetti.


Linda J. Vaji, director of system events and volunteer management, Geisinger Health System

Inspiration: I absolutely love my job and the opportunity to work for a company that values our team. I am inspired to continue to create extraordinary meetings and events, and hold myself to a higher level each time to provide rewarding experiences for the attendees. When they leave, I want them to also feel inspired.

Superpower: Organizational skills and ability to think outside the box to find creative solutions and develop high-level events and meetings.

Action Item: One of the most satisfying roles I have is to be a leader and mentor to the women on my team. As these young women leaders emerge, I hope that I have influenced them to be confident, strong and to work with courage and conviction each day. I want them to grow to be the best versions of themselves that they can be, and to be well-equipped to handle the curveballs the profession can throw at them as they move forward in their careers.


Katya “Kathy” Mata, director of catering and convention services, Royal Sonesta

Inspiration: People who get it all done seemingly effortlessly inspire me. My teammates, friends and family, especially my mother.

Superpower: Staying positive in difficult situations while keeping it real. I strive to always keep my cool when encountering challenges, but all the while being realistic, respectful and creatively coming up with alternative solutions.

Action Item: As a woman coming up in the industry, my attempt to save the world is to pay it forward when I see the opportunity. It’s important to take time to inspire and motivate the next generation of women leaders, as my mentors have done for me. I greatly appreciate those strong women who’ve believed in me, exposed me to new responsibilities, introduced me to the right people, and guided me down the path of success that I’m on.


Gail Gerber, area director of sales & marketing, InterContinental Hotels of San Francisco

Inspiration: Progress.

Superpower: Organization – juggling numerous balls in the air and not letting one drop.

Action Item: Not to sit on the sidelines. To play a role in what I believe.’

More Trail Blazers

Melissa Connolly

Director of Brand Experience, TransUnion

Maggie Walton

Vice President of Meetings, Assurex Global

Diane Gregory

Operations Manager, BCD M&E onsite at Cisco

Liz Grumbacher

Director of North American Events, Union for Reform Judaism

Toni McElhinney

Conference and Tradeshow Manager, American College of Emergency Physicians

Urszula Soucie

Director of Meetings and Operations, Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association

 

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